The phantasmagorical Mr Croft

The internet has changed the process of writing architectural history beyond all recognition. Information that just twenty years ago would have required lengthy and arduous research to track down can now be obtained with a few clicks. The amount of material which has been digitalised and placed within the public domain is truly staggering. It is now possible to produce a reasonably authoritative, well illustrated account of the life and work of a Victorian architect through desktop research alone. In many ways, this blog is a testimony to that, since numerous posts were written during the second and third COVID lockdowns in the United Kingdom, when all libraries and archives were closed to the public and opportunities to visit historic sites severely restricted. All the same, sooner or later one discovers gaps in one’s knowledge that cannot be filled so easily – and not through archival or field research, either. The great merit of the blog format, especially when used in conjunction with social media, is not just that it makes it easier to share the fruits of one’s research than ever before, but that it greatly expands one’s ability to elicit information.

Portrait of John Croft (1800-1885), possibly by his daughter, Marian.

For that reason, when I started ‘Less Eminent Victorians’, I hoped that it might flush out information that had yet to come to the attention of scholars. Late last year it did just that – and to a degree that exceeded my wildest expectations. My second post for the blog dealt with John Croft, whose extravagantly original St John the Baptist at Lower Shuckburgh in southeast Warwickshire has long been a destination for churchcrawlers. Yet other than a church at Cold Hanworth in Lincolnshire, nothing in a very meagre works list came anywhere near to it in architectural interest, leading me to wonder whether both buildings might be no more than a flash in the pan. I had no reason to reconsider my view until I was contacted through the blog back in November 2021 by a Laura Amalir, who introduced herself with the words, ‘I have just chanced upon the article about the architect John Croft. He was my great-great grandfather and we have quite a bit of archive material that may be of interest, not to mention a great many paintings by his son, Arthur’. This intrigued me straight away and we began corresponding.

Emma Croft, wife of the architect – ivory portrait bust by John Croft
John Croft in his studio, sketch by an unknown family member entitled simply ‘Grandpapa at work’.

To cut a long story short, in February the opportunity finally arose to inspect this material for myself and what I saw so impressed me that it deserves to be published here – not only for the light that it sheds on what I already knew of Croft’s life and work, but also for its huge intrinsic value. It needs to be said right away that the quantity of papers, drawings and paintings is very substantial: simply cataloguing them all would be a major task, and a proper scholarly analysis would suffice for a Master’s thesis at the very least. Laura could not have been more accommodating, but the few hours that I was able to spend looking at the family archive was insufficient to do more than get a sense of what awaits proper investigation. What follows is intended to convey that – and also to afford readers the same pleasure and delight that I derived from sampling Croft’s rich, colourful and highly imaginative visual world.

Sketch from the southwest of All Saints, Cold Hanworth in Lincolnshire

Biographical discoveries

I entitled my first post ‘John Croft: the most mysterious rogue of all?’ because of the dearth of biographical information about its subject. Thanks to the formidable research skills of Peter C.W. Taylor – a good friend of Less Eminent Victorians – I was at least able to supplement some of the basic data that has eluded previous commentators, but the Croft papers go far beyond this in fleshing out a portrait of someone who was hitherto a very shadowy figure. A document among the papers compiled by a family member long after Croft’s death states that he was born on 19th April 1800 (corroborated by what Peter had deduced from the census data) and died on 14th March 1885. He was buried in Paddington Cemetery. And, excitingly, we can put not only definite dates of birth and death but also, at long last, a face to the name, since the family archive includes two watercolour portraits of Croft in later life. They are unsigned, but it is a reasonable guess that they were executed by his daughter Marian, who was reputedly a skilled miniaturist.

