Prolific inimitability: getting to grips with S.S. Teulon (1812-1873)

For many of the architects featured in this blog, single posts running to something in the region of 15 pages of copy is sufficient to give a reasonably comprehensive account of their careers. Further research might bring to light previously unknown works and thereby flesh out the picture, but is unlikely to yield anything that will change our perceptions greatly. With Samuel Sanders Teulon – who has already been mentioned in passing here more than once – the case is not so simple. He was a major figure, who designed prolifically and built throughout the country. His work has impressed academics and aficionados alike as being strongly, even rebarbatively individual – it is not architecture likely to leave observers indifferent. And yet for all the vilification and praise it has drawn as attitudes to Victorian architecture changed during the 20th century, we are still not much nearer to understanding why Teulon designed as he did, or indeed even to being able to assess his work on the basis of a comprehensive survey.

S.S. Teulon pictured in later life – the muscular Gothic style of the desk at which he is seated suggests strongly that it was one of his own designs.

This is not to say that he has been ignored or underrated by architectural historians. Sir Charles Eastlake described at some length and with admiration Teulon’s final church of St Stephen’s, Rosslyn Hill in Hampstead, which was approaching completion at around the time that A History of the Gothic Revival was published. Nearly 100 years later, when the great re-evaluation of Victorian architecture was under way, Sir Nikolaus Pevsner and other authors of The Buildings of England series often dwelt on his buildings at length, recognising him as a name to conjure with. Mark Girouard wrote appreciatively about Teulon in The Victorian Country House, first published in 1971, describing at some length his remodelling of Shadwell Park in Norfolk.

The climax and swansong of Teulon’s career: the church of St Stephen’s, Rosslyn Hill in Hampstead (1869-1873), now redundant and used as an events venue.
The chancel of St Stephen’s, Rosslyn Hill, photographed when the building was still a functioning Anglican place of worship: following redundancy in 1977, many of the fittings were sold off and what remained was either destroyed outright or severely damaged during a period of over 20 years when the building was disused and derelict. (Historic England)

But no one has done Teulon a service as advocate for his work to compare with Matthew Saunders, the architectural historian and conservationist who until recently was Director of the Ancient Monuments Society and the Friends of Friendless Churches. His first work to appear in print – as far as I am aware – was The Churches of S.S. Teulon, which was published in 1982 by The Ecclesiological Society. It consists of a gazetteer of all Teulon’s known new churches and church restorations, prefaced by an outline of his biography and a brief essay on his style. Though aspects of the presentation have a slightly homemade quality and the black and white illustrations could hardly do Teulon’s architecture justice (something acknowledged by the author), the scholarship is first-rate and the book very well written. This was followed by a general survey of the architect’s life and work included in The Architectural Outsiders, a collection of essays by a range of authors on neglected architects of the 17th to early 20th centuries, which appeared in 1985. Matthew Saunders also contributed all the entries on churches by S.S. Teulon in The Faber Guide to Victorian Churches, which was published in 1989.

One of the piers to the south arcade at St James’s, Leckhampstead in Berkshire (1859-1860), which embodies the crystalline forms that Teulon seems to have particularly enjoyed and used widely in handling all manner of features. See below, for instance, the chimney breast of the cottages in Hunstanworth or the bay windows of Letton Court.

Background and training

So there is a firm foundation, and it is thanks to Matthew that we know plenty about Teulon’s personal circumstances. The surname implies French heritage and his ancestors were Huguenots, just like Robert Lewis Roumieu. Teulon’s family was involved with the French Hospital originally known as La Providence, for which Roumieu designed new premises in south Hackney: several members in past generations were directors, and both Samuel Sanders Teulon and his brother, William Milford Teulon (1823-1900), who also went into architecture, served as trustees. The family was comfortably circumstanced. One branch of it owned an estate at Limpsfield Common in Surrey, and Samuel’s parents resided at Hillside, a Georgian mansion in Greenwich on Crooms Hill – the exclusive and fashionable street which leads up from the centre of the town to Blackheath. His father, also called Samuel, was a cabinet maker and upholsterer, who later on in life turned to surveying.

Teulon’s prowess as an artist: Eltz Castle in the valley of the Rhine southwest of Trier, sketched on his European tour of 1841-1842, which was recorded in a sketchbook now in the RIBA Collection.

Teulon began his training as a student of the drawing school at the Royal Academy. It was an auspicious time to study there, since both John Soane and J.M.W. Turner could conceivably have been among his teachers. Whether he came into contact with them and, if so, what influence they exerted remains to be discovered, but there is no doubt that Teulon was an artist of considerable ability, as shown by the sketchbooks now in the RIBA collection which illustrate his travels around Britain and continental Europe. The latter were conducted in 1841-1842 in the company of fellow architect Ewan Christian (1814-1895), who became a lifelong friend.

Teulon’s prowess as a draughtsman: detail of a survey drawing of 1860 of the Chinese Fishing Temple at Virginia Water in Berkshire, built c. 1826 to the design of Sir Jeffry Wyatville (1766-1840). The decorative scheme was the work of Frederick Crace (1779-1859), who was much involved with the interior of Brighton Pavilion. The survey drawing is assumed to have been produced as a preliminary to repairs to the structure, yet it was demolished not long afterwards in 1867.

Teulon acquired his grounding in construction and architecture from George Legg (1799-1882) and George Porter (c. 1796-1856). Little is currently known about the career of the former, other than that in 1844 he became district surveyor to Belgravia and Pimlico. The latter also practised the professions of both surveyor and architect. His office was in Bermondsey, where he laid out part of the West Estate, and in 1824 he became District Surveyor for Newington and North Lambeth. It seems that his professional practice also took in a measure of civil engineering, since in 1825 he had been engaged to widen the medieval Town Bridge over the River Wey in Guildford (destroyed by flooding in 1900). Insofar as can be judged from his few surviving works, he seems not to have been dogmatic about style, as was typically the case with architects of that generation. The front that he added in 1830 to the mother church of Bermondsey, St Mary Magdalen, is Georgian Gothick, while the buildings for the London Leather Company (at any rate, going by what has survived of the complex to the 21st century) were in a spare classical manner typical of much industrial architecture of the time. At the almshouses for the Watermen’s Company in Penge, built in 1840-1841, Porter employed the free Tudor Revival popular during that decade for institutional and public buildings.

