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Tony Grist

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Richard Harding Watt [Mar. 29th, 2008|11:04 am]
Tony Grist
Richard Harding Watt (1842-1913) was an amateur architect, who dotted his home town of Knutsford with eccentric, arts and craftsy buildings in the Italian taste. They're very pretty. Knutsford is within commuting distance of Manchester and lots of celebs live in the area- Gary Barlow of Take That, for example. Historically, the town's most famous resident was Elizabeth Gaskell, whose husband was minister at the Unitarian church. Harding Watt built a very peculiar, Italianate tower in her memory. Knutsford is Gaskell's Cranford- but so much changed since her day- notably by Harding Watt- that the BBC filmed their dramatization of the book elsewhere.



This is Harding Watt's Ruskin Reading Rooms- a surprising building- with a surprising history...



And here's another Harding Watt creation just down the road....



 
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: jenny_evergreen
2008-03-29 11:55 am (UTC)
Marvelous buildings!
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-03-29 12:50 pm (UTC)
They were obviously created out of love. They're impressive, but they also make me smile.
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[User Picture]From: jenny_evergreen
2008-03-29 01:10 pm (UTC)
*emphatic nod* That's precisely what makes them so marvelous. :)
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[User Picture]From: strange_complex
2008-03-29 02:05 pm (UTC)
You've set me off musing on the term 'amateur'. Is it fair to call Harding Watt an amateur architect if he designed buildings which were built and still stand a century later? Do you know what else he did?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-03-29 02:48 pm (UTC)
Harding Watt was untrained and had to hire other people to do the nuts and bolts work on his designs. He came to architecture late, having made a fortune as a glovemaker. As far as I know he never worked outside Knutsford.
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[User Picture]From: strange_complex
2008-03-29 02:55 pm (UTC)
Ah, well - it sounds pretty well justified in his case, then.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-03-29 03:16 pm (UTC)
According to websites I've visited, Harding Watt isn't regarded as a "serious" architect. I think this is a great shame. Sometimes amateurism involves having a fresh eye- and not being weighed down by professional dogma and moribund good taste.
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[User Picture]From: strange_complex
2008-03-29 04:11 pm (UTC)
Yes, he's certainly innovative and unique, based on the pictures you've posted.
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[User Picture]From: goddlefrood
2008-04-05 11:37 am (UTC)
There's a course on him, or was, at MMU. We used to get students turn up at the house from time to time asking questions and requesting tours.

I believe he designed the Manchester Town Hall, amongst several others outside Knutsford. I'm sure a quick search would enlighten.
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From: (Anonymous)
2008-04-05 11:49 am (UTC)
Scratch that, the memory's faulty. There was something though, I'm sure of that. The net doesn't have too much on him it seems, but he is still studied at Liverpool University apparently. And my old house is mentioned on one of the articles, name of The Old Croft. It's on its 5th owner in 112 years.
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[User Picture]From: solar_diablo
2008-03-29 02:19 pm (UTC)
World War II is so much more in the consciousness of Europeans than Americans. Makes a certain bit of obvious sense, in that it was fought in your backyard, but I still find it somewhat amazing how oblivious some of us here in the States are to the details of it. I think were it not for my history buff father and two grandfathers who fought in the war, I'd probably be much more ignorant of that period in history. We have war memorials in the States, of course, but they are often generalized with no real sense of specific time and place. My feeling is Vietnam gets the most airtime in the American national psyche - that's a wound that's never healed properly.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-03-29 02:54 pm (UTC)
WWII is still the defining event in (modern) British history.

I like to think of Patton stomping around this quaint, little, English country town.
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[User Picture]From: solar_diablo
2008-03-29 03:05 pm (UTC)

Bull in a china shop

Patton is a particularly suitable representative of that American "damn the torpedos" mindset.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-03-29 03:10 pm (UTC)

Re: Bull in a china shop

Yes, I don't think any other nation could have produced him.
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[User Picture]From: wyrmwwd
2008-03-29 04:05 pm (UTC)

Re: Bull in a china shop

I could not agree more.
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[User Picture]From: mummm
2008-03-29 03:12 pm (UTC)
I LOVE those buildings!
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-03-29 03:17 pm (UTC)
They make me happy. Not many buildings have that effect.
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[User Picture]From: mummm
2008-03-29 03:18 pm (UTC)
That was my reaction too!
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[User Picture]From: oakmouse
2008-03-29 07:55 pm (UTC)
Those are MARVELOUS buildings! I love them ---- especially #1! *wants to live in it*
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-03-29 10:25 pm (UTC)
I'd like the one with the tower. I'm sure the view from the top is just grand.
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[User Picture]From: pondhopper
2008-03-29 08:27 pm (UTC)
The Ruskin Rooms building is wonderful. Italianate, yes, but you'd be surprised how many buildings in Spain have similar characteristics. Lovely!

I like the tower rising out of the centre of the second building very much.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-03-29 10:27 pm (UTC)
They're certainly very odd buildings to come across in a small Cheshire town.
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[User Picture]From: goddlefrood
2008-04-05 10:27 am (UTC)
Trawling through the old inbox for the first time in a while I was surprised to see pictures of the old home town. I lived in Watt's own house for 17 years, do I get a prize?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-04-05 11:18 am (UTC)
So what are his houses like on the inside? Are they as surprising? Are they fun?
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[User Picture]From: goddlefrood
2008-04-05 11:25 am (UTC)
He tagged on a Tower to his own after a few years, originally it was very conventional. It did and does have the differing doorknobs for the servants and the owners and a few little surprises, but the exteriors of both the houses on Legh Road (where he lived) and the other buildings around the town are much more fun.

Legh Road was used for the exterior shots of the residential street in Shanghai in the film Empire of the Sun, fyi.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-04-05 02:42 pm (UTC)
I like Empire of the Sun. How on earth, did Spielberg come to shoot parts of it in Cheshire?
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[User Picture]From: goddlefrood
2008-04-06 01:39 am (UTC)
I'm not sure, must have been his scouts found Legh Road to be what they were looking for. It has about three or four minutes of screen time in the film.

I do recall he visited once for about two hours; the second unit did the filming, which took them about three months. They also donated the residents' compensation to some charity without prior consultation. That's Hollywood for you, no doubt, maybe they didn't pay anyone at all. It is a good film though.
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