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Susan Weber
Director and Founder, Bard Graduate Center

“George Freeth Roper (1843–1892): Slavish Imitator or Undervalued Architect/Designer”

When working on my PhD dissertation some twenty-five years ago on the secular furniture and interior design of E.W. Godwin (1833–1886) I came across a mysterious figure who worked in Godwin’s architectural office in London in the late 1860s. His name was George Freeth Roper (1843–1892) and he too became a polymath who worked on architecture, furniture, textiles, and wallcoverings. He went out on his own in the early 1870s and Roper designs for architectural competitions and furniture commissions began to appear in London architectural periodicals at this time. His early work was so similar to Godwin’s that I always wondered whether he was a talented protégé or a “slavish imitator” as Godwin described him. This is one of the troubling questions that I have decided to reexamine with a more thorough study of Roper’s life and career. To date, I have not found any scholarly work on this totally under-recognized Victorian architect/designer.

Covid has definitely interrupted my study of Roper and this paper is truly a work in progress. Many of the prominent British archives that I need access to have been either temporarily closed down or only have limited access. Although an obituary in the British Architect in 1892 writes of his textile and wallcovering work I have not been able to verify this since the archives for Jeffrey and Co and Toleman now at the V&A Museum are not available nor are those at the National Registry at Kew. Roper letters at the V&A Archive of Art and Design are also not searchable. Moreover, the main architectural archives in Britain such as the Historic England Library and Archive Swindon and the Lambeth Palace Library are closed. So, this paper covers some of his architectural work and furniture designs, especially those commissions documented in the leading architectural periodicals of his day. What is clear is that his career was dominated by his residential work in the suburbs of Manchester. It is my hope to give a more thorough presentation of his career as research opportunities become available.

Tuesday, November 3, 12:15 pm

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A Zoom link will be circulated the morning of the talk.