A photograph discovered among Teulon papers received from Matthew Saunders which, according to the letter dated October 1986 enclosed with it, shows Tensley Villa in Limpsfield, Surrey. The remodelling of this property in 1838 for the relative who resided there was Teulon’s first independent commission. The image wants conclusive identification, but plausibly depicts a (presumably in origin Georgian) house vamped up in a Tudor Revival manner around that date, when the porch, dripstones, tall chimneys, flanking towers and wing to the right would have been added.

As early as 1835, while presumably still a trainee in Porter’s office, Teulon had entered a design in a competition for a new town hall and market complex in Penzance, Cornwall. This had been produced jointly with Sampson Kempthorne (1809-1873), a fellow alumnus of the Royal Academy Schools who soon afterwards became architect to the Poor Law Commissioners and developed a line in workhouses. The same year Teulon married Harriet Bayne with whom he had six sons (two of whom died in infancy) and four daughters. In 1836, he produced a design for baths at Lee in southeast London and the following year a scheme for the county hall and law courts at Ipswich in Suffolk. Neither was realised, but by 1838 he was sufficiently confident of his ability to enter independent practice and executed his earliest known commission, the remodelling of Tensley Villa in Limpsfield, Surrey for Thomas Teulon (1764-1844). A view of the Penzance scheme was shown at the Royal Academy, as was his winning entry in a competition held in 1840 for new almshouses for the Dyers’ Company on the Balls Pond Road in Islington. This was a pretty Tudor Gothic design, still essentially Georgian in spirit (it was symmetrical and might just as easily have been tricked out in classical detail) and gave few hints of what Teulon would go on to do. It had a certain kinship with the Watermen’s Almhouses, and indeed around this date Teulon was busy helping his former teacher with that commission. In 1846, he moved to an address on South End Green in Hampstead named Tinsleys, where he lived for the remainder of his life.

Stained glass by William Wailes in the chancel at St Thomas’s in Wells, installed during the original building campaign of 1857: one of a series of windows depicting Old and New Testament types, the left-hand light of this one depicts the Brazen Serpent with Synagogue above, while the right-hand light depicts the Crucifixion with Ecclesia above. It is typical of the hard, bright colours favoured by Teulon in the stained glass installed in his churches – and, indeed, of stained glass of the 1850s-1860s more generally.

The start of independent practice

It is perhaps worth dwelling on Teulon’s architectural training, for although there is much to suggest that it was thoroughgoing and highly professional, there is nothing here which necessarily predisposed him to be the ecclesiastical specialist that he went on to become. He would have been equally well placed to carve out a niche for himself in residential or commercial work. Yet he went on to produce designs for 114 ecclesiastical commissions – new churches, remodellings and restorations, to say nothing of his numerous vicarages and church schools. The Teulon family was apparently strongly Evangelical in its churchmanship and it is clear, as will be touched on below, that the architect moved in circles that shared his sympathies. But this is an aspect of his life that requires more detailed study than it has hitherto received before one can begin to draw any conclusions about how it influenced the nature of his architecture. Goodhart-Rendel regarded Low Church Anglicanism as the milieu which promoted in the ecclesiastical sphere the idiosyncratic and wilful brand of Revived Gothic of the 1850s and 1860s, whose practitioners he identified as ‘rogue architects’. He counted among them Enoch Bassett Keeling and Joseph Peacock. It is tempting to explain the highly individual nature of Teulon’s mature style as the result of employment by a clientèle for whom received notions of architectural propriety based on archaeological correctness were not an overriding concern.

The garden front of the former rectory of Wetheringsett, Suffolk of 1843 (Historic England)

In some cases the link would seem to be explicit, such as the extraordinary monument of 1866 to William Tyndale, translator of the Bible, commissioned by the second Earl of Ducie and raised on a splendid hilltop site at North Nibley in Gloucestershire. The roundels of Protestant reformers in the spandrels of the nave arcade at St Stephen’s, Rosslyn Hill also require little comment. But Teulon was nothing if not consistent, and while the implications of his architectural language may be clear enough in church design, when it is applied to country houses or model cottages, no such obvious conclusions invite themselves. All that can be said for the time being is that the thesis that architectural licence equates to Evangelical sympathies needs to be tested in each instance. Such sympathies were as much a badge of allegiance as an aesthetic, perhaps even more so, and may ultimately be of more use in explaining how Teulon won his commissions than how they came to look as they did.

St MIchael’s Church, East Torrington, Lincolnshire of 1848-1850 (David Wright)

Teulon’s practice took a while to build up momentum and for the first 10 years or so he was busy with commissions for rectories and churches mainly in Suffolk, Norfolk and Lincolnshire. This period in his career has attracted comparatively little interest from architectural historians, but it is worth pulling out a few buildings to discuss briefly for what they reveal about his development. Wetheringsett Manor (formerly the rectory) of 1843, located in mid-Suffolk to the north of Stowmarket, is a large Tudor Gothic house in white brick with stone dressings, its garden front symmetrically composed. The exactly contemporary Winston Grange (formerly the vicarage), only a short distance to the southeast in the same county, is a different strain of the same breed – Tudor Gothic, only this time asymmetrically composed, constructed of red brick and with crow-stepped gables embodying a tradition of the locale in domestic architecture of the period that it emulates.