Interior of Westminster Abbey looking west from the sanctuary
The south transept of Rouen Cathedral

But perhaps the biggest revelation is that Croft’s professional career began in a very different and wholly unexpected field. He initially trained not as an architect, but as an ivory carver and attained some accomplishment, showing pieces at the Royal Academy in 1829 and 1830, and produced a medallion with a profile portrait of George IV forming the lid of a snuff box now held by the Victoria and Albert Museum, in whose catalogue it is unattributed. The family archive includes what seems to be a photographic reproduction of a self-portrait in the form of a similar medallion, as well as two portrait busts of his wife, Emma. According to Laura Amalir, his granddaughter (who was her great aunt) claimed that he abandoned ivory carving after breaking his wrist, which one surmises happened at some point in the 1840s. Peter’s discovery that Croft acted as clerk of works for the construction of the Warwick County Lunatic Asylum, completed in 1850 (confirmed by a number of documents relating to this project, such as estimates from sub-contractors all inscribed ‘For Mr Croft’), suggests that architecture may have been a second career and not one that he had been pursuing in tandem. Perhaps significantly, it was around this time that Croft became a freemason, joining the Lodge of Unity in Warwick, and the family archive includes his apron. Yet whatever more detailed research may or may not reveal, it is clear that architecture – and predominantly the heritage of the European Middle Ages – was an enduring passion, as demonstrated by the large number of pencil and watercolour views by Croft of Gothic buildings in the family archive.

Oriental capriccio

Croft the architectural illustrator

They are all executed to a high standard and, though decidedly Romantic in spirit – interior views predominate, and he revels in dramatic effects of light and shade – are by no means impressionistic. They evidence profound understanding of the architecture depicted, and the pencil underdrawing demonstrates that the perspective and ornament were all carefully worked out before the wash was applied. Westminster Abbey seems to have held a particular fascination for Croft and there are numerous views of the interior, including even one featuring a pulpit of his own design, inscribed on the reverse ‘From the pulpit loud proclaim / Salvation in Christ Jesu’s name’. Given Croft’s Warwickshire connections, one is not surprised to find views of the great medieval town church of Holy Trinity in Coventry. But the subjects are not exclusively ancient and the archive includes a number of illustrations of buildings completed in Croft’s own lifetime – the Palace of Westminster and, less expectedly, the interior of G.E. Street’s St Saviour’s in Eastbourne, completed in 1867. Nor are they exclusively domestic, and there are exterior views of Rouen Cathedral in Normandy, St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, even the Red Fort in Delhi.

Presentation drawing of the west end of the nave and baptistery of All Saints, Cold Hanworth in Lincolnshire, c. 1864
Croft’s ticket for the 1864 Architectural Exhibition, at which the view of Cold Hanworth reproduced above was shown.

But to surmise from this that Croft had undertaken some sort of grand tour throughout Europe and perhaps even further afield along the lines of S.S. Teulon’s great expedition of 1841-1842 may be to jump to conclusions. The archive also includes an extensive collection of published engravings of famous works of architecture and Croft’s views may be based exclusively on these rather than field research. Tellingly, for example, the views of Rouen Cathedral show it still with the central spire destroyed by lightning in 1822. The purpose of the drawings is difficult to ascertain. According to Algernon Grave’s dictionary, Croft exhibited nothing at the Royal Academy after showing the two ivories. Evidently he was interested in the work of his peers, since the papers include three tickets to exhibitions, two of them Architectural Exhibitions from 1864 and 1869. But the only mention of Croft’s work discovered so far in literature of the time relates to a view of the interior of All Saints, Cold Hanworth in Lincolnshire, described briefly in a review of the 1864 Architectural Exhibition published in The Builder’s issue for 9th April of that year (there is no mention of him in that publication’s review of the 1869 show). If Croft had enough interest in promoting his architectural work to show views of it to a London audience, then why is his output not more extensive? If, instead, his interest lay in promoting himself as an architectural illustrator, then why did so many views executed to the standard of presentation drawings (in which he was reputedly helped by Arthur) and manifestly of saleable quality remain among his own effects? Or are these in fact exclusively the fruits of his leisure?

Built works and new discoveries

The interior of St John the Baptist, Upper Shuckburgh, Warwickshire, showing it more or less as left by Croft after the restoration of 1849-1855.

