A Board of Inquiry into the Loss of the Mary Ward House Story 1997 Bloomsbury, London
Preliminary Hearing

An interrogation of one of London’s most influential but least known Victorian settlement buildings designed by Arts and Crafts architects Dunbar Smith and Cecil Brewer.

Description: Nine hour durational performance and installation, presented in the form of a public inquiry
Site: Mary Ward House, 5 Tavistock Place, London, WC1H
Residency: February – June 1997
Commission: National Institute of Social Work with support from The Arts Council of England, London Borough of Camden and the London International Festival of Theatre
Collaborative Partners: Professor Rosemary Ashton University College London, Karen Butti Patricia Brock Associates, Alan Powers Art Workers Guild, Peter Baynes Goldsmiths College, Adrian Forty Bartlett School of Architecture, The Headington Quarry Morris Team


Mary Ward House is a forgotten link in London’s social history. Extraordinary not only because of the prolific Victorian novelist, Mary Ward, helped inspire it and her popular fiction finance it but because many aspects of modern welfare and education were established there in the late Nineteenth Century. Designed in an Arts and Crafts ‘free style’ by the young architects Dunbar Smith and Cecil Brewer the building possesses a unique architectural narrative designed to engage the mind and activate the imagination. It is a building hopeful of the future, grand by aspiration not design: architecture as event, as theatre.

The story of Mary Ward House is one of many lost in London’s contemporary landscape. Its emblematic red brick walls, its plain symbolic dining tables, its unturned banisters, its optimistic collision of the academic and the working man all obscured by the rapid evolution and transformation of the British welfare state over the last one hundred years. It is a building out of fashion because the philosophy it represents is still controversial, the changes it demands of us after a century still just as valid.

Notice is hereby given pursuant of section 17 of the Loss and Disappearance ACT 1921 of the commencement of the Preliminary Hearing of the Board of Inquiry into the loss of the Mary Ward House Story to be held in accordance with rule 4 of the act at Mary Ward House, Tavistock Place, London WC2, Friday 20th June 1997. All other claims in respect of the hearing may be sent in writing with full particulars and details, or presented in person as shall be specified by the Board. Those in default thereof will be excluded from the benefit of any findings.


Evidence put before the Inquiry:
22 An Intimate Journal
23a A fruit cordial
23b Figs
24 A forcing house
25a 1st Map
25b 2nd Map
26a An architectural principle
26b The studio of Smith and Brewer
26c Various personal effects
26d Guild activity with orange peel
26e Interior detail
27 (withdrawn)
28 The London Plane Tree

29 A bed of lettuce
30 Colour-coded maps of London Poor
31 Mr Wicksteed’s astigmatism
32 A fall from a window
33 (withdrawn)
34 Incident on stepping-stones
35 Vegetables deprived of light
36a The ‘esperance’ onion
36b An authentic folk annotation
37 A tree of life
38 A box buried in leaf mould
39 Christmas in Van Diemens Land
40 A pair of washbasins
41 A personal statement of belief