The Tyndale Monument of 1866 outside North Nibley, Gloucestershire, pictured at sunrise (Saffron Blaze)

Teulon the church architect

The east elevation to Kipling Street of St Paul’s Church in Bermondsey of 1848, pictured probably in the late 1950s/early 1960s: the upper two thirds of the spire had already been dismantled and the entire church would be gone by 1963. (Historic England)
Holy Spirit, Rye Harbour, East Sussex (1849): though a relatively early work in his career, the treatment of the upper stages of the towerlet already demonstrates the wilfulness that would become so prevalent in Teulon’s later architecture. The church was altered in 1912, when the flat east wall with its three-light window was removed and an apsidal chancel added.

At their simplest, Teulon’s new churches from this period are plain, lancet-style buildings with little embellishment. More ambition is evident in buildings such as St Michael’s in East Torrington near Market Rasen (1848-1850), with its well detailed Decorated tracery and powerfully modelled west wall and bell cote, or St Mary’s in Riseholme, just to the north of Lincoln (1850), where the tracery is turning curvilinear and the patronage of Bishop John Kaye allowed for an interior of some sumptuousness. Or take St Peter’s, Great Birch in Essex of 1849-1850, the very image of a large, early Victorian suburban church – a nave with two broad aisles, deep chancel and tower with a tall spire (in fact it served a small village, was always too large for it, was made redundant in 1990 and is now derelict and at risk of demolition). All of the buildings examined so far are carefully designed, well detailed and imaginative, but they are of interest primarily as good period pieces. Most of what is here could easily have been cribbed from R.C. Carpenter or one of the other Puginian Goths – they do not yet evidence the strongly individual architectural personality that made Teulon’s reputation.

All Saints, Icklesham, East Sussex – the nave roof, replaced by Teulon during his restoration of 1848-1849
The font at All Saints in Icklesham, East Sussex, introduced by Teulon as part of his restoration of this large medieval building in 1848-1849

It is difficult to reconcile the architect of these buildings with the image that Teulon established for himself with his later work. Exactly when his manner became eccentric and acerbic is difficult to pinpoint, and indeed it was probably a gradual process rather than a sudden change. It seems to have begun right at the end of the 1840s and to have been in full flood by the middle of the following decade. It is significant that it was around this date when Teulon began to be lambasted in The Ecclesiologist. Its anonymous reviewers acted as arbiters of architectural and liturgical rectitude, establishing canons of taste generally founded on the work of practitioners in the service of the High Church party. Teulon’s Evangelical sympathies have already been mentioned; many of his buildings were designed for Low Church worship rather than the revived ritual of the Middle Ages, and this alone would have been enough to raise the heckles of The Ecclesiologist’s reviewers. St Paul’s in Bermondsey, completed in 1848, drew flack for being fitted with galleries – it was essentially a preaching box. It was criticised also because only the tower and east end of the building, which fronted the main thoroughfare of Kipling Street, were finished in stone, the rest being plain stock brick, the kind of sham that was viewed as the currency of lapsarian Georgian architects

St John the Baptist, Netherfield, East Sussex (1854-1855): the upper part of the bell tower and clock face
Detail of the superlative carving of the reredos at St John the Baptist, Netherfield in East Sussex – the decorative scheme is based on the theme of flowers mentioned in Scripture. Thomas Earp is known to have carved the capitals of the chancel arch, but his involvement with any other part of the building remains to be attested.

Yet the politics of churchmanship cannot wholly explain the lack of favour. Detailed research would be needed to corroborate such an interpretation, but one begins to get a sense from some of the comments that the problem ultimately was that Teulon’s design came across as tacky, vulgar and meretricious. The Ecclesiologist concluded about St Paul’s that there was ‘a pretence about the whole design which makes it far more repulsive to us than a church which is honestly cheap and bad’. Christ Church, Croydon, completed in 1852, was dismissed as ‘mediocre’ (although as Matthew Saunders points out, the adjective was employed frequently and indiscriminately by the publication) and criticised for the mean planning of the apse and the perceived flimsy, slapdash detailing. Teulon’s proposal to remove the upper part of the catslide roofs spanning both nave and aisles and incorporate a clerestory in his restoration of the medieval church of All Saints, Icklesham in East Sussex of 1848-1849 seems to have been viewed as an attempted imposition of questionable taste: ‘We had not much opinion of Mr Teulon’s ability but we were not prepared to see him… so wantonly destroying a feature of extreme singularity and picturesque effect in an ancient church’.

Holy Trinity, Hastings in East Sussex – artist’s impression published in The Builder of 20th June 1857: work started on site the following month and the building was completed in 1862, but the mighty tower got no further than the lowermost stage, which incorporates an entrance to Robertson Street,
St John the Baptist, Huntley in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire: Teulon’s rebuild of 1862-1863 – carried out at the personal expense of the then-incumbent, the Rev’d Daniel Capper – retained only the tower of its predecessor, which acquired a broach spire. Though it harmonises well with the church, the adjacent school building is not Teulon’s work. (Rex Harris)

In two of the works named above, one sees the germs of Teulon’s mature style in his bold and licentious handling of motifs and devices ostensibly drawn from the architecture of the Middle Ages. At Icklesham, every other roof truss in the nave (the proposed clerestory was eventually omitted) is supported on wooden colonettes modelled like detached stone shafts – presumably a purely aesthetic mannerism, since alternate trusses go down no further than the springing of the arch brace. All of them, however, rest on corbels with rich, deeply undercut foliate carving, which is employed too for the extraordinary font with overlapping trefoils wrapped around the bowl. The west porch is a highly picturesque hexagonal form. At Bermondsey, the east window was filled with spidery tracery, while a powerfully modelled polygonal stair turret was positioned at the junction of the chancel and bell tower, one of the corner buttresses running over its steeply pitched roof and down one of its faces – again, caprice was at play, rather than archaeological correctness or structural logic.