For the moment, one can do no more than speculate, but though the papers shed important light on Croft’s architectural career, much about it remains enigmatic. They do not much much expand the catalogue of known works and these, all told, do not equate to the sort of output that might have sustained a man with a large family over the course of a long life, even allowing for his late entry to the architectural profession. But, thanks to a couple of important finds among the papers, we do at least now know approximately when this happened. Material in the family archive allows Croft to be identified as the author of the comprehensive remodelling of St John the Baptist in Upper Shuckburgh, carried out in 1849-1855 according to Chris Pickford’s revision of the Warwickshire volume of The Buildings of England, published in 2016. The sources consulted for that edition recorded the name of the builder, the stonemason and the glazier but not, surprisingly, the architect. There are two highly finished presentation drawings of the church, depicting a general view of the interior looking east and differing essentially only in the treatment of the detailing of the double-hammerbeam roof.

Design for the pulpit at St John the Baptist, Upper Shuckburgh
View from the southwest of Birdingbury Hall, Warwickshire: this is an ‘E’-plan house and the main entrance is on the opposite side of the longer of the two wings visible here, within the courtyard that they enclose.

Neither view is captioned and identification of the subject confounded the author until he was able to corroborate a hunch, thanks to a photograph provided by the Rev’d Gillian Roberts, priest-in-charge of the benefice that includes the church. St John’s is a ‘peculiar’, outside the jurisdiction of the diocese, and effectively a private estate chapel (it stands in the grounds of Shuckburgh Hall) where services can only be held at the invitation of the Lord of the Manor. Corroboration of Croft’s authorship is given by a pencil and wash illustration of the pulpit, discovered among the papers, which is captioned in the architect’s own hand. The work at Upper Shuckburgh gives the impression of having sprung from the head of an antiquarian with a slightly overheated imagination, but there is much about the adventurous handling of form of the pulpit and prodigious invention in the detailing of the roof that foreshadows what he went on to do at Lower Shuckburgh. If Croft was indeed involved with this project from the outset, that would suggest that he had established himself in independent practice before the County Asylum was finished.

West elevation to Old School Lane of the now former national school at Hampton on the Hill, Warwickshire
Ground plan of Hampton on the Hill school

Then there are three presentation drawings – all taken from the same southwestern viewpoint – of Birdingbury Hall, an originally early 17th century country house located in a small village about equidistant from Leamington Spa and Rugby. The building was damaged by a serious fire in 1859, which evidently necessitated major building work. Chris Pickford’s revision of Warwickshire does not identify the architect, but notes that the house was originally built by the Shuckburgh family, whose influence in the area perhaps accounts for the commission, and Croft is recorded as having been involved in remodelling the entrance hall of Shuckburgh Hall at the same date. Exactly what was done at Birdingbury and why Croft should have gone to the trouble of producing three versions of the design (they differ only in fine detail) awaits discovery through study of material in the family papers and close inspection of the surviving fabric. There is some mildly quirky detailing visible in the drawings, but nothing as strongly personal as the ecclesiastical work. St John the Baptist in Lower Shuckburgh is represented in the family archives by a handsome presentation view in pencil and wash of the chancel and a rather winsome watercolour sketch in pastel tones of the exterior, showing it in evening light and playing up as far as they will go the picturesque qualities of the building. There is a third view of the nave looking west, evidently intended to be a presentation drawing, which has got no further than the pencil underdrawing.

South elevation of Hampton on the Hill school, showing the master’s house and privy
St Laurence’s, Seale in Surrey – early design for the restoration, which omits the south transept, not added until 1871, and shows the tower before it was heightened in 1873.

Two more Warwickshire commissions have been identified thanks to the family archive. It includes a full set of contract drawings for what was presumably the national school at Hampton-on-the-Hill, a small village located just to the west of the county town. They are all signed ‘John Croft Architect Warwick’ and, though they bear no date in his hand, one of the elevation drawings shows that ‘1854’ was to be laid in brick beneath the sills of the bay window of the schoolroom as part of a scheme of polychromatic brick patterning. In configuration, with the large block of the schoolroom offset by the more intricate massing of the schoolmaster’s house and its decidedly ecclesiastical overtones, it is a typical village school of the period. But whereas those were usually high-minded essays in earnest Puginian Middle-Pointed Gothic (see, for instance, the school at Foxearth featured in my post on Joseph Clarke), this design is self-consciously picturesque, more in the manner of the pre-Ecclesiological Goths and with features such as the decorative leadwork that are squarely in the cottage orné tradition. It has something about it of the contemporary schools in south London by Joseph Peacock, such as St John’s National Schools in Deptford, featured in my post on that architect. The school was built, but apparently in simplified form and, though still extant as a residential conversion, has been badly mutilated.

