MY FRIEND MICHAEL Jacobs (1952-2014) studied history of art at A Level (university entrance examinations) and then later at university. Later, he became a prolific author. When we were in our late teens, we used to visit Hampstead’s second-hand bookshops together. A few days ago (early September 2022), I was walking along Marylebone’s New Cavendish Street when I spotted something that reminded me of one of our bookshop visits in the late 1960s.
There is a building on the northeast corner of New Cavendish Street and Wimpole Street, which caught my eye. As I passed it, I spotted a small plaque giving the architect’s details. It reads: “BANISTER FLETCHER & SONS ARCHITECTS AD 1912” Sir Banister Flight Fletcher (1866-1953) trained at London’s Kings College, University College, the Royal College of Art, the Architectural Association, and Paris’s École des Beaux-Arts. In 1889, he became a partner in the architectural firm founded by his father: Banister Fletcher & Sons. In addition to designing buildings, Banister Fletcher (and his father) wrote a book of great importance.
The book, “A History of Architecture on the Comparative Method”, which was first published in 1896, was republished several times during the 20th century. It was the standard reference work in English on the history of architecture.
Seeing the name Banister Fletcher on the building in Marylebone reminded me of an afternoon in Hampstead during the late 1960s. We were rummaging around the somewhat disorderly collection of books in Francis Norman’s bookshop in Perrins Lane when Michael discovered a copy of Banister Fletcher’s history of architecture, a book that was well-suited for the bookshelf of a student of the history of art. Michael bought it at an extremely reasonable price.
Until I spotted the building on New Cavendish, I had always associated the name Banister Fletcher with that afternoon with Michael in Hampstead. The building I saw is the first example of a structure that I have been able to associate with the author of the history purchased by my late friend.
FROM THE OUTSIDE, the church of St Barnabas in Pitshanger Lane (Ealing) is not particularly attractive. Even though we visited it on a Sunday, it was locked up. However, we were fortunate to meet a lady, who had been in the church hall and happened to have the key to the church with her. Kindly, she unlocked the edifice, and we were able to enter. The church’s interior, unlike its exterior, is wonderful.
The church stands close to Brentham Garden Suburb, which was built largely between 1901 and 1915. I will write about the Suburb at a later date, but now I will concentrate on the church. Although the Suburb was built with a magnificent club house, there had been no plans to include a church. In 1907, a temporary church made from corrugated iron sheets, and dedicated to St Barnabas was constructed at the junction of Pitshanger Lane and Castlebar Park. Eventually, it was too small to accommodate its congregation in an area where plenty of housing was being constructed. For legal reasons, it was not possible to build a larger church on the site. So, in 1911 a larger plot was acquired at the corner of Pitshanger Lane and Denison Road (one of the streets within the Garden Suburb).
Ernest Shearman (1859-1939) was the architect chosen to build the larger St Barnabas Church, which can be seen today. After working in Buenos Aires and later at Sandringham, he moved to Winchester in 1907. From that year onwards, his work was mainly concerned with designing churches. According to a book by Hugh Mather about the centenary of the church of St Barnabas, all of Shearman’s churches:
“…are tall imposing buildings without spires, and their austere, simple architecture was designed so that elaborate furnishings and other adornments could be added subsequently …”
His churches represent “… almost the final flowering of the last phase of the Gothic Revival.”
All except one of his churches demonstrate Shearman’s fascination with rose windows and elaborate tracery. St Barnabas is a fine example of this.
The construction of the church began just before the start of WW1, in June 1914. It was completed in the middle of the war by June 1916, when it was consecrated.
The church has a spacious nave, which has a lovely timber ceiling. Although it was designed to reflect the heritage of the gothic era, the inside of the church feels almost contemporary. There is an enormous organ at the west end of the church. Made in 1851, it was made by the company of William Hill and originally housed in St Jude’s Church in Southsea. It was moved to St Barnabas in 2011. Some of the pipes on the south side of the central tall organ pipes do not make sounds. They were added to the organ for purely aesthetic reasons. The current organ replaced an older, less reliable instrument, which was removed in 2010.
The apse is adorned by a large painting by James Clark (1857-1943), who was living in Bedford Park not far from the church when he created it. He was one of many artists residing in Bedford Park, which was an ancestor of the Garden Suburb movement. His painting in the apse depicts the three hierarchies of angels praising and adoring the Holy Trinity. It is a magnificent addition to the church.
