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Voysey's external mosaic for the Old College building at Aberystwyth University

From 1881 Voysey was in independent practice. Later, however, he was asked by his former employer, J.P. Seddon, to design a large mosaic mural at Aberystwyth University College. This design is important, not for its artistic merit, but as the earliest expression of Voysey's disregard for authority, his wry sense of humour, and a still sharp indignation at the religious dogma that had persecuted his father. It represented, through studied symbolism, "Science tearing down Sacredotalism", and Voysey is reported as having recalled the episode with mischievous relish in later years:

"I observed that this early exploit is a happy memory for the designer, not because it was his first executed design of the kind, but because two years after it was put up it was hurriedly pulled down by indignant authority which then for the first time discerned the true meaning of the symbolism employed in it ... its triumph for him is that it published to those who had eyes to see a denunciation of an opprobrious dogma the University espoused, and the glee with which Voysey recalls this exploit ignores the discomfiture of the learned dons on finding the decoration they had bought and paid for had been grimacing at them behind their backs for two years." – 'C.F.A. Voysey: the man and his work', Architect and building news (vol.117, 21st January 1927), p.134.

Image from Llywelyn2000 on Wikimedia.

Voysey, according to this writer, paid dogma, "the unusual respect of being enraged by it, instead of laughing at it as he does most other stupid things".

There is a sketch design for this mosaic in the RIBA Drawings Collection, with Voysey's address given as 7 Blandford Road, Bedford Park, suggesting a date of 1885. It is inscribed with the date August 1887, and this may have been when the mosiac was executed.

[The notes above are adapted from Wendy Hitchmough, CFA Voysey (Phaidon, 1995), pp.19-20 and footnote 25.]

The distinctive triptych mosaic still adorns the curved end of the building. It depicts pure science being respectfully presented with the fruits of applied science (a train and a ship) by two acolytes. Seddon recorded in 1898 that some months after the mosaic was installed, the college authorities objected to Voysey's religious symbolism in the central panel, which "suggested a conflict between science and dogma". Seddon was obliged to alter the finished work.

More photographs.

Further reading:

  • Stuart Durant, 'Voysey and Seddon, and the era of his youth', The Orchard (no.1, 2012), pp.21-22.
  • Neil Jackson, 'Voysey in Wales: large mosaic panel designed by Voysey for J. P. Seddon's University College building', Architectural review (vol.163, no.974, 1978), p.190.

Page last amended 27th December 2021