St John the Baptist, Burringham, Lincolnshire (1856-1857), view from southeast: this church is now redundant and in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust.
St John the Baptist, Burringham, Lincolnshire – view from southwest. Note the extraordinary boiler house flue emerging from one corner of the tower.

The Puginian style of the 1840s is pulled around, distorted, perverted and ultimately made into a parody of itself. Curvilinear tracery gets more intricate, sinewy and tangled; cusping gets larger or more acute; motifs are piled up, superimposed, collide with and puncture one another. Components which, in the original, would be subsidiary to the composition as a whole, such as stair turrets and transverse gables, take centre stage, while utilitarian features such as clock faces and boiler house chimneys become vehicles for invention and are treated as architectural statements in their own right. Everywhere the trend is towards complexity, even fiddliness, towards never using one word where 10 will do. Ornament, especially architectural sculpture, is exaggerated and overscaled. At St John the Baptist, Netherfield in East Sussex of 1854-1855 the pot is simmering; at Holy Trinity, Hastings of 1857-1862, it is boiling over. The apotheosis of this manner is St John the Baptist, Huntley in Gloucestershire, a medieval church rebuilt in its entirety apart from the tower in 1862-1863, and praised by Goodhart-Rendel as ‘one of the most interesting buildings in England’.

Artist’s impression of St Mary’s in Ealing as originally intended by Teulon from The Building News of 23rd July 1869: the west porch was executed in somewhat simplified form and the treatment of the tower above the belfry is wholly different, lacking the octagonal stage and spire.
The interior of St Mary’s, Ealing: the church was reordered in 2002-2003 when, among other things, the nave was reseated and a decorative scheme of 1955 by H.S. Goodhart-Rendel was replaced by something more in spirit with Teulon’s design. The slender piers supporting the galleries and nave roof are cast iron and represent one of the architect’s boldest uses of the material.

A little later, probably around 1855, Teulon begins to absorb the Ruskinian style pioneered by architects such as G.E. Street, which combined the muscular forms of early French Gothic with features drawn from Italian architecture of the early Middle Ages, principally structural polychromy. But here again, it is viewed, as it were, in a distorting mirror. The forms are uncompromisingly thick-set, the modelling sometimes strikingly elemental, the stripes and diapers bolder and more vivid. Teulon grasps the potential of the style in a way that none of his contemporaries managed in buildings such as St John the Baptist, Burringham in Lincolnshire of 1856-1857, where buttresses, string courses, hood moulds and other projections from the wall surface are largely suppressed to achieve a powerfully modelled assemblage of near-prismatic forms. What appears to be a dumpy west tower turns out to be kind of ante-chamber to the nave, open inside to the roof structure and with a bizarre chimney perched on and clasping the northwest corner. It was a language of form that served him well in a number of commissions to recast Georgian churches in a High Victorian manner, most notably St Mary’s in Ealing, where, between 1864 and 1874, Teulon remodelled almost beyond recognition a plain building originally of 1735-1740 by James Horne.

The former church of St Mark’s, Silvertown in east London (since 2004 the Brick Lane Music Hall): detail of the bell tower and windows lighting the chancel. ‘Teulon’s style has stopped being merely original, has become fused into glittering poetry, all knobbly with harsh polysyllables. […] Imploded, savage inward raids into the heart’s essence, an architectural imagination the size of Blake’s. […] It is the nearest thing to a mystic’s revelation that London has’. Nairn’s London
View looking west of the interior of St Mark’s, Silvertown, pictured while it was still in use as a church. The interior was badly damaged by fire in 1981 during a long period when it was disused following redundancy in 1974, but the roof was reinstated by Julian Harrap during a restoration of 1984-1989. The plan form with a bell tower placed over the chancel and an apse emerging from its eastern face was used again at a number of churches, notably St Stephen’s, Rosslyn Hill, pictured above, and St Thomas’s, Agar Town, pictured below. (Historic England)

But Teulon was not merely highly inventive in his treatment of historicising motifs, he was also omnivorous in his sources. At St Andrew’s, Coin Street in Lambeth (designed 1854, consecrated 1856), he turned for inspiration to the Backsteingotik churches of the Hanseatic cities of northern Germany. This is particularly evident in the tower, which lacks any buttressing – as is the case with the prototypes – and where tall gables to each elevation of the belfry stage help effect the transition from square to octagonal spire. Teulon first tried out a Rhenish helm spire at St Stephen’s, Manciple Street in Southwark of 1848. In most other respects, that was an unadventurous design, but when Teulon used the device again 17 years later in the rebuilding of SS Peter and Paul, Hawkley, near Liss in Hampshire, it was formed part of a thoroughgoing and convincing essay in Romanesque with Germanic overtones. Perhaps he had been prompted by recollections of something that he had seen on his travels as a young man. At St Mark’s, Silvertown (now the Brick Lane Music Hall) of 1860-1862, Teulon cast his net even wider, filling the belfry windows and those below lighting the chancel with square-section tracery in geometrical patterns that seem to be of distantly Moorish inspiration. Something similar, although interpreted even more personally, cropped up at St Thomas, Agar Town in Camden (1863, demolished c. 1960 following bomb damage). Islamic inspiration is evident again at St Stephen’s, Rosslyn Hill in Hampstead (1869-1873), where Teulon used horseshoe-shaped arches.

St Andrew’s Church, Lambeth (1855-1856): view of the liturgical west front (in fact, the church was not oriented and the main axis ran more or less north-south) looking down Coin Street, which it terminated. The church sustained blast damage during World War II. Contemporary photographs show that this was far from irreparable, but it stood in an over-churched area which was fast depopulating and the case for restoring it must have seemed unconvincing. It was demolished soon afterwards.
Lateral (top) and longitudinal (above) cross sections of St Andrew’s, Coin Street from the District Surveyor’s Returns (LMA, MBO 34, ff. 330-355). Note that the nave had galleries in the aisles and at the west end. No other illustration of the interior of this church has so far been discovered.