As we did not want to delay the lady who opened the church for us, we did not have sufficient time to examine its interior in great detail, but it did demonstrate how wrong it was to, to rephrase a well-known saying, to judge a church by its cover.
WHEN THE BANKER Sir Francis Child (1642-1713) acquired Osterley Park in the 18th century, its Elizabethan manor house was in a poor state of repair. His grandsons, Francis and Robert, employed the famous architect, Robert Adam (1728-1792) to give the house a major ‘makeover’ including adding a grandiose neo-classical front portico. And that is what he did on a grand scale. Adam was no ordinary architect. Not only did he plan buildings (and modifications to them), but he also designed their interiors: everything from ceilings and wall decorations to furniture and doorhandles. Osterley Park offers a magnificent display of his wide-ranging skills.
The visitor to Osterley Park, now managed by the National Trust, usually gets to see a series of wonderful rooms on the ground floor of the house. All the rooms except one have beautifully decorated ceilings, all designed by Adam. Some of them have paintings created by Adam’s favourite painter, the Venetian Antonio Zucchi (1726-1795). Amongst my favourite ceilings are those in the Etruscan Dressing Room and the Drawing Room. The latter has a fantastic ceiling that was inspired by drawings in “The Ruins of Palmyra otherwise Tedmor in the Desert” by James Dawkin and Robert Wood (published in 1753).The ruins were those that were recently badly vandalised by the IS group. In each of the rooms, except the long gallery, the visitor’s attention is dominated by the eye-catching ceilings.
The ceiling of the long gallery is devoid of decoration. It was in this room that the Child family’s collection of fine paintings used to be displayed. The gallery’s ceiling was left plain, without decoration, deliberately, so that the viewer’s attention would be concentrated on the paintings. Sadly, the paintings are no more. After WW2, the house’s owner, George Francis Child-Villiers, 9th Earl of Jersey (1910 -1998) gave the house and its grounds to the National Trust. He moved to Jersey, taking with him most of the paintings that had hung at Osterley. Unfortunately, many of these works were destroyed in a warehouse fire soon after he donated the house. The artworks in the gallery have since been replaced with other paintings and because the ceiling is naked, you can give them your full attention.
SADLY, THE CHARTERHOUSE was closed to the public when I walked through London’s Charterhouse Square on a Monday in July. As I walked clockwise around the grassy space in the middle of the (not so square) square, I spotted a building with a curvy brick façade with windows, many of which have both curved steel frames and glass panes.
The building, a block of flats which has Art Deco features, is called Florin Court. Although it looks recently built, it was constructed in 1936. It was designed by Guy Morgan (1903-1987) and Partners. Morgan had worked with the better-known architect Edwin Lutyens until 1927. Two years earlier, Morgan and Partners designed another block of Art Deco style flats in Highgate Village: Cholmeley Lodge. Although I was unable to enter Florin Court, I have read (on Wikipedia) that it contains 120 flats; it has a communal library, roof garden as well as a basement swimming pool. The reason that the structure looks so new is that it underwent extensive restoration work in 2013.
MANY YEARS AGO, I read “The Gothic Revival” by the art historian Kenneth Clark (1903-1983). If I recall correctly, he wrote that it was likely that in Britain, the gothic style never truly died out before it came back into fashion in the 18th century. What we call ‘revival’ was merely the flaring up of the embers of the use of gothic designs, which had persisted despite the flowering of newer forms of architecture, such as neo-classicism. By the 19th century, the use of gothic motifs and structural features had fully revived, especially in the construction of churches and many other buildings, such as London’s St Pancras Station and the Prudential Building (near Chancery Lane).
Today, the 22nd of February 2022, I revisited a slightly concealed church, All Saints, in Margaret Street, which runs north of Oxford Street and parallel to it. You can see its tall, tiled spire from afar, but the church itself is set back from the street in a courtyard. Externally, with its multi-coloured patterned brickwork it is eye-catching but inside it is fantastic.
The church was established by the Ecclesiological Society, which was founded in 1839 as ‘The Cambridge Camden Society”. The group’s aim was:
“… announced a plan to build a ‘Model Church on a large and splendid scale’ which would embody important tenets of the Society: It must be in the Gothic style of the late 13th and early 14th centuries; It must be honestly built of solid materials; Its ornament should decorate its construction; Its artist should be ‘a single, pious and laborious artist alone, pondering deeply over his duty to do his best for the service of God’s Holy Religion’ Above all the church must be built so that the ‘Rubricks and Canons of the Church of England may be consistently observed, and the Sacraments rubrically and decently administered’.”
