An Extraordinary Gentleman: the Brand New Victorian Pubs of Roddy Gradidge

The Markham Arms in bright pink.

MAIN IMAGE: The Markham Arms in 1976 © Klaus Hiltsch­er, used with per­mis­sion.

The architect and interior designer Roderick ‘Roddy’ Gradidge was both a conservative and a wannabe Teddy Boy proto-punk. Though he worked on all kinds of buildings, and wrote several books, he is usually described in short-form as one thing: a pub designer.

We’ve put togeth­er this pro­file based on the news­pa­per archives we were able to access, online sources, and the books in the ever-expand­ing Arthur Mil­lard Memo­r­i­al Library (our box room). As such, con­sid­er it a work in progress: when we get chance, for exam­ple, we’ll vis­it the RIBA library and see if we can come up with a more com­pre­hen­sive list of his projects. Here’s what we know for now.

John Rod­er­ick War­low Gra­didge was born in Nor­folk in 1929 but grew up in India where his father served in the colo­nial army. Young Rod­er­ick came back to Eng­land in 1943 to attend Stowe under the head­mas­ter­ship of J.F. Rox­burgh. Writ­ing in the after­math of Gradidge’s death the writer A.N. Wil­son, a friend, sug­gest­ed that Rox­burgh was a key influ­ence on Gradidge’s char­ac­ter:

When one thinks of the flam­boy­ant gallery of tal­ent fos­tered by that school­mas­ter – Pere­grine Worsthorne, Antony Quin­ton, George Mel­ly, – it is hard not to feel some con­nec­tion.

Flam­boy­ant is cer­tain­ly the right word: Gra­didge, who every­one describes as ‘huge’ or ‘mas­sive’, start­ed wear­ing an ear­ring in 1955 and ‘longed to be a Ted­dy boy’, don­ning the uni­form drape jack­et, side­burns, tight trousers and suede broth­el-creep­ers and devot­ing him­self to rock’n’roll.

After school, he stud­ied at the Archi­tec­tur­al Asso­ci­a­tion, a voca­tion­al high­er edu­ca­tion insti­tu­tion found­ed in 1847, from which he grad­u­at­ed in 1953. It’s dif­fi­cult to pin down when his asso­ci­a­tion with pubs began. Some sources (1 | 2) sug­gest he designed petrol sta­tions in East Anglia for a time before join­ing Benskin’s Brew­ery of Wat­ford as a pub design­er. Benskin’s was tak­en over by Ind Coope in 1957 which might explain how Gra­didge came to work under the guid­ance of Ben Davis. Davis was an influ­en­tial pub design­er and philoso­pher who trained the Ind Coope (Allied Brew­eries) in-house team from 1965 onward, and lat­er wrote an impor­tant book, The Tra­di­tion­al Eng­lish Pub, pub­lished in 1981. He men­tions Gra­didge sev­er­al times in that vol­ume and the two men shared an enthu­si­asm for Vic­to­ri­an pub build­ings, even run­ning at least one guid­ed tour for fel­low enthu­si­asts.

Things start to firm up in the time­line from 1962 when Gra­didge was giv­en a job over­see­ing the well-fund­ed refur­bish­ment of a run-down pub in Lon­don dock­lands, The New­cas­tle Arms. The Newcastle’s new licensee was the writer and broad­cast­er Daniel Far­son who changed the pub’s name to The Waterman’s Arms and set about turn­ing it into a trib­ute to the great age of music hall. For­tu­nate­ly for us he was a habit­u­al mem­oirist. Here’s his rec­ol­lec­tion of this time from an essay that appeared in the anthol­o­gy Pub edit­ed by Angus McGill in 1969:

I was lucky that the brew­ers’ archi­tect was Rod­er­ick Gra­didge, an imag­i­na­tive design­er who shared my own enthu­si­asms… He visu­alised the music hall saloon imme­di­ate­ly and designed a series of arch­es to replace the wall that was knocked down between the two bars. He com­mis­sioned an elab­o­rate prosce­ni­um for the stage, gild­ed with sym­bols of the Isle of Dogs and Music Hall, and redis­cov­ered an art nou­veau wall­pa­per of green and gold which cov­ered one wall. We agreed on blood-red paint for the oth­er walls but when these were fin­ished he phoned to warn me I was in for a shock. They were glar­ing, to say the least, but they were meant as a back­ground for posters and pho­tos and I was col­lect­ing these eager­ly… By con­trast, the Pub­lic Bar was aus­tere with brown par­cel paper on the walls and prints of the Lon­don riv­er.

