Drawings for Northcliffe Memorial

by Tim Skelton

As reported in the last issue the Trust has purchased some previously unknown drawings by Lutyens for a memorial to the Press Baron, Lord Northcliffe, which it will be donating to the RIBA Drawings Collection at the V&A. They form part of an archive of papers belonging to the Rothermere family that was dispersed in 2008 and as well as ten sheets of sketches, includes correspondence between Northcliffe’s brother, the politician Cecil Harmsworth, and others.

Lutyens’s memorial to Lord Northcliffe, outside the Church of St. Dunstan-in-the-West in Fleet Street (with its sculpture by Kathleen Scott, the widow of ‘Scott of the Antarctic’) is well known but letters with the drawings indicate that, following its unveiling in 1930, Harmsworth approached Lutyens to design a memorial for Northcliffe’s grave in St Marylebone Cemetery. The two men arranged to visit the cemetery in December, following which Lutyens prepared a series of sketches on ‘virgins’; sheets of tracing paper from a pad that was custom made to fit into the architect’s pocket. They show a fertile series of ideas, some for a simple tomb and others, more elaborate, for a miniature temple to cover his grave as well as that of his grandfather who was buried alongside him. One of the drawings shows a clear similarity with the grave for James Hackett which is shown in the Memorial Volumes. Intriguingly, the graves only cover part of the plot and on the remainder, Lutyens proposed an ever-flowing pool of water in a low basin inscribed with Northcliffe’s name although two of the drawings indicate an altogether far grander proposal which bear strong similarities to the war memorials that he designed for the Welch Regiment and the Royal Naval Division.

There is no reference in the Lutyens records to a memorial to Northcliffe at St Marylebone and it was therefore with a degree of excitement that I paid a visit to the cemetery in the hope that the drawings might have revealed a previously undocumented commission. Alas, it was not to be and, as with a number of Lutyens’s schemes, the ideas progressed no further than paper. Nevertheless, a visit to the cemetery can be still be recommended because, not far from Northcliffe’s grave, is a wall designed by Lutyens at the rear of the family plot for the graves of Lord Northcliffe’s brother Robert Harmsworth and three of his sons. The memorial is inscribed at the rear ‘Sir E Lutyens RA INVT’ and is one of the few (Southampton War Memorial being another) upon which the architect’s name appears. A letter from Robert’s son Harold to Cecil Harmsworth amongst those that we purchased reveals that “In this case we made a stipulation that Lutyens’s name should appear in fairly large letters on the back of the memorial so that it is not so likely to be removed at some future date”. For those who wish to see it, the cemetery is on East End Road and the grave reference is G7/59.

Tim Skelton