The architect chosen was William Butterfield (1814-1900), who specialised in the ‘gothic revival’ style. The church was built on the site of a former chapel, and within the confined space available, it was accompanied by a choir school and a clergy house. The church’s spire, 227 feet high, is taller than the towers of Westminster Abbey.
The Victorian writer and art critic John Ruskin (1819-1900) was full of praise for Butterfield’s edifice in Margaret Street. He wrote about it in his “The Stones of Venice, Volume III” (published 1853), observing that it:
“…assuredly decides one question conclusively, that of our present capability of Gothic design. It is the first piece of architecture I have seen, built in modern days, which is free from all signs of timidity or incapacity. In general proportion of parts, in refinement and piquancy of mouldings, above all, in force, vitality, and grace of floral ornament, worked in a broad and masculine manner, it challenges fearless comparison with the noblest work of any time. Having done this, we may do anything; there need be no limits to our hope or our confidence; and I believe it to be possible for us, not only to equal, but far to surpass, in some respects, any Gothic yet seen in Northern countries.”
That was praise indeed.
The interior of All Saints is a riot of colour. This results from the use of stones of differing hues – some inlaid to create bold patterns and others to form images of biblical scenes, glorious stained glass, gilt work, and elaborate ironwork. This feast for the eyes must be seen to be believed. And this gem of Victorian architecture, a peaceful have and a joy to see, is merely a stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of Oxford Circus.
THE ARCHITECT JOHN Soane (1753-1837) was skilled in designing buildings with features to permit natural light to reach parts of them that were far away from their exteriors. Good examples of this were the two homes he designed for himself, one in Lincolns Inn Fields, now the Soane Museum, and the other in Ealing, the recently restored Pitzhanger Manor. Another superb example, which we visited recently (December 2021) is the Dulwich Picture Gallery in south London. Completed and opened in 1817, it became the first picture gallery in England that was open to the public.
Light enters Soane’s galleries at Dulwich from above via overhead sky lights. These were placed in such a way that they illuminate the hanging spaces without allowing direct sunlight to hit the paintings on the walls. This system has since been adopted in many other art galleries. Newer rooms, lit entirely by artificial lighting, are used for temporary exhibitions including that of the woodcuts of the American artist Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011), which we saw on our latest visit. Compared with Soane’s galleries, these newer ones are far less impressive, and despite the modern lighting they feel claustrophobic and rather gloomy.
The permanent collection of old masters, which is hung in Soane’s original galleries, is fabulous. Some of the paintings were parts of collections made before the 19th century. Others were supplied by the artist Sir Francis Bourgeois (1753–1811) and his business partner, the art dealer and collector, Noël Desenfans (1744–1807). Together they ran an art dealership in London and were commissioned in 1790 to purchase a collection of paintings for the then King of the Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania, Stanisław August Poniatowski (1732-1798). It took them five years to do this but by 1795, the Commonwealth had been dissolved. The collection remained in England. After Desenfans died, Bourgeois inherited the collection and then commissioned Soane to design a gallery to house it. The superb gallery at Dulwich came into existence. Soane included within it a small circular mausoleum in which the remains of both Desenfans and Bourgeois have been placed. Rather irreverently, I felt, it was being used to screen a video about the artist Helen Frankenthaler.
In 1944, during WW2, the western façade of Soane’s gallery was badly damaged by bombing (a German V1 flying bomb) but it has been well-restored. Later, in 1999, a new café and other facilities in a modern style were built to the designs of the architect Rick Mather (1937-2013).
As for the exhibition of works by Frankenthaler, this was a delightful surprise. It is a collection of colourful abstract woodcuts that are the result of years of the artist’s complex and imaginative experimentation. Many of the works reminded me of, but were not identical to, the subtleties of Japanese ceramic glazes. Despite being displayed in galleries far less satisfactory than those designed by Soane, this as an art show well worth visiting before it ends on the 18th of April 2022.
