Aesthetic London Transport Chairs

Anonymous, after E. W Godwin
Nationality of Designer
Wells Company, Bedford
Manufacturers Location
Bedford, England (UK)
Ebonised wood
17.5 x 35.5 cm
Purchase Price


6 x Dining Chairs reupholstered with London Transport fabric


Marked Wells Company, Bedford. Bought from Help the Aged by Adam Sutherland

Personal history/nominator

"The chairs were for many years used in the old LAwson Park, being reupholstered for the Greenland Street project in Liverpool. The idea to use transport fabric coming from designers Precious Macbane, a group who originally were going to work on the refit of the building but sadly due to twiddling budgets were unable to undertake the work - the chair reminds us of what might have been" Adam Sutherland


Reupholstered in London Transport fabric - good condition, except for a few scratches on the legs and corners.

Why it's in the Collection

These chairs are an example of how E.W Godwin's advanced Anglo-Japanese designs were plagerized by other designers at the time, usually not to the same quality or proportions. 

The chairs are reupholstered in vintage London Transport fabric. There is an interesting correlation can be made between the Utilitarian graphics and Godwin's ornamental design.

Artists and designers who have all created designs for the Tube, include Man Ray, Edward McKnight-Kauffer, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Eric Ravilious, Marion Dorn, Norbert Dutton, Enid Marx and Paul Nash.

In 1978, Misha Black who worked for the Design Research Project was responsible for the orange geometric pattern reupholstered on one of the chairs. This pattern was used on a new fleet of trains then about to be introduced on the District Line. The 'moquette' wool woven fabric contains strong utiliarian design elements, some of which being extremely hard wearing, proven to with stand years of feet on seats, graffiti and chewing gum.

The chairs have featured in various Grizedale Arts projects, firstly being used in Virtually Grizedale, in A Foundation, Liverpool and also at Lucy MacIntosh Galerie, Lausanne, Switzerland.

About the Designer/Maker

Although the original designer is unknown, the chairs are clearly in the style of E.W Godwin.

Edward William Godwin (1833 - 1886) was an evasive character among Victorian Architect/ Designers. He was a friend of Whistler, Oscar Wilde and William Burges, lover of actress Ellen Terry (and father of her illegitimate children). He had a reputation in Victorian society as being a rather flamboyant partygoer, one that grew over the years, due to the mention of his many exploits in memoirs written by his contemporaries.

Godwin was born in Bristol in 1833, to a lower-middle class family with evangelical Anglican leanings, and he spent much of his life trying to shake off these provincial beginnings. By the mid-1860s, he was well established in London, working as a Gothic Revivalist and was heavily influenced by the writings of Ruskin. From the late 1860s, he began designing furniture in the Anglo-Japanese style, whilst designing houses in Chelsea for his friends, Oscar WildeWhistler and Frank Miles.

He was actively concerned with furniture design, theatrical design, art criticism, dress reform, health and archaeology. He regarded all these pursuits as linked together in a larger concept of 'Aestheticism'. Godwin reacted against the heavy, oppressive existing interiors, believing at one stage that he would rather go to afuneral than a dinner party in one of those conventional Early English, Jacobean dining rooms. The quote below expresses Godwin's typical sense of humour in spite of his frustration; why have such a heavy chair, when there is no need to throw it across the room at your insulter.

"Men do not drink deep or quarrel at table as of old; it is considered more polite to abuse a man behind his back, and should you publish your abuse, he no longer retaliates with a rapier, but with the law of the libel, so that a modern Jacobean chair is quite a purposeless construction"

Godwin actually redesigned the dining room to include chairs that are, "light enough for a child to carry, and strong enough for a child to clamber on"

By the mid 1870s, Godwin was busy designing a range of high-end textiles, mainly for covering furnishings. He worked, for the most part, with a weaving company in the East End of LondonWarner and Ramm, and made considerable use of his study of Japanese design in producing them.

He was also a prolific writer, offering witty and scathing comments on Victorian high society and culture - notably the 'Battle of Style' from the 1860s to the 1880s - while adding humourous cartoon sketches ridiculing the lesser ranks of the profession - with its annoying office life and clients.

In 1874, he ceremoniously opened the dress department in Liberty's in London, which he was Director of.

His son was the well-known theatre designer, Edward Gordon Craig who carried on his father's legacy within the theatre.

About the Manufacturer

We have been unable to find much information about Wells Company, Bedford.

Bibliography & Further information

The Grammar of Ornament: all 100 color plates from the folio edition of the great Victorian sourcebook of historic design, Owen Jones, London : Day and Son, 1856; reprinted New York : Dover Publications, 1987.

Principles of Decorative DesignChristopher Dresser, London. 1873

Examples of E.W Godwin's textile designs

London Transport fabric examples