Teulon pursed a total aesthetic in his churches every bit as avidly as any other 19th century architect. Fittings were often bespoke and their design is full of the invention and originality that characterise the architecture which forms its setting. He also collaborated extensively – and by no means exclusively on ecclesiastical commissions – with leading artists and craftsmen of the time: Thomas Earp for sculpture (he was kept busy at Huntley, where he did the lavishly ornamental lectern, pulpit and reredos), Clayton and Bell or Lavers and Barraud for stained glass, Skidmore of Coventry for ironwork and Salviati for mosaics. At Ealing, Huntley, Netherfield and St Thomas’s in Wells, he used unusual tinted glass with monochrome drawing supposedly of his own devising. All of these commissions were generously supported by wealthy private donors.

The pulpit in the church of St Thomas’s, Wells in Somerset: part of the original fabric of 1857, it was moved in 1866 when Teulon was invited back to enlarge the church with the addition of a south aisle.
St Thomas’s, Wells in Somerset: one of the windows in the north aisle, glazed with Teulon’s distinctive patterned monochrome glass.

Yet Teulon was by no means dependent on largesse to put his architectural imagination through its paces. Though The Ecclesiologist might have intimated in its review of St Paul’s, Bermondsey that he regarded churches for poor areas as beneath his dignity, in his later career he showed himself able to make a virtue out of a necessity when designing a church on a tight budget. The point is made cogently by St James, Leckhampstead (1859-1860) on the Berkshire Downs outside Newbury, where savings were made on the execution of a most imaginative design through a number of ingenious expedients. What appear to be expensive vitrified bricks – an important element in a vividly polychromatic interior – are actually normal bricks painted black. The mastic joints are in fact tuck pointing, also painted black. The cusped braces to the trusses at the east end of the nave have been assembled from several sections of planking, and much of the roof structure is held together with iron strapping rather than being jointed and pegged.

St James’s, Leckhampstead, Berkshire (1859-1860): general view of the interior looking east
St James’s, Leckhampstead, Berkshire (1859-1860): exterior from southwest

Teulon’s country houses

It is the churches that have made Teulon’s name. Yet he was also an important designer of country houses, which demonstrate his artistic development and embody his mature style every bit as vividly as any of his ecclesiastical commissions. The attention of architectural scholars has tended to be drawn by a quartet of major works. The earliest is Tortworth Court near Wotton-under-Edge in Gloucestershire, built for the second Earl of Ducie in 1849-1853 and Teulon’s first known large-scale venture in the field. As designed, it had a vivid skyline of turrets, gables, pinnacles and tall chimneys, all dominated by a tower containing the main stair. Today that appears squat and unimpressive, but it was not always so, formerly terminating in a tall pyramidal roof crowned by a large cupola. The house is very much a product of the decade when it was designed and, in some ways, looks back further still. As Mark Girouard notes in The Victorian Country House, the staircase tower owes a visible debt to Ashridge in Hertfordshire of 1808-1821 (designed by James Wyatt, completed by Sir Jeffry Wyatville following his death in 1813). The intention was to evoke, but through sheer grandeur and emotional impact rather than strict archaeological fidelity. The architectural language was flexible and, as with houses such as Ashridge, could easily be adapted to suit plan forms and massing that owed little to medieval architecture. Nor did evoking the Middle Ages preclude technological advancements, and Tortworth was equipped with a hot air heating system, gas lighting and a system of carts running on rails and lifts to distribute coal around the house.

Tortworth Court as illustrated in The Builder of 29th October 1853, showing the long-lost roof to the central staircase tower
Section of the staircase tower at Tortworth Court, as illustrated in The Builder of 29th October 1853

At Shadwell Court in Norfolk, Teulon remodelled and extended earlier fabric rather than designing a brand new house, but his work was so extensive that it constitutes a major statement. The Buxton family was based at Channonz Hall, a large Elizabethan house at Tibenham near Diss. They apparently shared no more than a surname and roots in the east of England with the family of Thomas and Charles Buxton, discussed in my blog post on Foxwarren Park. In 1727-1729, they built a mansion on an estate not far away to the west as a summer retreat. It proved much better suited to living patterns of the time and they abandoned Channonz. That, for all its drawbacks, was a more capacious property and they came to outgrow Shadwell. In 1840-1843, Edward Blore (1787-1879) was commissioned to enlarge the house by Sir John Jacob Buxton, who died while the work was in progress. After his son and heir, Sir Robert Buxton, came of age in 1850, he and his mother embarked on a major programme of building work. Teulon was engaged to rebuild and enlarge the parish church of St Andrew’s in Brettenham on the edge of the estate, which was done in 1852. In 1855, he was commissioned to rebuild as a rectory the medieval building at nearby Rushford that had formerly housed the canons of the originally collegiate parish church of St John the Evangelist. This was done, although a scheme to rebuild the church itself (much reduced after the dissolution of the college) remained on paper.

The entrance front of Shadwell Court in Norfolk: to the left of the tower above the main entrance, the fabric is mainly as left by Blore; to the right is the office wing heavily remodelled by Teulon, and everything beyond – starting with the clock tower over the entrance to the service court – is entirely his. (Postcard, author’s own collection)
The west elevation of the office wing at Shadwell Court remodelled by Teulon, as illustrated in The Builder of 21st August 1858: the section with the Perpendicular Gothic window and crow-stepped gable corresponds to one of the ‘transepts’ of the Music Room, while to the left of it with the prominent bay window is the main dining room. Further to the left (i.e. the section with the oriel and Dutch gable) is the small dining room. The octagonal turret visible beyond corresponds to the clock tower over the entrance to the service yard, depicted in the illustration above.