IRRIGATED BY MANY STREAMS, branches of several rivers, notably the Lea and the Beane, the town of Hertford is the county town of Hertfordshire in eastern England. Some parts of this historic place with its numerous water-filled channels recalled distant memories of Brugge (Bruges) in Belgium but the architecture differs considerably from what one sees in the Belgian city. We made our very first visit to Hertford on the 2nd of May 2021 and were surprised by its richness in old buildings and waterside parklands. Amongst the edifices in the historic centre of the town, we came across a well-restored brick building on Fore Street. It, the massive though elegant Shire Hall, now the home of a Crown Court, dwarfs its neighbours. Apart from its size and elegance, its architect attracted my interest.
In 1627, a Sessions House was constructed on the site of the present Shire Hall following the issue of a charter by King Charles I (https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1268930). By the mid-18th century, it was considered to be too small. An Act of Parliament issued in 1768 during the reign of King George III led to raising money to build a new shire hall. The specifications were sent out to various architects, and amongst the six short-listed were the now very famous Robert Adam (1728-1792) and his far less well-known younger brother James Adam (1732-1794). The new structure was to incorporate:
“…2 courts, a room for the Corporation of Hertford, and both with and without a County Room.”
The Adam’s brothers won the contract to carry out the above along with the addition of a previously unspecified Assembly Room.
James Adams took charge of the project, which commenced in April 1769 and was completed in April 1771. The arcaded ground floor was used by the Corn Exchange until 1849, after which date a separate edifice for the Corn Exchange was built in 1857-58 on Fore Street. James Adam built far fewer buildings than his better-known brother Robert. James and Robert, both born in Kircaldy (Scotland), started their architectural practice in London in 1758. Not only did they design buildings but also, they provided detailed designs for their interior decoration and furnishings; they provided what could be described as a ‘holistic’ design service. James collaborated with Robert on several other projects apart from the Shire Hall in Hertford. These include the now mostly demolished Adelphi buildings near London’s Strand and Wedderburn Castle in Berwickshire.
The Assembly Room in the Shire Hall, which was used for concerts and theatrical performances, is supposed to have inspired Jane Austen (1775-1817) when she was writing her novel “Pride and Prejudice”, part of which is set in the fictional ‘Merytown’, which she might have based on Hertford. The Assembly Room featured as the ballroom in Austen’s novel (http://wardtimes.info/hertfordshire/east-herts/hertford/news/what-now-shire-hall-hertford). Here is a little extract from Chapter 3 of the book:
“An invitation to dinner was soon afterwards dispatched; and already had Mrs. Bennet planned the courses that were to do credit to her housekeeping, when an answer arrived which deferred it all. Mr. Bingley was obliged to be in town the following day, and, consequently, unable to accept the honour of their invitation, etc. Mrs. Bennet was quite disconcerted. She could not imagine what business he could have in town so soon after his arrival in Hertfordshire; and she began to fear that he might be always flying about from one place to another, and never settled at Netherfield as he ought to be. Lady Lucas quieted her fears a little by starting the idea of his being gone to London only to get a large party for the ball; and a report soon followed that Mr. Bingley was to bring twelve ladies and seven gentlemen with him to the assembly. The girls grieved over such a number of ladies, but were comforted the day before the ball by hearing, that instead of twelve he brought only six with him from London—his five sisters and a cousin. And when the party entered the assembly room it consisted of only five altogether—Mr. Bingley, his two sisters, the husband of the eldest, and another young man.”
The above-mentioned assembly room was that in the Hertfordshire town of Meryton to which the wealthy Mr Bingley had recently arrived from the north of England. Although the Assembly Room, mentioned in the novel, is thought to be that in the building designed by the Adam brothers in Hertford, at least one authority identifies Meryton not with Hertford but instead with nearby Ware (http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/dighum/2016/12/01/mapping-pride-and-prejudice/). Yet another informant felt:
Stepping aside from the identification of the fictional Meryton in “Pride and Prejudice”, I must not forget to mention the large clock attached to the Shire Hall, which projects over Fore Street. Supplied by the Hertford bell founder and clockmaker John Briant (1749-1829), this clock with two faces was erected on the Shire Hall in 1824. It still works and now has a mechanism regulated by a radio signal from Rugby (www.hertford.gov.uk/town-clocks/).
Apart from the Adelphi, which I have seen several times, but until now did not know it was associated with James Adam, the Shire Hall is the first building of which I was aware of James’s hand in its design. I noticed that a plaque attached to this building makes no mention of Robert Adam but only of his brother. It reads:
“Shire Hall. Designed by James Adam. Built 1769-1771”
I do not know whether one can conclude from this that James’s contribution to its design was considerably greater than that of his brother, if he had any involvement at all. In any case, the large structure has a magnificent presence in amongst the smaller and often older buildings amongst which it stands.
