Robert Yorke Goodden was born on 7th May 1909. Educated at Harrow he went on to study architecture at the Architectural Association (1926-32) before starting work in private practice. A paucity of commissions, due to political and economic uncertainty, saw Goodden look to other forms of design. He designed, produced and marketed a collection of abstract patterned wallpapers and a range of mass produced pressed glassware for Chance Brothers.
During the Second World War Goodden worked for the camouflage directorate alongside future RDIs Hugh Casson and R.D. ‘Dick’ Russell. His particular responsibility was to camouflage sea-going ships, including the heavy cruiser, HMS Berwick – sister ship to HMS Belfast. He was at the forefront of the postwar ‘homes for the people’ movement and set up an architectural practice in London with Dick Russell RDI, whose brother Gordon Russell RDI chaired the Utility Furniture Committee on which he served. Goodden came to public attention with his imaginative ‘sports section’ display for the Britain Can Make It exhibition (1946). He then became involved in the Festival of Britain (1951) when Hugh Casson RDI invited Goodden, and Russell, to design a pavilion dedicated to ‘the British character and tradition’. Goodden gave it the name of the ‘Lion and Unicorn’ pavilion and designed the white doves that swooped the whole length of the interior. For use in the Royal Pavilion he designed a ceremonial silver-gilt tea service (now in the V&A). Goodden was also consulting architect to the Board of Trade for the British Industries Fairs held at Olympia and Earls Court in 1947, 1948, 1950 and 1951.
In 1953 the floral damask hangings in Westminster Abbey for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II were designed by Goodden. The Duke of Edinburgh conceived an innovative silver electric kettle, which he then commissioned Goodden to make, as a Christmas present for the Queen in 1956. In this same year he was appointed CBE. In 1948 he designed the wedding gift from the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) to their President, HRH Princess Elizabeth, a small yellow gold box carrying her cypher and a coronet, the lid inlaid with bands of white gold and the surrounding garland, made up of the four national emblems, picked out in green and red gold.
Other important commissions included a ceremonial mace for the University of Essex, silver candlesticks for the high altar of London Metropolitan Cathedral and gold and silver plate for the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths. Another commission, the Alanbrooke Sword of Honour, featured in the ‘Design at Work’ exhibition (1948). Metal foil murals for SS Canberra and china for Wedgwood were designed by Goodden. In 1954 the RSA also commissioned a badge of office for the Chairman as well as the Swiney Prize cup. Following a symposium on Design Management at the RSA in 1980 Prince Philip was presented with a Presidential Badge of Office designed by Goodden. He also designed a lead crystal bowl for the RSA to present to the Shakespeare Centre to mark the four hundredth anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare. The RSA presented the Master with a badge of office to mark the 25th anniversary of the institution of the distinction of RDI. Goodden designed this badge with a nugget of pyrites in the centre to symbolise raw materials, ‘the starting point both for design and for industrial production’ he explained in the RSA Journal. This nugget was set in a disc of tourmaline quartz held in a colourless field to suggest ‘the precious collection of ideas which wait to be discovered’. The outer border is composed of a repeating form adapted from the vanes of a turbine, ‘a very striking instance of purely functional design which is at the same time beautiful to see’.
Goodden had been appointed a Royal Designer for Industry (RDI) in 1947 and he joined other RDIs on their visit to Scotland and the ‘Enterprise Scotland’ exhibition in that same year. In 1959 Goodden, as Master of the Faculty, gave a talk on ‘Faith and Fancy’, in which he commented on the work of Gordon Russell and Ambrose Heal. He had chaired Russell’s talk on ‘Modern Trends in Industrial Art’ earlier that year and at the commemorative event, held at the RSA in 1981.
Shortly after he became an RDI Goodden was appointed Professor of the Department of Silversmithing and Jewellery at the Royal College of Art (RCA). Robin Darwin wanted him as part of his plan to radically restructure the College in order to train design students to revitalize British manufacturing industry. He is generally credited with playing a pivotal role in the emergence of a new and innovatively modern style of British metalwork. Among the earliest graduates from his department who successfully combined their roles as artist-craftsmen and industrial designers were future RDIs David Mellor, Robert Welch and Gerald Benney. The ‘Pride’ range of cutlery, designed by Mellor for his student exhibition, went straight into production and was selected by the Design Centre selection panel, on which Goodden served, for one of its first ‘Design of the Year’ awards in 1957. In 1966 Goodden gave a lecture on ‘Modern Silversmithing’ at the RSA, and took an active interest in the work of the RSA Industrial Design Bursaries competitions. When he became Pro-Rector (1967-74) Goodden designed the College Yardstick, to be carried every year at the head of the RCA degree procession. Darwin painted a portrait of Goodden in his silver embroidered ceremonial robe. Goodden also co-authored a technical manual on Silversmithing (1972) and continued his interest in architecture. In 1951 Casson commissioned Goodden to work on the Time-Life building in Bond Street and in association with H.T. Cadbury-Brown and Hugh Casson RDI, he helped to design and continue the new RCA’s new building. In association with H.T. Cadbury-Brown and Hugh Casson RDI Goodden helped to design the RCA’s new building in Kensington Gore and, with Dick Russell RDI, he was responsible for the interior design of the Western Sculpture Galleries and Print Room at the British Museum.
Goodden sat on the National Council of Diplomas in Art and Design, on Essex University Council and served as a member of the Council of Industrial Design (COID). He was Prime Warden of the Goldsmiths Company (1976-77) and Chairman of the Crafts Council (1977-82). Sheffield Polytechnic awarded him an Honorary Fellowship in 1971. In recognition of his exceptional work in promoting design education Goodden was awarded with Richard Guyatt, the Sir Misha Black medal in 2000.
Though fundamentally shy this tall, spare man had enormous charm. He had a great wealth of quirky knowledge, razor-sharp observations and supreme confidence in his aesthetic judgements. In 1982 in her paper, ‘Pushing the Tank Uphill’, for the RSA Journal Fiona MacCarthy wrote that ‘his work has a special character which…has been rather disregarded…that very English element of whimsy, affection and fantasy, a Lewis Carroll quality’.
Robert Goodden died, at the age of 92, on 24 March 2002.
Britain Can Make It Exhibition Catalogue 1946
- Designers of Individual Sections – pages 237, 238
Original image reference: GB-1837-DES-DCA-30-1-POR-G-33-1. Design Council Archive, University of Brighton Design Archives.