GEORGE JACK (1855 - 1931) Architect & Designer-Craftsman
George Jack (1855-1931) architect, furniture-designer, wood carver, stained glass artist, and teacher, was an important contributor to the Arts and Crafts Movement. He trained as an architect in Scotland, and became a full-time assistant to Philip Webb in 1882. Through Webb, Jack was introduced to William Morris and from 1885 began to design furniture for Morris & Co. Subsequently he took up wood carving and plaster moulding.
From 1929-1936, the architect Charles Canning Winmill involved Jack in the repair and renovation of St Margaret’s Barking. By the time he worked on St Margaret’s, Jack was in his 70s and was quite ill. Despite this fact, his work for the church was admirable and included: the memorial window to the Hewitt family in the Lady Chapel, a pair of tall candelabra, decoration of the Chancel roof, a carved memorial tablet, eight carved figures on the Youth Chapel screen (Captain Cook, Elisabeth Fry, St Ethelburga, two Barking fishermen, Saint James, Saint John and Saint Nicholas), and the Fisherman’s window in the Youth Chapel.
Jack also enlisted the help of his daughter Jessie in painting the font cover at St Margaret’s. Jessie painted the existing wooden cover to a design by her father. The lettering around the rim says, ‘God hath given to us eternal life and this life is in his son’. Each segment is painted with a bird or butterfly on a mid-blue ground with gilding. This is the only known example of Jack’s daughter helping him with his decorative schemes. Sadly, his work at St Margaret’s was one of Jack’s last commissions, he died in December 1931.
From 29th April to 29th July 2006, the William Morris Gallery held the first exhibition solely devoted to George Jack. His name is familiar to many who are interested in Morris but most are not fully aware of the extent of his output. The exhibition aimed to bring this important artist to greater prominence and explored all aspects of his work. Exhibits were drawn from the archive held at the Gallery, which contains designs for work in plaster, furniture, woodcarvings, embroidery, letters and photographs, and from other collections. It is also brought to light the contribution of his wife and daughters.
St Margaret’s loaned three key works for the exhibition - two of the carved wooden figures from the Youth Chapel screen (Captain Cook and Elizabeth Fry) and the Font cover. Revd. Jonathan Evens, Curate at St Margaret’s, said:
“George Jack’s work at St Margaret’s has been much loved since Charles Winmill’s renovation at the turn of the last century which introduced many artefacts from the Arts and Crafts movement into the church. Jack’s work here demonstrates his versatility and skill as a craftsman and has great local significance as memorials to Barking’s fishing industry and links with Captain Cook and Elizabeth Fry. This exhibition will highlight an under-appreciated aspect of the significant history that can be found at St Margaret’s.”
On 27th May 2006, during the Barking Festival, Amy Clarke (Curator, William Morris Gallery) gave a short illustrated talk on George Jack and tour of the church showing Jack’s work at St Margaret’s.
The William Morris Gallery is the only public museum devoted to England’s best known and most versatile designer. The Gallery is located at Walthamstow in Morris’s family home from 1848 to 1856, the former Water House, a substantial Georgian dwelling of about 1750 which is set in its own extensive grounds (now Lloyd Park). The Gallery’s internationally important collections illustrate William Morris’s life, work and influence. The Gallery also has displays of furniture, textiles, ceramics and glass by Morris’s followers in the Arts & Crafts Movement, which flourished from the 1880s to the 1920s. Among those represented are Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo and the Century Guild, William De Morgan, May Morris, Ernest Gimson, Sidney Barnsley, George Jack, C. F. A. Voysey, Harry Powell, Selwyn Image, Henry Holiday and Christopher Whall.
William Morris Gallery - Lloyd Park, Forest Road, London E17 4PP.