THE PAINTER GEORGE ROMNEY (1734-1802) moved to Hampstead in north London for health reasons near the end of the 18th century. His home on Holly Hill, originally named ‘Prospect House’ because of the views over London that could be seen from it, still stands today, even thouh it has been altered since Romney occupied it. During 1792, he made frequent visits to Hampstead and the following year he decided to move to the suburbs north of London. In June of that year, he took lodgings at a place he called ‘Pineapple Place’ near Kilburn. Dissatisfied with his Kilburn abode, and having been persuaded that it would be better to buy an existing building rather than to build from scratch, he bought the house on Holly Hill, an old house and its stables, in 1796. It is this building that bears a plaque commemorating his residence there. The Holly Hill house contained his studio, which was completed after the artist had spent £500 on alterations to his new home. While the alterations were being carried out, Romney lived in a building called The Mount on Heath Street, so the informative historian Barratt reveals in Volume 2 of his encyclopaedic history of Hampstead.
The works that Romney had paid for resulted in the creation of:
“…strange new studio and dwelling-house … an odd and whimsical structure in which there was nothing like domestic arrangements. It had a very extensive picture and statue gallery …”
“At last Romney got rid of the builders and decorators, and all his town treasures —paintings, casts, statues, canvases, and what not—scores of cart-loads of them—were deposited in the new house and gallery, and the painter began to think that his higher aims were about to be attained.”
But this was not to be. His health failed and in January 1799, he shut up his Hampstead abode and travelled to Kendal. He returned to Holly Hill briefly but returned to Kendal after the 28th of April. He died in Kendal. His house in Hampstead was sold and by 1808, it contained ‘Assembly Rooms’ and three years later it became home to ‘The Constitutional Club’. Barratt revealed that the rooms in Romney’s house were:
“…For sixty years these rooms were practically the Town Hall of Hampstead and the centre of the town’s municipal life. The Hampstead Literary and Scientific Society, formed about 1833, met here, and many learned men at its invitation gave lectures in the rooms …”
Lord Ronald Sutherland Gower, author of “George Romney” published in 1904, wrote of FRomney’s Hampstead dwelling:
“…externally the building, which is covered over with a kind of wooden boarding, has the appearance of a large stable; but within are some remains of the great gallery in which the artist placed his collection of casts, and handsome columns decorate this room; it is now a Conservative Club, and appears to be well attended by the residents of that portion of Hampstead. As a living house it must have been supremely uncomfortable; and one no longer has the advantage of the view over London from the upper windows from which Romney loved to look out and watch the distant dome of St. Paul’s lying in the Thames Valley below; the great city has crept up and around Holly Bush Hill, and crowded out the prospect which gave the great painter almost the last solace in his melancholy decline of life.”
Recently, I wrote an essay (see https://adam-yamey-writes.com/2021/04/29/artists-in-hampstead-londons-montmartre/) about some artists who lived in Hampstead and mentioned George Romney. Someone who read it wrote to me and reminded me that Romney’s former home was also the abode of another artist, the Welsh born architect Sir Bertram Clough Williams-Ellis (1883-1978), most famous for his creation of Portmeiron in western Wales. At about the same time as my correspondent mentioned Williams-Ellis, I found a copy of the architect’s autobiography, “The Architect Errant”, in a disused telephone box, now being used as a book exchange, in Madingley, Cambridgeshire. Although I have not yet read the whole book, I have found what he wrote about his time living in Romney’s former home in Holly Hill. He bought this building in 1929 and redesigned it considerably.
Clough left Chelsea for Hampstead. He wrote of Hampstead and its proximity to the Heath:“It was this love of spaciousness that had propelled me first from South Eaton Place … to Hampstead where the desire for bracing air, a garden, and good schools for the children, were factors determining our choice.
From the edge of a plateau high above the dome of St Pauls we looked southwards from George Romney’s old house across the maze of London …”
The autobiography provided a description of Romney’s house as it was when Clough lived there:
“The fine old house, much altered and adapted to our curious habits, being far too large either for our needs or means, was proportionately delightful to inhabit, and with two ex-billiard rooms (it was once a club) at the disposal of the children, its size had compensations.”
