tavistock_street_londonNow located on a street of another name, London’s oldest street sign is generally believed to be that of Yorke Street and dates from 1636.

The rather small sign, which is located on a building dating from the 1730s, is now located high up at 34-36 Tavistock Street in Covent Garden (above a blue plaque commemorating author Thomas de Quincey (1785-1859), writer of Confessions of an English Opium Eater).

Another of the oldest signs can be found at the corner of Chigwell Hill and The Highway – it refers to ‘Chigwell Streate’ and bears the date 1678.

PICTURE: The Yorke Street sign is the white oblong at the top right under which can be seen the blue plaque (Via Spudgun67/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0)

We’re looking at some of London’s World War I memorials so it’s only fitting we look at the life of acclaimed architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, the man credited with designing the Cenotaph – the UK’s national war memorial – in Whitehall (pictured below).

Lutyens was born in London at 16 Onslow Square, South Kensington, on 29th March, 1869, and – the ninth son and 10th of 13 children of soldier Captain Charles Lutyens and his wife Mary – was named for painter and sculptor Edwin Henry Landseer, a friend of his father’s. He grew up in London and Surrey and in 1885 commenced studying architecture at the South Kensington School of Art. In 1887, he left before completing the course, briefly joining the practice of Ernest George and Harold Peto before starting his own practice in 1889.

Cenotaph-in-LondonEarly commissions included country houses and it was during this period that he met with mentor and landscape gardener Gertrude Jekyll, a relationship which led him to design her home, Munstead Wood near Godalming in Surrey.

In 1897, Lutyens, known familiarly as ‘Ned’, married Emily Lytton – daughter of the late Viceroy of India and first earl of Lytton, Edward Buller-Lytton – and by 1908 the couple had five children. The family’s London addresses included 29 Bloomsbury Square (which also served as his office), 31 Bedford Square and 13 Mansfield Street, Marylebone, while his offices were located in numerous places including at 17 Queen Anne’s Gate.

Lutyens continued designing country houses – he eventually designed more than 35 major properties and altered and added many more – and among his commissions were Castle Drogo in Devon and the refurbishment of Northumberland’s spectacularly sited Lindisfarne Castle – both now National Trust properties. He was also involved in helping to plan and design Hampstead Garden Suburb in London, work which included designing two churches.

In 1912, Lutyens was invited to advise on the planning of the new Indian capital in New Delhi and his most important contribution was the design of the Viceroy’s House which combined elements of classical architecture with traditional Indian decoration. He was knighted in 1918 for his contributions in India and for his advice to the Imperial War Graves Commission.

It was his role in this latter effort which led to his becoming a national figure. He was involved in the creation of numerous monuments to commemorate the war dead, the best known of which are the Cenotaph in Whitehall – initially commissioned as a temporary structure (see our earlier post here) –  and the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme in Thiepval in northern France as well as the Australian War Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux and the Anglo-Boer War Memorial in Johannesburg.

He also designed more than 100 war cemeteries in France and Belgium and other war memorials – including overseas in places like Dublin – as well as London’s Tower Hill Memorial (see our earlier post here). Other London buildings he designed included the headquarters of Country Life magazine in Tavistock Street, Britannic House in Finsbury Square, the head office of the Midland Bank in Poultry and the Reuters and Press Association headquarters at 85 Fleet Street (now home to the Lutyens Restaurant, Bar and Private Rooms).

Lutyens was elected a fellow of the Royal Academy in 1920 (he was later president) and in 1924 was appointed a founding member of the Royal Fine Arts Commission. Even as he continued work in Delhi, he took on other commissions – such as the British Embassy in Washington, DC – and in 1924 he completed one of his most lauded – and smallest – designs: that of the one twelfth scale Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House which was shown at the 1924 British Empire Exhibition at Wembley and which can still be seen at Windsor Castle.

In 1929 Lutyens was commissioned to design a new Roman Catholic Cathedral for Liverpool but when he died on 1st January, 1944, this work was still unfinished with only the crypt completed thanks to the outbreak of World War II broke. Lutyens’ funeral was held in Westminster Abbey a few days later and his ashes were subsequently placed in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral.

For more information on Lutyens’ life and works, check out The Lutyens Trust, founded in 1984 to preserve and protect his legacy.