Gilbert Bayes, 1872 – 1953, was a British Sculptor. In the 1930s Bayes created washing post sculptures in the courtyards of newly-built housing blocks in Somers Town. These sculptures marked a time of change in Somers Town. Basil Jellicoe, an Anglican priest and housing reformer, had declared a ‘war on slums’ and advocated the building of high quality homes with facilities such as nursery schools for the poorest tenants.
Bayes ‘authorial’ intention was to make art accessible to the public not just through its location in everyday settings but also through its subject matter. Many of the sculptural finials were inspired by nursery rhymes.
These washing posts tell different stories to different audiences. For example, to a long-standing resident they might tell the story of hope, celebration and opportunity, while to the outsider they may appear more obscure and perhaps religious in character.
The tone of voice of the posts is in contradiction to the contextual frame in which they are viewed. The blue gates in front of all the doors and the gates on the courtyard entrance are elements which tell visitors to ‘keep out’. They tell a story of anxiety and closed-in-ness. The washing posts, however, are very open and encourage viewers to walk through and around. They are intriguing. Interestingly, it seems that they have not been used to hold washing for a very long time. Perhaps this also tells of the shift in society away from public trust and and towards privacy and private property.