Referring to Romney’s picture gallery, Clough added:
“For myself I had taken the immense old picture gallery as my studio, and I did not hesitate to play up to the magnanimity of its proportions in my embellishments … my wife was surprised and a little shocked at my choosing to work in what she not unjustly called my ‘ballroom’…”
He noted that Romney’s former home was “… splendid for large parties…”, and he held many of them. For example, Clough hosted:
“… dances every so often, a show by Ballet Rambert, David Low drawing large cartoons and selling them for charity. We also gave a party to meet the Russian Ambassador, M Maisky, who made a speech from the gallery balcony …”
The balcony can be seen clearly in a photograph on the RIBA website (www.architecture.com/image-library/RIBApix/image-information/poster/romneys-house-hollybush-hill-hampstead-london-romneys-studio/posterid/RIBA71050.html).
Ivan Mikhailovich Maisky (1884-1975) was the Soviet Ambassador to the Court of St James from 1932 until 1943. Unfortunately, the party referred to above does not get a mention in Maisky’s diary (as edited by Gabriel Gorodetsky), which is perhaps not surprising in view of the huge number of events an ambassador is obliged to attend. A year before Maisky became the ambassador:
Rather oddly, Clough does not mention this trip in his autobiography.
Clough wrote that the South African-born scientist Sir Solly Zuckerman (1904-1993), who was studying primate behaviour:
“… wished one of his research baboons on us, as he wanted to study its reactions to ‘bright, intelligent young society’. He was then writing his rather ambiguously entitled book “The Sexual Life of Primates” – so Betsy had quarters on the flat roof at the top of the house for several months.”
The book referred to above was probably “The Social Life of Monkeys and Apes”, published in 1932. Betsy’s stay in Romney’s old house was not entirely successful. It was not:
“… the social success that we had hoped, unresponsive and dirty, we bade our little lodger farewell without regrets. The experience may have been good for Betsy, but I don’t think our children benefitted markedly from the association.”
Clough and his family left Hampstead for Wales at the outset of WW2, keeping a London ‘pied-a-terre’ in Carlton Mews, now demolished. His and Romney’s house in Holly Hill, an edifice altered for Romney by Samuel Bunce (died 1802), has since been used as the studio for an architect’s firm, Hancock Associates, in the 1970s (information from Beth Portwood) and other purposes. In 2012, the architect’s firm ‘6a’ worked on the building to modernise its interior and restore it to a single family dwelling as it had been when Romney acquired it (www.6a.co.uk/projects/more/romneys-house).
The house stands amongst a small cluster of buildings near Fenton House and this charming ensemble makes me think that externally little has changed since these houses were built in the 18th century.
ISLEWORTH IN WEST London was until this month, March 2021, a place where I had never before set foot. A road direction sign with the words “Historic Isleworth Waterfront” tempted us to investigate the place and we found it to be a delightful location despite it being under a flight path for aeroplanes coming into land at nearby Heathrow Airport. After enjoying the view across the River Thames from Old Isleworth, my eye alighted on a house with a circular memorial plaque placed to remember someone significant of whom I had never heard.
Arthur Joseph Penty (1875-1937) lived at 59 Church Street in Isleworth between 1926 and his death. The commemorative plaque bears the words:
“Architect and pioneer of Guild Socialism”
Penty was born in York, eldest of the two sons of the architect Walter Green Penty (1852-1902) of York. Arthur first worked in his father’s architectural practice before moving to London in 1902, where he increased his involvement in the Arts and Crafts Movement. Shortly before his move, he met Alfred Richard Orage (1873-1934). He was an influential British socialist and a Theosophist. He edited a journal called “The New Age”, which was inspired by Fabian Socialism (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_New_Age).
In London, Penty collaborated with the architect Raymond Unwin, who was responsible for much of the planning and design of Hampstead Garden Suburb, whose construction began in about 1904. Penty, working in Unwin’s office, is believed to have designed some of the details of two large buildings, Temple Fortune House and Arcade House, in Temple Fortune, as well as aspects of the so-called ‘Great Wall’ that separates part of the Suburb from the northern edge of Hampstead Heath Extension (www.hgs.org.uk/tour/tour00045000.html).