This approach was to become Gradidge’s trade­mark: not slav­ish pas­tiche but, as Ben Davis once observed, a gen­uine feel for the art and crafts­man­ship of the past that ‘gave his imag­i­na­tive work a sound basis’. It wasn’t about recre­at­ing the Waterman’s as it had been in 1895 so much as doing some­thing new in the spir­it of the Vic­to­ri­an era, and with­out irony. The new Waterman’s was a suc­cess, at least in terms of acclaim if not finan­cial­ly, and became the back­drop to an award-win­ning musi­cal doc­u­men­tary; prompt­ed numer­ous news­pa­per arti­cles; and even a spin-off TV series filmed in a stu­dio clone of the pub.

There’s also sure­ly a sly joke in Farson’s line about shared enthu­si­asms because both he and Gra­didge were gay, although Gra­didge him­self reject­ed that term accord­ing to A.N. Wil­son: ‘Why say I’m gay? … I’m sim­ply a PERVERT.’ Whether he and Far­son were friends before this as Brid­get Rees seems to sug­gest in a com­ment on this blog post, or if this brought them togeth­er is hard to say but they were appar­ent­ly often to be seen pub-crawl­ing togeth­er in Soho in the years that fol­lowed.

The Three Greyhounds, Soho.
Adapt­ed from a pic­ture by Ewan for Pub­ol­o­gy.

As it hap­pens it is in Soho that anoth­er of Gradidge’s notable sub­jects can be found – The Three Grey­hounds on the cor­ner where Old Comp­ton Street, the cap­i­tal of gay Lon­don, meets Greek Street. In this tall, half-tim­bered mock-Tudor struc­ture built in 1924, Gra­didge ‘turned up the dec­o­ra­tive vol­ume’. So far we haven’t found any pho­tographs or detailed descrip­tions and can’t say what, if any­thing, sur­vives of Gradidge’s work today. That’s a shame because there are hints here and there that it might have been among his best.

Anoth­er pub with which he strong­ly asso­ci­at­ed is the Markham Arms in Chelsea. Thanks to a pho­to-spread in the July 1972 edi­tion of indus­try pub­li­ca­tion A Month­ly Bul­letin we can get some sense of the Gra­didge effect.

This refurb was inspired by the artist James Whistler and used a pea­cock motif of his design as inspi­ra­tion for inte­ri­or details such as the back-bar and the light fit­tings, above. It was not a straight­for­ward peri­od recre­ation and, in fact, looks very of its time. The hot pink exte­ri­or was colour­ful shad­ing to gaudy and, as The Markham Arms was then gain­ing a rep­u­ta­tion as a gay pub, Gra­didge must sure­ly have been con­scious­ly empha­sis­ing the camp glam­our inher­ent in a cer­tain strand of Vic­to­ri­an style – pea­cocks indeed. Sad­ly, the Markham ceased to be a pub in the 1990s so all this care­ful work is long gone.

A fourth cer­tain Gra­didge project, The Great North­ern at Hornsey in north Lon­don, is at least par­tial­ly intact and still trad­ing as a pub under the stew­ard­ship of Fuller’s. In 2004 Michael Slaugh­ter wrote this in the CAMRA Region­al Inven­to­ry for Lon­don (PDF):

Built 1897 by archi­tects Shoe­bridge and Ris­ing in a flam­boy­ant, Flem­ish Renais­sance man­ner. The pub was remod­elled inter­nal­ly in the late 20th cen­tu­ry by Rod­er­ick Gra­didge, one of the most sen­si­tive archi­tects deal­ing with pub refur­bish­ment. The front parts are now a sin­gle space but some sense of sub­di­vi­sion has been achieved by the reuse of the fine glazed screen­work. The large rear music room is might­i­ly impres­sive with its two great tie-beams, glazed sky­light and two plas­ter friezes: the dec­o­ra­tion, includ­ing the pow­er­ful fire­place, looks like Gra­didge work.

It has recent­ly under­gone an exten­sive refurb and relaunch as a ‘craft beer’ venue, to some con­tro­ver­sy, but it looks to us (from afar, with only the inter­net for ref­er­ence) fair­ly well intact. The fire­place is still there and gives a pret­ty good idea of what Gra­didge was all about – it is grand and atten­tion-grab­bing, a work of art in its own right, rather than the kind of delib­er­ate­ly vague back­ground pas­tiche that relies on peo­ple not look­ing too close­ly.

Which brings us back to Mr Gra­didge him­self. As he got old­er he did not set­tle into respectabil­i­ty, even though his active involve­ment with the Catholic Church inten­si­fied. He began to get tat­toos long before that was the kind of thing respectable peo­ple did until they were all over his body, includ­ing a drag­on that cov­ered most of his back. Lat­er on he grew his grey hair long and wore it in a pony­tail. And, once the Ted­dy boy phase had passed, he start­ed to have all his suits made with both trousers and ‘sko­rts’ – plain kilts of his own design. That last habit earned him a nick­name, the Kilt­ed Cru­sad­er.