In 1855-1860, Teulon rebuilt Shadwell. The service court is entirely his, but work on the house itself consisted mainly of the extensive remodelling and raising by one storey of an office wing added by Blore, carving out of the centre a cruciform music room and adding on a large new dining room. These were, as Girouard put it, ‘the only Teulon interiors of importance at Shadwell’, but then client and architect seem to have been more preoccupied with the aim of creating as a centrepiece for the estate a vast, sprawling pile with a vivid skyline of spires, turrets, gables and steeply pitched roofs that would appear from a distance like a small city. A new entrance route was provided across the park from the west, which wound around the house on its final approach, affording dramatic, constantly changing views of this spectacular ensemble. Teulon’s addition of a thumping great tower over the main door might have thrown the entrance front off-centre; balance is restored by the intricately modelled clock tower over the gate to the service court with its octagonal upper stages, the adjacent stout, drum-like game larder and, beyond, the gatehouse in the centre of the stable block, with its crow-stepped gable and staircase tower with a candle-snuffer roof.

The music room at Shadwell Court: the organ (long since removed) was housed in a case specially designed by Teulon incorporating ironwork manufactured by Skidmore. The main entrance to the house marked in the illustration above by the huge tower and oriels opened directly into this space, which must have been as much entrance hall as music room.
Artist’s impression of the entrance front (top) and ground plan (above) of Enbrook in Sandgate near Folkestone in Kent (1853-1855), as illustrated in The Builder of 16th September 1854: why the caption to the former states that it is located in Surrey is unknown.

The style is Teulon’s almost hallucinogenic reinterpretation of Puginian Gothic with delight evident from every view in his excursions into complex geometrical forms and restless variations in outline and detail. Architectural sculpture, much of it by Earp, plays an important role. Though the flint flushwork pays lip service to local traditions, it is simply more grist to Teulon’s mill in creating exhilarating variations in texture, colour and material. The estate remains and is used as a stud farm for racehorses, owned until his recent death by Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, but the house is now in poor condition after a lengthy period of neglect.

Elvetham Hall – the entrance front, as pictured in Sir Charles Eastlake’s A History of the Gothic Revival. Though this monochrome illustration cannot, of course, convey the colours (red brickwork with dark blue banding and Bath stone dressings), it accentuates the vivid, restless effect of the patterning.
Elvetham Hall, the service wing and, enclosed behind the tall wall, the service court (Historic England)

Work had begun on Elvetham Hall near Hartley Wintney in northeast Hampshire before Shadwell Court had been completed, but this building reveals a very different facet of Teulon’s architectural personality. Though it is medievalising in the very broadest sense of the word, it is a great deal more forthright. This is the architectural language that seems to have come into being at St John the Baptist in Burringham, designed around three years before Elvetham, demonstrating that its potential was in no way born exclusively out of the closely circumscribed requirements dictated by a commission for an inexpensive rural church. But though the massing and skyline at Elvetham are evocative, there are few pointed arches to be seen. Instead, it is composed of powerful, chiselled forms, and the whole is a tour de force of polychromatic brickwork (produced in kilns set up on the estate), vividly patterned and striped. The client was Frederick Henry William Gough-Calthorpe, fifth Baron Calthorpe (1826-1893), whose family owned the Edgbaston Estate. Starting in the late 18th century, they exploited the demand generated by Birmingham’s rapid expansion as an industrial and commercial centre by selling building leases for its development as a middle-class suburb. The fourth lord had left Edgbaston for Elvetham; it was income from the ground rents that allowed the fifth lord to rebuild the existing house on an impressive scale.

Elvetham Hall, the fireplace in the drawing room (Historic England)
Elvetham Hall, the main staircase (Historic England)

The circles in which the Calthorpes moved had an important bearing on Teulon’s career. There is a great deal to be discovered about how his entry to them came about and the succession of introductions that followed. The third Lord Calthorpe had been a close friend of, among others, William Wilberforce, Joseph John Gurney and Thomas Fowell Buxton, as well as being a staunch supporter of many of the great national evangelical societies. The fourth Lord Calthorpe commissioned a number of buildings for the Edgbaston Estate, notably the church of St James (1851-1852), built to serve a population greatly expanded by the development of the area. The fifth lord was part of the Marlborough House set, which revolved around Edward, Prince of Wales. So also was the tenth Duke of St Albans, William Amelius Aubrey De Vere Beauclerk (1840-1898), who commissioned from Teulon Bestwood Lodge on the northern fringes of Nottingham, built in 1862-1865. The strident manner of Elvetham is still present, but the overt medievalising returns, this time in the form of Teulon’s highly personal interpretation of Ruskinian Gothic. The components of this sprawling complex are picturesquely disposed around a cour d’honneur and the massing broken up in a manner that belies the substantial proportions of the house. The love of sculptural invention is again present, especially in the hyperactively busy composition of the entrance tower with its intricate buttressing and oriels.

The west-facing entrance front of Bestwood Lodge in Nottinghamshire (1862-1865) as depicted in The Illustrated London News of 6th July 1878: this shows the house as designed by Teulon prior to a number of significant later alterations, such as the addition of the drill hall that replaced the conservatory on the right.
View from the southeast of Bestwood Lodge, evidently taken not long after completion (Historic England)

Tortworth, Shadwell, Elvetham and Bestwood constitute an impressive achievement by any standards of the 19th century. There is a great deal to ponder here, not least the fact that, having been commissioned by ‘old money’, all these works call into question the paradigm of a grandiloquent kind of revived Gothic as the preferred style of the Victorian nouveaux riches elevated in station by the industrial growth of the period. But these four houses by no means exhaust the record. Enbrook in Sandgate near Folkestone in Kent, built for the sixth Earl of Darnley (1853-1855, demolished) was an impressive house in an earnest Puginian manner, although already going roguish in touches such as the window lighting the main staircase. Woodlands Vale between Ryde and Bembridge on the Isle of Wight of 1870-1871 was another commission for the fifth Lord Calthorpe – not a country seat, but a summer coastal residence, and not a brand new house, but a remodelling of an 1840s villa. The French Renaissance manner is idiosyncratically interpreted, but does not immediately suggest the hand of the architect.  