Apart from architecture, Penty was an important exponent of Guild Socialism. Many of his thoughts on the subject were published in Orage’s “The New Age”. I had never heard of Guild Socialism before seeing Penty’s house in Isleworth. Let me see if I can make any sense of this now long-outdated form of socialism, whose ideas were influenced by the great designer William Morris (1834-1896) and his associates. Guild Socialism opposed capitalism. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica (www.britannica.com/event/Guild-Socialism), Guild Socialism is:
“…a movement that called for workers’ control of industry through a system of national guilds operating in an implied contractual relationship with the public.”
It began in 1906 with the publication of “The Restoration of the Gild System”, written by Penty. The Guild Socialists believed that industry should be owned by the state but controlled by workers through national guilds organised by their members democratically. The system proposed was a kind of nostalgic revival of the mediaeval guild system. During WW1, Guild Socialism was enhanced by the actions of left-wing shop stewards demanding ‘workers’ control’ of the war industries. The movement declined with the onset of the economic slump of 1921 and the subsequent policies of both the Labour and Socialist Parties in Great Britain.
“… was attracted to the anti-modernism of the far right. He admired the corporatist* economic organization of Mussolini’s Italy, supported the nationalists in the Spanish Civil War, and interested himself in the ideas of Oswald Mosley. At the same time he denounced Italian imperialism in Abyssinia and rejected Nazism for its racial doctrines and its statism.”
Had it been open, we would have enjoyed a drink at the riverside pub, “The London Apprentice”, which is a few steps away from the house where Arthur Penty once lived, but it was closed. However, a short walk away across the Duke of Northumberland’s River, we found a small café called South Street that served beverages and locally made ice-cream to take away.
“Corporatism is a political ideology which advocates the organization of society by corporate groups, such as agricultural, labour, military, scientific, or guild associations, on the basis of their common interests.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporatism).
THE HIGHEST PLACE in north London’s Hampstead Garden Suburb (‘HGS’) is Central Square. Designed to be a focal point for people living in the Suburb, this often-windswept square is a dismal failure. Apart from the occasional communal fetes held on this large open space, this area is somewhere that people walk cross usually without stopping to linger. I was brought up in a house not far from the Square and rarely during the 30 or more years I lived in the area could this heart of the Suburb be described as a lively meeting place. Visits since leaving the area over 30 years ago, have never revealed much, if anything, going on in what might have been a wonderful heart for the local community.
HGS was created by Dame Henrietta Barnett (1851-1936), who was married to a cleric, Canon Samuel Augustus Barnett (1844-1913). The Barnetts lived close to the Spaniards Inn near Hampstead. The architect Raymond Unwin (1863-1940) was important in conceiving the layout and design for the Suburb. Another architect involved with the creation of HGS, especially the environs of Central Square was Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944). Building commenced in about 1904/5. The plan for Central Square was finalised in 1911 after several changes in its design. These changes have been summarised as follows (https://londongardenstrust.org/conservation/inventory/site-record/?ID=BAR011):
“Raymond Unwin’s first design for the suburb (February 1905) had communal buildings including a church, chapel, hall, library and shops; the site of the square was to be levelled and extended to the north. Unwin and Edwin Lutyens, appointed architect in May 1906, proposed a more formal plan in 1906-7; this and a third scheme by Lutyens did not meet with Mrs Barnett’s approval. The final plan of 1911 of Central Square as built is a variant on Lutyens’ plan for a rectangle broken up into four clearly articulated spaces each defined by a double row of trees and a lily pond.”
It was a shame that the shops and library never materialised. Had they been included in the final plan, the Square would have had a chance of becoming a vibrant communal centre and maybe the Suburb would not have developed into the staid and rather precious district that it has become. The architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner, who lived close to HGS in Hampstead’s North End, did not differ from my assessment of the Square:
“The omission of shops from Central Square has proved a disadvantage; the square has never become a real social centre. Not only shops, but also cinemas, pubs, and cafés have been refused admission. Institute education and divine worship have not proved to be as much of a lively attraction as the social reformers hoped for.” (“Buildings of England. London 4: North” by Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner, published 1998)
As for the lily pond, if that ever existed, it had disappeared by the time I was a young child in the 1950s.
Apart from the four lawns separated by footpaths, the Square has the following notable features: a church on its south side; a church on its north side; tennis courts on its eastern edge and near them, a monument to the memory of Dame Henrietta Barnett; and on its east side a large building called ‘The Institute’, which houses Henrietta Barnett School. Central Square is flanked by two equally sterile rectangular open spaces: North and South Squares.
