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.

Southbank House 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!)

Southbank House Lambeth

Doulton Pottery Buildings

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

Southbank House Lambeth

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

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