Cru­sad­er’ in this con­text was a ref­er­ence to his stri­dent cam­paign­ing on behalf of then unfash­ion­able Vic­to­ri­an and Edwar­dian archi­tec­ture, and a cor­re­spond­ing and vocal hatred of mod­ernist archi­tec­ture. He was on the com­mit­tee of the Vic­to­ri­an Soci­ety for most his adult life and co-found­ed what is now called the 20th Cen­tu­ry Soci­ety, and at one point found him­self allied to Prince Charles in his cru­sade against mod­ern archi­tec­ture.

He was in his mid-for­ties when he wrote an essay about pubs for Save the City, a 1976 man­i­festo for the preser­va­tion of the City of London’s unique char­ac­ter joint­ly pub­lished by the Vic­to­ri­an Soci­ety, the Geor­gian Group, the Soci­ety for the Pro­tec­tion of Ancient Build­ings, and the Civic Trust. In it he sets out his mature views on the essence of what makes a pub work:

A pub is a fright­en­ing­ly volatile col­lec­tion of intan­gi­bles, rely­ing on ordi­nary human beings to keep them togeth­er. The sim­plest of rooms can be trans­formed by pol­ish, glit­ter and good light­ing. The finest mahogany and cut glass inte­ri­or can be destroyed by neglect and insen­si­tive addi­tions in a sur­pris­ing­ly short space of time, and when it ceas­es to trade prop­er­ly because of this the brew­ers too often start to think in terms of ‘mod­erni­sa­tion’ and so the destruc­tion starts… Since the qual­i­ties we are talk­ing of are ‘unlistable’, there is lit­tle that the preser­va­tion­ist can do when this threat­ens to occur.

He goes on to argue that mod­ernist pubs are basi­cal­ly doomed to be unap­peal­ing in their very nature, and to applaud the slow dis­cov­ery of a ‘pop­u­lar mod­ern aes­thet­ic’ which has ‘a lot in com­mon with the best Vic­to­ri­an design’.

After this time Gra­didge seems to have moved away from pubs as he tack­led sev­er­al sub­stan­tial writ­ing projects, includ­ing a biog­ra­phy of his idol, the then-unfash­ion­able Edwin Lutyens. Read­ing between the lines of obit­u­ar­ies – not that far between the lines, in this case – he also made more and more of a pain of him­self, roar­ing at peo­ple in patri­cian man­ner, and argu­ing all sorts of unfash­ion­able posi­tions with such obnox­ious vigour that he strand­ed him­self on the fringes of the archi­tec­tur­al estab­lish­ment.

In a sane Eng­land,’ A.N Wil­son wrote in the after­math of Gradidge’s death  in Decem­ber 2000, ‘the man to whom we were all mak­ing our farewells would have been asked to design our great pub­lic build­ings.’ As it was, his lega­cy would be on the pure­ly domes­tic scale – a col­lec­tion of inte­ri­ors, ren­o­va­tions and and exten­sions with no sin­gle build­ing of his own design ever being con­struct­ed from scratch.

And, sad­ly, he is not even remem­bered by the hun­dred or so pubs he is sup­posed to have had a hand in design­ing because no-one seems to know which they are. If we did we’d prob­a­bly find that they’ve been re-re-re-refur­bished in pur­suit one new trend after anoth­er. But we’ll cer­tain­ly be mak­ing a trip to Hornsey next time we’re in Lon­don to look at that fire­place, which has about it some­thing of the High­gate Ceme­tery memo­r­i­al.

We’d like to thank Tim Delaney for giv­ing us a nudge to research and write this piece; Mar­tyn Cor­nell for the ongo­ing use­ful­ness of his gift of spare copies of A Month­ly Bul­letin; and also our Patre­on sup­port­ers who paid for the pur­chase of a cou­ple of books and a few of what ought to have been bill­able hours that we spent on this instead.

5 thoughts on “An Extraordinary Gentleman: the Brand New Victorian Pubs of Roddy Gradidge”

  1. Excel­lent piece of work 😀

    Do I get the impres­sion read­ing between the lines that his lat­er years were marked by an over-fond­ness for alco­hol?

    1. Not sure we got that impres­sion par­tic­u­lar­ly. He liked pubs and beer, obvi­ous­ly, but we did­n’t come across any accounts of Nairn-like excess, and he worked right up until he died.

  2. Excel­lent arti­cle – nev­er heard of the guy, and now I real­ly feel I should have. (Maybe Patre­on isn’t such a daft idea after all.)

    On a frankly triv­ial note, I won­der if he invent­ed the sko­rt? It is, as they say, a Thing – my daugh­ter used to wear one for PE. Basi­cal­ly cycling shorts with a skirt attached, or a skirt with a pair of short shorts built in, depend­ing how you look at it.

  3. Wow. This is bet­ter than Google. I post­ed a casu­al query and with­in a week there’s an eru­dite (and well-illus­trat­ed) response appears on the inter­net.
    You might just be hear­ing from me again…

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