Lutyens was responsible for the design of many of the structures standing around Central Square: St Jude Church with its tall spire, constructed 1909-1911; the Free Church with its dome, begun 1911, but only competed in the 1960s; the Henrietta Barnett Memorial, completed about 1938; and the Institute’s design has some input from Lutyens. And that is not all. Lutyens also designed some of the houses in North Square and in Erskine Hill that leads north from it. Friends of mine lived in a pair of semi-detached houses designed by Lutyens on Erskine Hill. Externally, they were not unattractive buildings, but inside I was not impressed; the ground floor rooms were small and not well fed with daylight. Taken in isolation, one might forgive Lutyens for this defect in his design, but since first seeing my friends’ homes, I have discovered that Lutyens was prone to creating designs that were less than ideal.
When visiting Runnymede, where Magna Carta was signed in the 13th century, we saw a couple of lodges that had been designed by Lutyens. A friend pointed out that he had omitted guttering in their design, which is a strange thing to miss out in a country where rain is not infrequent. The result is that over the years water running off the lodges’ roofs have damaged the brickwork of their external walls. The latest “National Trust Magazine” (Spring 2021) highlights a design failure at Castle Drogo near Dartmoor in Devon, designed by Lutyens and constructed between 1911 and 1930 for the founder of Home and Colonial Stores, Julius Drewe (1856-1931). Designed to look like a mediaeval fortress, the place was equipped with the latest of 20th century features including electricity generated by a ‘hydro-turbine’. Despite all of its up-to-date furnishings, it is prone to old-fashioned water leaks. This was largely due to Lutyens’ choice of asphalt, a relatively new material as far as roofing was concerned. In addition, the article in the magazine reveals:
“The windows were designed without windowsills …this leaves little protection from the Dartmoor elements…”
In 1897, Lutyens married Lady Emily Bulwer-Lytton (1874–1964), who was daughter of Edward Robert Lytton Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Earl of Lytton (1831-1891), Viceroy of India between 1876 and 1880. In 1911, the capital of British India shifted from Calcutta to Delhi. And with this move, Lutyens was chosen to head an architectural team to design a new administrative complex in Delhi. His views on the kind of architecture that he considered suitable were disdainful of Indian architecture:
“Lutyens regarded Indian architectural interventions as mere ‘spurts by various mushroom dynasties with as much intellect as there is in any art nouveau’. Indian buildings, according to him, reflected a childish ignorance of even the basic principle of architecture. He also firmly believed that in countries outside of Europe ‘without a great architectural tradition of their own, it was even more essential to adhere strictly to the canons of the architectural style’.” (https://thewire.in/history/friendship-faltered-raisina-hill).
This patronising and denigrating view of traditional Indian architecture that includes treasures like the Taj Mahal and the great stepwells in Gujarat and elsewhere, along with his dogged adherence to certain aspects of European classical architecture, are a poor reflection of Lutyens’ own aesthetic sensibilities and help to explain why I do not rate him amongst the best of 20th century architects. However, many might disagree with my judgement: chacun à son gout, as they say across The English Channel.
Although Lutyens’ creations in New Delhi are much admired, one part of his design showed lack of planning. This is evident in the Viceroy’s House, which he designed. It stands in a complex of buildings on Raisina Hill. Lutyens had wanted the House to stand prominently, like St Judes in HGS, so that it could be seen from all around. Unfortunately, Lutyens:
“…had seen the perspective plan of the buildings earlier but had failed to take adequate notice of the gradient. When he discovered it finally, it was perhaps too late. Lutyens wrote to his wife Emily: ‘I am having difficulty with Baker. You remember the perspective showing the secretariats with Government House. Well, he has designed his levels so that you will never see Government House at all from the Great Place. You will [only] see the top of the dome.’” (https://thewire.in/history/friendship-faltered-raisina-hill)
Well, in my humble opinion, a top-rate architect should never have made such an error and even worse blamed it on his colleague, the eminent architect Herbert Baker (1862-1946). To some outcry in India, there are plans to replace some of Lutyens’ creations in Delhi (www.thehindu.com/news/national/what-is-the-project-to-redevelop-lutyens-delhi-all-about/article29865323.ece)
I have never visited Delhi, New or Old, but I hope that what Lutyens created there is more joyous than the sombre atmosphere that reigns in and around the soulless Central Square in the Hampstead Garden Suburb.