Story Behind The Beautiful Southbank House, Lambeth

Over the top decoration in London always catches my eye.

Maybe it’s because most new buildings favour a sleek – glass and steel – facade? In any case, whenever I spot something elaborate I always want to know the story behind it and I was in luck with Southbank House in Lambeth.

Clues In The Details

Standing on the corner of Black Prince Road, SE1 this fanciful tiled and terracotta building wears its function as its jazzy dinner jacket.

Above the entrance a group of figures admire large pots and a row of different shaped vases adorn the wall behind them.

Southbank House Lambeth

The terracotta relief carving by George Tinworth dates from around 1878, titled ‘Mr Doulton in his studio’. There’s also a seated woman to the left, thought to be Hannah Bolton Barlow, a leading female artist whose pet cat sits under her stool!

But along the side of the building we get a more straightforward clue.

(Always Look Up!)

Doulton Pottery Buildings

Established in 1815, Royal Doulton produced fine ceramics from their factory site in Lambeth until the 1950s.

A nearby plaque under a rail bridge (more on them later…)

Founded by John Doulton, the company began by making glazed sewer pipes. However, his son Henry had a taste for the fancier things and branched out into fine bone china and figurines. He was even awarded the royal warrant in 1901 by King Edward VII, so that’s where the ‘Royal’ in the names comes from.

This shift towards the decorative was helped by the proximity to Lambeth School of Art (est. 1854 and still going today under the name City & Guilds of London Art School in Kennington).

Southbank House Lambeth

This building is the only surviving part of the huge factory complex. It used to house the pottery’s museum, design studio and art school and was built in 1871.

“Remember that the most beautiful things in the world are the most useless; peacocks and lilies for example” – John Ruskin

But of course as well as its style, this building has substance. It serves the purpose of showing off the goods; a “living advertisement” as described by Gavin Stamp, architectural historian.

Southbank House Lambeth

Don’t Miss Under the Bridge!

Further along Black Prince Road there are more historic clues under a bridge.

Southbank House Lambeth

There are some mosaics which show the history of the Black Prince (eldest son of Edward III who died before he could inherit the throne).

And on the left hand side are a variety of ceramic plaques using motifs drawn from Doulton’s products.

Southbank House, Lambeth

Today Southbank House is a shared workspace venture with offices available to hire, including relatively affordable artist studio space. In a sense then, its gone back to its original function!

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Southbank House Lambeth

11 Comments

  • gwen george

    Reply

    I used to work in Southbank House room 9A Decca Record Library. Still the best company I have worked for. Decca had a few rooms on the first floor namely The art dept, sleeve design photography studio and finance to name but a few. Also Decca radar had an office there. Upstairs were DVLA and an office belonging to the fire brigade. I was there between 1974 and 1979. Wonderful years. We thought it was haunted and record sleeves were held down in the basement.

    February 2, 2018 at 12:11 pm
  • Juliette Crane

    Reply

    I used to work in that building too. In 1988 – 89. Beard Hawkins Direct. I remember the old lift and there was a cafe downstairs that serviced toast and Marmalade. There was a design studio downstairs. I think we were on the third floor, One of my first jobs and I was 18 years old.

    May 2, 2018 at 5:19 pm
  • Malcolm Wilkinson

    Reply

    I collect Doulton pottery from Lambeth, so seeing this building is for me very special. I’ve got pieces by Hannah Barlow…all animals and some pieces by George Tinworth
    , including a plaque by George Tinworth. It’s so lucky for us all that this building has survived with this depiction of these artists at work

    September 5, 2019 at 9:16 pm
  • Joan Neumiller

    Reply

    I was just there today, and it was a wonderful find. There are more ceramic plaques one tunnel over, on Salamanca Street. These celebrate the Duke of Wellington and the Battle of Salamanca. Also by the Doulton company. Enjoying your blog!

    October 31, 2019 at 5:28 pm
  • Jennifer Helyar

    Reply

    I discovered it by accident when I was wandering around Lambeth on a day off. I was intrigued by the many different decorations and looked for a clue to the reason. As you said, “Always look up”. I do, and I was delighted when I found the name. Until then, I hadn’t known they originally made decorative tiles and I spent ages seeking out the different designs. Passers-by must have thought I was nuts. I am so pleased it has been put to good use and not replaced by glass, steel and cement.

    January 19, 2020 at 12:25 pm
  • Pat

    Reply

    I used to meet my sisters for lunch in Sirenas, the Italian restaurant in the basement of SouthBank House. I loved getting there early so I could have a good look up at the building while I was waiting for them.

    August 26, 2020 at 10:41 am

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