Design for a memorial to Colonel Cracroft at All Saints, Cold Hanworth, Lincolnshire
Sketch from south east of the exterior of St John the Baptist, Lower Shuckburgh, Warwickshire

Material relating to known executed commissions outside Warwickshire among the papers includes a glut of views of St Laurence’s, Seale in Surrey – two of the interior (one very rough, the other depicting more or less what was built) and alternative versions of the exterior. These are conveyed by several drawings, which show how the central tower was raised in height, with a termination that starts off as a pyramidal roof with acutely pointed dormers, then turns into a typical Surrey splay-footed spire, and ends up as a pyramidal roof again – the form in which it appears today. There are three views of All Saints in Cold Hanworth, Lincolnshire. The one depicting the west end of the nave and baptistery is clearly that described in the report in The Builder of 9th April 1864 mentioned above, and is valuable for showing the full effect of the internal constructional polychromy, otherwise recorded only in black and white photographs of the building also discovered in the family papers. A second presentation drawing depicts an aedicule described on the reverse as ‘A design for a memorial to Col. Cracroft’, in whose memory the church was erected, and seems to have been intended for one of the openings on the north side of the chancel. As far as can be ascertained, it was not executed, and the Colonel was instead commemorated by an inscription on the wall. The third drawing is a watercolour sketch of the exterior, similar in character to that of St John’s in Upper Shuckburgh mentioned above.

Presentation drawing of the interior of the chancel at St John the Baptist, Lower Shuckburgh, Warwickshire

Unexecuted designs for religious buildings

The material described above exhausts what can be positively identified as relating to Croft’s known work. It does not, however, exhaust the contents of the archives, for there is a large number of drawings and sketches depicting buildings with sufficient seriousness of intent to lead one to suppose that the architect cherished some hope that they might be executed – or, at any rate, executable. They are significant for what they reveal about the breadth of Croft’s interests and diversity of his architectural personality. Not surprisingly, ecclesiastical designs feature prominently. Lower Shuckburgh and Cold Hanworth whet the appetite for the sort of architecture that Croft might have produced when unconstrained by budgetary requirements or technical limitations, and in that respect the collection does not disappoint.

Design for an urban or suburban parish church
Pencil sketch designs for churches

There is a spectacular design for what appears to be an urban or suburban parish church, clearly intended to seat several hundred worshippers. The plan form – cruciform, with a northwest tower and spire – is conventional enough. But how Croft elaborates that is a different matter altogether. The tracery is nominally curvilinear Decorated, but of quite fantastical form. That of the west window continues down to ground level to embrace a triple porch (disproportionately small compared to its counterpart on the north). The roof is pulled down low, so that the lateral windows rise into transverse gables, augmenting the effect of an already busy roofline, which bristles with pinnacles. The tower is a tour de force of sculptural invention, rising to a slender openwork spire and braced with corner flying buttresses – an arrangement similar enough to Roumieu and Gough’s St Peter’s, Davona Road in Islington to make one wonder if Croft had seen it (in later life he lived in the area, after all). Over the crossing is a intricate corona of filigree wrought iron.

Design for a (?)Catholic church
Design for a church with an octagonal crossing, first version

Some of the devices tried here can be found in a design for a church depicted in a picturesque sylvan setting. At first sight it appears almost megalomaniacal, but when one begins to compute the height in relation to the doorway, one sees that it is monumental in its conception rather than the scale, which turns out to be almost toylike. Again, there is a busy roofline with pinnacles, transverse gables and two lanterns straddling the ridgeline, which are square at the base, but rise to a dome-like form. The slender spire is pierced with quatrefoil wind holes, a feature commonly encountered in medieval Breton architecture. There are short transepts, and an apse with flying buttresses is suggested. There is a good deal of exterior sculpture, hinting that this may be a Catholic church. The two-storey elevations suggest side chapels at ground level, but, read in conjunction with the longitudinal plan and axial west tower, also bring to mind early 19th century Anglican auditory churches, and indeed the whole design is fundamentally Georgian Gothick in spirit.