Woodlands Vale on the Isle of Wight, an 1840s house remodelled and extended by Teulon for the fifth Lord Calthorpe in 1870-1871: several features here were added subsequently, such as the bay window to the dining room of 1880 and the top-lit billiard room to the left, which replaced a conservatory and was added in 1894.

Smaller country houses and other residential work

Hawkley Hurst in Hampshire, the residence of Mr. J.J. Maberley, commenced in 1861 to a design of which Teulon had exhibited a presentation drawing at the Royal Academy the previous year. The date of this photograph is currently unknown, but it must have been taken prior to 1912, when the house was rebuilt almost beyond all recognition.

Elsewhere, Teulon’s country house practice brought commissions for extensions and modifications. Some may have been minor, but others, though subsidiary to the host building, are still wholly characteristic statements of his work, such as the service wing added to Warlies Park in Upshire near Waltham Abbey in Essex. This is misdated to 1879 in several reference sources and there is clearly ground to be broken researching this aspect of Teulon’s career. Country houses have been subject to vagaries of fashion, seldom more so than during the 20th century reaction against High Victorianism, which often led to dramatic recastings and the obliteration of entire phases in a building’s architectural evolution. Such a fate befell Hawkley Hurst – located in the same Hampshire village where he built the neo-Romanesque church mentioned above – which was drastically remodelled in c. 1912. The towerlet with a candle snuffer roof attached to what must have originally been a service wing is the only feature of the Cotswold Elizabethan pile now occupying the site that is recognisable in the illustration above. Access to country houses can be difficult to obtain for field study, while papers vital for an architectural historian’s research have yet to be deposited in record offices or may have disappeared altogether.

Mansion Cottage and Corner Cottage of c. 1863 in Hunstanworth, County Durham (Budby)
Crown Cottages of 1855 near Queen Anne’s Gate to Windsor Great Park (Google Streetview)

It was rare for architects with a country house practice not to be called upon to design estate buildings and Teulon’s work in this field constitutes a major part of his output. At Elvetham alone, he designed stables, a bridge, a water tower, cottages and a school. Around ten years after he commenced independent practice, he landed a commission to design houses for the ninth Duke of Bedford at Thorney in Cambridgeshire. Surviving correspondence with the Duke suggests that Teulon was already familiar with ideas on sanitation being promoted at that date by the Society for Improving the Condition of the Labouring Classes, mentioned previously in my post on Henry Darbishire. His involvement with the Society may have brought about an introduction to Prince Albert, who took an interest in its activity, and this, in turn, commissions for the Royal Estate in Windsor. In addition to workshop buildings (1858) and the addition in 1863 of a chancel to Jeffry Wyatville’s chapel of 1824-1825 at the Royal Lodge, Teulon supposedly extended Prince Consort Cottages on Alexandra Road in Windsor itself. This is a complex of model housing of 1855 built to designs by Henry Roberts (1803-1876), who had been much involved with putting into practice the ideas advocated by the Society. In the same year of 1855, Teulon built Crown Cottages near Queen Anne’s Gate to Windsor Great Park on the southern edge of the town.

Abbots Barton Hotel (formerly Westfield House) on New Dover Road in Canterbury, Kent of 1860-1861
The former schoolmaster’s house attached to the rear of the school in Netherfield, East Sussex, presumably of 1854-1855

The work at Thorney, which included a workshop for the estate incorporating a tall water tower, was in a free neo-Tudor manner familiar from some of his vicarages designed during the same period. By contrast, Crown Cottages are fiercely High Victorian, constructed of bricks laid in rat trap bond with liberal use of black glazed bricks to create striping and other polychromatic effects, as well as emphatic buttresses and chimney breasts. At Hunstanworth, a remote moorland village in the Derwent Valley of County Durham, Teulon was engaged around 1862 by the Rev’d Daniel Capper, the local landowner, not only to rebuild the church, but also to provide housing for local residents. Capper’s extensive landholdings included properties in Herefordshire and Gloucestershire, among them the estate at Huntley, where Teulon was at work rebuilding the church of St John the Baptist, mentioned above, at exactly the same date. Decent but plain housing to a standard design might well have been thought sufficient, as was the case on so many large estates; instead, as Matthew Saunders notes, ‘All the cottages are of different design united only by the use of the same sort of stone and slate’. Much remains to be discovered about Teulon’s domestic architecture: Tintoch House (now Luxmoore) of 1860 on New Dover Road in Canterbury is noted but goes unattributed in The Buildings of England, and it also escaped the attention of Historic England’s listing inspectors. Almost opposite is what was formerly Westfield House, now Abbots Barton Hotel, a suburban villa of 1860-1861 which, by contrast, is given an attribution in The Buildings of England, but also remains unlisted.

Luxmoore (formerly Tintoch House), New Dover Road, Canterbury, Kent – a suburban mansion built in 1860 for General James McQueen. Much abused during the 20th century, when it was used for various purposes by the King’s School, interrupted by a period of occupation by the army during World War II, this property was eventually converted to flats in the 1980s, which seems to have resulted in the complete loss of the original interiors.

Final years and afterword

Design for a clock tower to be added, according to the inscription cropped from this scan, ‘to the northern extremity of the mansion at Wrotham Park’, discovered among Teulon papers received from Matthew Saunders. It is purported to date from the mid-1860s and the style suggests that it may have been based on a presentation drawing. Wrotham Park is a Palladian country house north of Barnet in Hertfordshire, where Teulon executed a number of commissions on the estate around this time for George Byng, 2nd Earl of Strafford (1806-1886), such as lodges and a private chapel. But as far as is currently known, the clock tower remained on paper.

