I’ve just picked up two great items that I think are reflective of the British sense of defiance during the Blitz of WW2. From Napoleonic prisoner of war straw work to trench art objects of WW1, the desire to memorialise acts done during war is nothing new. Most pieces like these tend to be reflective as they are constructed either sitting prisoner in another land or created after the event from the very debris left behind.
The first item is a coffee table constructed by David Joel Ltd in 1946. Made from timber salvaged from the old Waterloo bridge it is laminated on top with a view of London by Kerry Lee called ‘The Bastion of Liberty’ incorporating Churchill’s words: “we would rather see London in ruin and ashes than that it should be tamed and abjectly enslaved”.
David Joel was the husband and joint partner in the highly successful Betty Joel furniture company that dominated high end society in the 1920s and 30s. By 1937 at the height of her career, Betty Joel decided to retire. David, obviously not ready to hang up his boots yet, decided instead to continue in the industry and founded a new company under his own name in 1938.
This little table, dating to 1946 is somewhat feebly constructed due to the rarity of the timber. Also according to David’s own account in his 1953 book, it was also one of the few items of solid wood furniture permitted to be sold under the rationing scheme at the time. During the post war years David Joel would gain his own well-deserved recognition for his designs and receive patronage from influential retailers such as Heals of Tottenham Court.
The timber Joel used for this table, it should be noted, was not directly a result of the war itself. A new Waterloo Bridge had been on the cards for most of the 1930s but work did not begin on deconstructing the old one (that was 125 years old at the time) until just before the war. While the builders worked away throughout the war, donating the old timber and stones to companies for memorial purposes, work had to be stopped several times due to direct hits from German bombs. A new bridge was finally opened in 1945. As a revered and local company based in Kingston, David Joel Ltd would have been a perfect donor for some of the timber of the old Waterloo bridge. What makes this table special is, instead of just commemorating the past heritage of this iconic bridge, Joel is choosing through his mixture of timber and map to bring the story right up to date and offer a very British message of heritage and defiance.
The second item is a pair of oak bookends that originated a short distance from the table above. The houses of parliament were bombed 14 times during the war, with the worst being in 1941 when the house of Commons sustained a direct hit from German incendiaries, blowing out the windows and destroying the main chamber inside.
These simple little bookends were created from some of the bombed out timber from that raid as well as incorporating lead roundels depicting St George and the Dragon remoulded from leading salvaged from the destroyed windows. Although probably commercially sold, the choice of bookends is apt and perhaps symbolic of cultural learning. What makes these objects more personal is the little bit of charred damage on one side that would have occurred from the immediate fire caused by the incendiary bombs.