Design for a church with an octagonal crossing, second version with masonry vaulting
Design for a (?)nonconformist chapel

One deduces from a number of drawings in the collection that Croft was preoccupied with centrally-planned, top-lit polygonal spaces. Some, as will be discussed below, are pure fantasy, but two of the most memorable interior designs show an intriguing attempt to synthesise this with the longitudinal configuration of a cruciform basilica, perhaps inspired by Ely Cathedral. In one version, the side aisles of the nave are little more than passage aisles, which it is suggested are articulated externally with transverse gables. The aisles are divided off at ground level with traceried screens. A huge octagonal space to the east extends into them. This is effectively the chancel, since the apsidal sanctuary beyond is only one-bay deep. Note the detached columns at the angles of the octagon supporting the immense trusses, which rise to a central lantern. In the second version, the nave is treated like a Germanic hall church and the space is vaulted throughout. The treatment of the web of the vault suggests that this was intended to be constructed of ceramic pots like that at Lower Shuckburgh. In this version of the scheme, the vaulting and, hence, the spaces that it encloses, are much more tightly integrated and the whole is shown to be enclosed within a simple quadrilateral ground plan. The octagonal space rises to a drum glazed with stained glass instead of a lantern.

Design for a church with a saddleback tower
Designs for pulpits

Not all the designs are quite so ambitious, nor are they all Gothic. There are a couple of tiny, but very deft concept sketches in pencil for churches with steeply pitched roofs and tall spires, the work of an architect who begins by thinking about the effects of light and shade that a building produces and how it appears from a distance in the landscape. There is a relatively sober scheme for an auditory church, perhaps for a nonconformist denomination, handled with aplomb in a Rundbogenstil manner. Only the placing of the Venetian-looking bell turret, perched on one of the corners like an afterthought, does not quite convince. There are fragments of a scheme for a church with a saddleback tower in a sort of Transitional Romanesque manner, evidently intended to be built of brick with stone dressings.

Design for cemetery chapels
Interior of a Catholic cemetery chapel

Croft could turn his hand to classicism, but only in one instance does he apply it to a sacred work – an arresting scheme for what is described on the reverse as a cemetery chapel. It follows the typical Victorian configuration of a central bell tower – really Italianate rather than classical – flanked by identical mortuary chapels, which one would expect to be for Nonconformists and Anglicans. These are satisfyingly compact domed forms, though the frothy ornament rather detracts from the tightness of the composition. Among the papers there is also a sketch described on the reverse in Croft’s hand as a ‘Roman [sic] cemetery chapel’ – a centrally-planned, domed space, abounding in rich colour and ornament, although looking more like a sculpture gallery with no obvious indicators of its religious function. Was the cemetery chapel scheme in fact intended to cater to Catholics rather than Nonconformists? At a push, it could just about be the interior of one of the domed volumes. A page of designs for pulpits in a strident High Victorian vein should also be mentioned. Comparison with the executed design for the pulpit at Upper Shuckburgh shows that these spring from the realm of the – theoretically – executable, but whether they are in fact more than sophisticated doodles is for now an open question.

Unexecuted designs for secular buildings

Design for a gentleman’s house

Though Croft handled secular commissions, nothing among them has yet been identified that could vie with, say, All Saints in Cold Hanworth as a comprehensive and characteristic statement of his architectural language. The vicarage at Lower Shuckburgh is a disappointment after the expectations raised by the church. And yet it is clear from an extensive series of drawings among the Croft papers that he was every bit as capable of exploiting domestic design as a vehicle for his prodigious imagination. For the most part these are sketch designs for large villas, usually described on the reverse as ‘a gentleman’s house’. The quality of the draughtsmanship varies from highly finished pen and wash presentation drawings to watercolour sketches. Nothing is currently known about the circumstances in which they appeared and whether any of them was executed, or at least stood any real chance of execution. The imposing scale and elaborate nature of the designs suggest that Croft had his eye on one-off commissions for wealthy clients as opposed to, say, grander suburban residential developments, but that must remain speculation for now.