That Teulon could have been busy simultaneously in Gloucestershire and County Durham gives some sense of the punishing workload that he handled for much of his life. At a time when many architects derived much of their income from surveying – a less laborious and more reliably remunerated line of business – he seems to have earned his almost exclusively through designing buildings. He bequeathed to posterity a rich, fascinating and most rewarding architectural legacy, but paid dearly for doing so. When he died in 1873 aged just 62, The Architect reported in its obituary that ‘there is no doubt that overwork had to some extent told on his constitution’. He was laid to rest at Highgate Cemetery. Though in later life Teulon did not want for extra hands in his office, reputedly he was reluctant ever to delegate. He was clubbable, attending Committee meetings of the Ecclesiological Society and serving on the RIBA Council between 1861 and 1865. But though he apparently took a close interest in the critical reception of his work, he never responded in print and left no writings other than professional correspondence.

One of Earp’s capitals to the north arcade of St Thomas’s Church in Wells, Somerset (1857, extended 1866)
St Thomas’s Church, Agar Town in Camden – completed in 1863, demolished c. 1960 (Historic England)

Though Teulon took pupils, none – as far as is currently known – went on to achieve anything of note. The line of development that he represented died with him. For this – and, indeed, for so much else – he would merit being grouped among the High Victorian representatives of Goodhart-Rendel’s rogues. But of him there is not a word in the lecture of 1949 which established that canon, and whether Teulon’s achievement is better understood by drawing parallels with the work of Roumieu, Peacock and Keeling is a moot point, which only a better understanding of his output and the context from which it emerged could settle. At any rate, four years later in English Architecture since the Regency, An Interpretation, Goodhart-Rendel wrote appreciatively of Teulon, calling him ‘the fiercest, ablest and most temerarious of [the] Gothic adventurers, who had ‘a large and exciting practice’ and carried ‘modernism tumultuously across the border of caricature’. By ‘adventurers’, he meant the architects who, as the Gothic Revival wore on, were no longer content for their design to be circumscribed by a limited repertoire of forms hallowed by archaeological precedent and established good taste and sought to innovate. But then such architects by their very nature tended to be inimitable.

The former National Schools (now a residential conversion) at Netherfield, East Sussex, presumably of 1854-1855
The lost Teulon house of Letton Court in Herefordshire, built in 1859-1861 to replace an earlier predecessor for the Rev’d Henry Blisset, who had been instrumental in the establishment and construction of St Thomas’s Church in Wells. The house was gutted by an accidental fire in 1924 and the shell demolished, although the stable block alongside remains intact. The foundations of the house were reused for a neo-Georgian successor, which reproduces some of the powerful angular modelling of Teulon’s design.

At a conference nearly three years ago, I got into conversation with Matthew Saunders. It had long been rumoured that, on stepping down from the Ancient Monuments Society and the Friends of Friendless Churches, he intended to get to grips with a monograph on Teulon. By that point, he was almost a year into his retirement. I asked whether he had made a start and, if so, how he was finding the task. To my surprise, he responded that he hadn’t and thought it unlikely that he ever would. And then he asked, ‘But would you like to have a go?’ Of course, the answer was an unequivocal ‘Yes!’ Since then, he has been sending my way Teuloniana of all kinds, from old newspapers cuttings to Master’s dissertations. Chronicling and analysing the career of a workaholic architect is a daunting prospect and I can expect the task to keep me busy for many years, perhaps even decades.

St John the Baptist, Huntley, Gloucestershire: detail of the window to the organ chamber visible in the general view reproduced above (Michael Day)
The stable court at Bestwood Lodge, pictured before it was converted to housing in the mid-1980s (Historic England)

For there to be any hope of making a successful pitch to a commissioning editor, I need to have more published work under my belt and for that reason I cannot start in earnest until I have delivered the typescript of my monograph on Joseph Peacock. Though it may in time serve as a good basis for a book proposal, this post can do no more than give a brief outline of what Teulon was about and identify some of the lines of inquiry that have yet to be pursued. But what makes the case for a monograph far more cogently than the promise of filling lacunae is demonstrating – as I hope the illustrations here do – the sheer visual enjoyment to be had from this colourful, exuberant, original, entertaining, ceaselessly inventive architecture, which begs to be made known to a wider public. The description of St Mary’s, Ealing in Nairn’s London sent me straight out there as a teenager to see the building for myself: ‘The inside defies description. It could be an agricultural hall, with cast-iron columns. It could be a nineteenth century copy of Cordova, with all the striped horseshoe arches. There are fish all around the bottom of the pulpit, and the horseshoe-shaped baptistry opposite is a complete space in itself, electrified with Teulon’s astonishing life force. Who? What? How? A rag-bag with enough ideas for a dozen churches: and a splendid place for a boggle’. My hope is that, book or no book, this post will have a similar effect on you.

The chancel and apse of St Thomas’s Church in Wells, Somerset of 1857: the mosaic work to the dado panelling, which incorporates Decalogue boards (shown in detail in the featured photograph at the top of this page) is by Salviati. One of the stained glass windows by William Wailes is reproduced in full above.

Published by Edmund Harris

Heritage professional and architectural historian residing in Canterbury. All views expressed here are my own and do not represent my employer.

One thought on “Prolific inimitability: getting to grips with S.S. Teulon (1812-1873)

  1. 1. Many thanks for all your work on this series. I was first alerted to it by the Ecclesiological Society newsletter abd have downloaded and printed the whole thing!

    2. On Teulon, have you seen ‘Victorian Thorney’ by A E Teulon? It’s not particularly academic, but ineresting nonetheless.

    Like

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