This section is from the book "Ideals In Art: Papers Theoretical Practical Critical", by Walter Crane . Also available from Amazon: Ideals in Art: Papers Theoretical, Practical, Critical.
The decoration of streets at times of public rejoicing seems to afford abundant opportunities for the exercise of artistic taste and fancy, and since in our time such occasions are apparently on the increase, it might be worth while for artists to give more serious attention to design of this kind. It cannot be said that hitherto public efforts at street decoration in this country have been very distinguished. English individualistic habits, and English commercial instincts are both unfavourable to artistic success in this direction; we are not good at collective expression in any art, and the new imperialism has not so far helped us to be articulate in street decoration. The adornment of our streets and public places usually falls into the hands of trade contractors, and anything like freshness of idea, taste, or pleasing fancy is distinguished rather by its absence. Our fiery patriotism seems quite content to let our decorative crowns and gilded emblems and wreaths be "made in Germany," and the popular imagination is sufficiently lifted by union jacks, supplied in "all sizes" down to the pocket-handkerchief by the dauntless commercial instinct aforesaid.
Nothing, of course, gives colour and movement so readily as bunting, and the very sight of a flag is exciting. But flags are dangerous things, and private zeal in the display of flags often outruns heraldic discretion. One sees strange treatment of the national emblem sometimes. A people so fond of waving them ought to know its own flags and how to hoist them one would think. I noted the other day a remark-able treatment of the red ensign, the usual arrangement of the union jack in dexter quarter being varied by cutting it into quarters and placing one quarter in the usual place and the other at the extreme lower corner of the fourth quarter of the red field, dropping the other two out altogether. This may have been from motives of economy. I have seen, too, the white ensign hoisted upside down! The old way of hanging gay rugs and tapestries from the window-sills would produce a very picturesque effect in a street, and would at all events avoid such a "nice derangement of epitaphs" as those above mentioned.
Some streets lend themselves to decorative effects better, of course, than others, and narrow streets are easier to decorate than wide ones.
Scale in regard to the buildings and the position of the decorations are of the greatest importance. In our London streets very frequently the houses differ in height and width of frontage as much as they differ in architectural taste and period, and this increases the difficulty of effective decoration.
A Venetian mast may be in decent scale in relation to the height of buildings at one part of the street, or even on one side of a street, and quite ridiculous in regard to other buildings on the same or other side of the same street. Yet the street decorator clings to the Venetian mast as a chief means of street decoration, even if only a spar, with the tenacity of a shipwrecked sailor. The result, too, in such a climate as ours often is a wreck. Those poles recently placed in Piccadilly - one of the prettiest of our streets opposite the Park (perhaps because one side is left out!) - look too small, and are rather fussily garlanded, while the shields - bearing the portcullis and the rose alternately - are miserably undersized, and not of a fine shape. The best thing is the connecting garland with its lamps, but these ought to be thicker in the middle. Then again, the poles face only one way - outwards to the road, so that they do not tell much in perspective. Something on the principle of the cross-tree or yard-arm and hanging sign is more effective. At least in one piece of artistic decoration attempted for the coronation - I mean the scheme of decoration for Westminster Bridge by the Royal College of Art under the direction of Prof. Lanteri and Prof. Moira - this principle was adopted. Boldly designed banners painted by the students hung from cross-trees over the pavement, balanced by lanterns at the other end, while between them busts of heroic size of our kings and queens under canopies, and backed by stencilled hangings faced the roadway, these groups being connected with the masts which bore the banners by hanging garlands.
From a coloured Drawing by
G. B. Kruger
Decoration of Westminster Bridge, By the Students of the Royal College of Art
The tapering rectangular column of the new art mode with the flat trencher at the top might come in quite usefully as a substitute for the Venetian masts in places, and the flat top could be used for plants in pots, vases, gilt globes with victories on them, or other emblems, or heraldic beasts, or electric lamps. A continuous light arcade of such columns, connected by a light entablature bearing suitable inscriptions, with hanging garlands, or bay trees in tubs between, would be a pretty scheme for a straight, and not very wide street.
One generally feels the want of some connecting link across the roadway, overhead, in any parallel scheme of street decoration. A string of flags is the simplest way of doing this, and is done often enough, but if the street is sufficiently narrow a succession of cloths or banners hung horizontally across the street, forming a kind of irregular valarium, would have a good effect - say alternating in two or three colours, with bold heraldic devices, either national or appropriate to the locality, upon their fields. Streets hung in this way in red and white, in green and white, or blue and white would have a pleasant effect. Striped cloths could also be used in this way.
One consistent colour scheme, say the heraldic colours of the township (with Chinese lanterns strung across for night effect) for each street or section of the town, with an arch or gateway to mark the entrance to each ward or district, would be a means of obtaining unity, as well as striking and harmonious decorative effect.
Suggestion for a Temporary Gatehouse at Temple Bar
By Walter Crane.
Something of this kind was in the mind of a deputation which waited on the Lord Mayor at the time of the coronation to offer a sugges-tion to the City, which would have lent itself well to such a treatment.
Starting from Temple Bar, the existing Griffin - or City dragon (which we whispered might be temporarily removed!) - might have made way for a fanciful Gothic gatehouse with gilded portcullis and gates, built of timber and plaster of course, but substantial enough to support warders and trumpeters, and a gallery of fair ladies who might shower roses or gilded oak leaves upon the King when he passed, as our Richard 11 was greeted at his coronation from the tower in Cheapside, which bore a golden angel upon its top. St. Paul and St. George should occupy niches on such a gateway, which should also display the banners and badges of the City and the Temple, and the arms of the City guilds, while Gog and Magog personified should stand at the gates.
Fleet Street should be arcaded by a series of simple timber supports upholding a balcony, or tier of seats, at the height of the first-floor windows. The timbers might be whitewashed and decorated with chevrons or other simple patterns in black or red, but the construction not concealed. And at regular intervals, upon piers, a bold heraldic beast (say the dragon of St. George) might support the City banner; Pega-
Rough- Sketch To Show Arcaded-Street.