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Altar table
  • Altar table
    Webb, Philip Speakman, born 1831 - died 1915
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Altar table

  • Place of origin:

    London (made)

  • Date:

    1897 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Webb, Philip Speakman, born 1831 - died 1915 (designer)
    John Garrett and Son (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oak, joined and carved

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Gilmore House Ltd

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This altar table was designed by the architect Philip Webb (1831–1915) in 1897 for the Rochester and Southwark Diocesan Deaconess Insititution, a religious community and theological college for women at Clapham Common, London. Isabella Gilmore, the sister of the designer William Morris, was a Deaconess, and commissioned the piece. Webb was a close friend and associate of William Morris.

Webb designed the chapel and all its fittings. The altar cross, candlesticks a cloth for the altar table and a lectern are now in the V&A collection. The cloth was embroidered by May Morris, William’s daughter (Museum no. T.379-1970).

Physical description

Altar table of solid oak, the table comprising two boards. Frame and panel construction, with visible dowels. The front has fifteen open-work squares with pierced designs of stylised leaf forms. The sides of the framwork have six rectangular openings. The back has two horizontal rails, one near the feet and one near the top

Place of Origin

London (made)


1897 (made)


Webb, Philip Speakman, born 1831 - died 1915 (designer)
John Garrett and Son (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Oak, joined and carved


Height: 95.5 cm, Width: 145.7 cm, Depth: 66.2 cm

Object history note

This table , together with the associated lectern, were lent to the Furniture Department as a long-term loan on the understanding that they would become gifts once Gilmore House Ltd, the donor organisation, had ceased to exist. They were designed by the architect, Philip Web,b for the chapel of the Rochester and Southwark Diocesan Deaconess Institution, a religious community and theological college for women at Clapham Common, London. Webb also designed the chapel, and a cross and candlesticks given to the V&A in 1970. Isabella Gilmore, the sister of the designer William Morris, was a Deaconess, and commissioned the pieces. Webb was a friend and associate of Morris.

Historical significance: An example of furnishings designed by Philip Webb as part of a complete church interior.

Historical context note

The altar table and lectern are furnishings for the chapel (built 1896-97) of the Rochester and Southwark Diocesan Deaconess’s House, Clapham Common, London. Isabella Gilmore, sister of William Morris, founded the institution in 1887 as a centre for the training of young middle-class women as Anglican Deaconesses. Once trained, each deaconess was attached permanently to one of the poorer London parishes, to become part of the daily life and provide practical help. Mrs. Gilmore commissioned the architect Philip Webb to design a chapel to be built at her own expense. A local firm, John Garrett and Son, built the chapel, which was behind a large 18th century house at 85 (now 113) Clapham Common North Side. (Information from Dr Shelia Kirk, Philip Webb Pioneer of Arts & Crafts Architecture, Chichester, 2005)

On 4 November 1897, Mrs Gilmore asked Webb to design fittings for the chapel: a piscina, credence table, silver altar cross, lectern, altar, and altar cloth. On 25 February 1897 she asked Webb to put the work of making the altar 'in Builders Hands' after Webb had designed the fretted panels for it. and she also asked Webb to 'design the silver cross & get estimate, and design the embroidery for altar cover' (site book). The altar cloth was made by Morris & Co. The cross is in the V&A (M.34-1970). The candlesticks that accompanied the cross were probably made by Barkentin and Krall (M.35 & A-1970) and there is no evidence that they were designed by Webb. The Webb drawings for the altar and lectern are in the BAL/RIBA Drawings Collection (altar: Webb[31]2; fretted panels Webb[31]3, (verso) lectern: Webb [31]3 (recto) and 4 (recto and verso). The credence table was apparently never designed. If there was one in the chapel, it was probably bought already, as apparently were the candlesticks, from Barkentin's.

The cross and candlesticks were acquired in 1970. They appeared in the Exhibition of Victorian Church Art (V&A, November 1971 to January 1972). The catalogue to that exhibition referred to the book Philip Webb and his Work by W.R. Lethaby, p.189, which indicated that the cross was made to hang on the east wall of the Chapel. Summarized accounts for six buildings designed and erected by Webb are in a private collection: John Brandon Jones FRIBA, (photocopy in the V&A library). In 1970, when the Deaconess house ceased to function as a theological college for women, the Trustees presented the cross and candlesticks to the Museum, together with the superfrontal designed by Webb and embroidered by May Morris, the daughter of William Morris (Museum No. T.379-1970). The design for the superfrontal was also bequeathed to the Museum by May Morris (Museum No. E.58-1940).

The altar table and lectern were brought to the V&A's attention in 1978. At that time they belonged to a body called Gilmore House Ltd., which owned the chapel. In 1980 the table and lectern were placed on loan on the understanding that when Gilmore House Limited ceased to be they would become the property of the Museum. They remained in store until 2003 when they were reassessed as part of a review of long-term loans. They were then accessioned and the altar table was displayed in the V&A International Arts and Crafts Exhibition, 2005 with the superfrontal; the two were evidently designed together.

Reverend David Page of St Barnabas' Church, Clapham Common informed the Museum in 2003 that Gilmore House Ltd. was taken over by South London Student Housing, an offshoot of the Shaftesbury Society. Dr Kirk, in her book on Webb, explains that in 1970 the house (now Gilmore House) was converted into accommodation for married students from overseas and their families. An accommodation block was built within a few feet of the north front of the chapel in the mid 1980s, and the Shaftesbury Society sold Gilmore House to a private owner in 2000 or 2001. The chapel and its Morris & Co windows remain unchanged in 2005. Revd Page also said he saw a silver salver from the chapel at the Seeing Salvation exhibition at the National Gallery.

Descriptive line

Altar table designed by Philip Webb, 1897

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Karen Livingstone and Linda Parry, eds., International Arts & Crafts (V&A: V&A Publications, 2005), p.42.
Sheila Kirk: Philip Webb; Pioneer of Arts & Crafts Architecture (Wiley Academy, 2005) pp 258-261

Labels and date

International Arts & Crafts:
Altar table
Britain; designed by Philip Webb
V&A:W.4-2003 [17/03/2005]

Production Note

Reason For Production: Commission




Ceremonial objects; Christianity; Furniture; Religion

Production Type



Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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