Design for a gentleman’s house
Design for a gentleman’s house

Although there are distinctly Gothicising overtones in the asymmetrical compositions and vivid skylines, notably not one of them is Gothic. Instead, the style is a very busy, mannered and heavily ornamental Italianate. Some of the elevations are organised symmetrically, but Croft always does his best to throw them off balance with features such as prominent towers (sometimes housing a staircase), oriels, first-floor winter gardens, large bay windows and conservatories. The rooflines are always busy and expressive, with turrets, dormers, pavilion roofs, tall chimneys and decorative ironwork. The modelling of the forms is restless, with numerous advancing and receding planes, and the effect of breaking up the wall surface is accentuated by elongated, narrow and repetitious fenestration, sometimes organised as arcades with alternating blind and glazed openings. This gives these designs an affinity with Robert Lewis Roumieu’s Italianate villas of the late 1840s/early 1850s discussed in the post on that architect. Colour is all-important and the sketches suggest various different types of exterior polychromy – constructional in brick, perhaps sgraffito, perhaps painted, column shafts in polished red granite, stucco. Croft plays to his forte by exploiting the designs in a similar manner to his churches as discrete sculptural forms, abounding in picturesque accretions to maximise their visual appeal and form an eye-catcher in the landscape.

Design for a gentleman’s house
Design for a gentleman’s house

But there is also a smattering of other building types. One sketch depicts a lodge house in an Italianate style, apparently octagonal in plan and adjoined by sumptuous wrought iron gates to a driveway. Other than the drawings for Birdingbury Hall, it is the only item in the collection testifying to Croft’s interest in country house work. There are also highly finished presentation drawings for commercial buildings in a florid Second Empire style. One is a perspective view of a block that seems to be intended to form part of a quadrant, with lavish shopfronts faced in marble and incorporating arcades at ground-floor level and residential storeys above incorporating statuary. It looks as though it might have been intended to replace part of Nash’s Oxford Circus.

Design for a mixed-use building in an urban location
Design for a sideboard, possibly by Adolphus Croft

There are two elevation drawings – alternative offers for the same commission? – of a large, five-storey block that looks like it was intended for an inner-urban site engaged on both sides. There are no obvious clues to its function. Could it have been a department store? Or the headquarters for a large company? Something also needs to be said briefly about the drawings for furniture and various pieces of interior design – armchairs, tables, desks, fireplaces, cabinets and overmantels. Stylistically, they are varied, from overtly High Victorian to Louis-Quinze. The draughtsmanship is very different, they have been mounted in albums to make them easier to peruse, and they look less like the product of John Croft’s visionary imagination and more like that of someone with commercial nous – perhaps his architect son, Adolphus (1831-1893).

Design for a lodge house and gates to a drive


Oriental capriccio

There can, however, be no doubt at all over the authorship of the gorgeous series of capriccios that form the highlight of the collection. They are almost exclusively interior views, none is large, yet they all glow with jewel-like colours and have been executed with real finesse. Everything suggests that Croft took particular delight in them and that they were produced for his own enjoyment. They can be divided broadly into three groups – Classical, Gothic and Orientalising. The classical scenes resemble nothing so much as elaborate stage sets and indeed are framed by what look like proscenium arches with curtains and valences. The Gothic scenes are pure expressionism, populated with people striking devotional attitudes, furnished with altars and benches and adorned with statuary. The treatment of the architectural forms is highly inventive to the point of foreshadowing 20th century stylisation of Gothic, incorporating original devices such as stained glass panels in a vault. No view can easily be conceived of as part of a larger whole, and again, they are quite theatrical in spirit. The orientalising capriccios could be subdivided into depictions of perhaps Moorish, perhaps Mughal scenes, and a chronologically even more distant past, which, given Croft’s interest in sacred art, one is tempted to interpret as backdrops to the Babylonian Exile or Slavery in Egypt.

Classical capriccio
Gothic capriccio

Yet even if they were produced for his private amusement, these capriccios embody real architectural concerns. The preoccupation with large, central polygonal spaces has been mentioned above in relation to a design concept for a church interior; this emerges on repeated occasions in a group of orientalising fantasies depicting odalisques in spaces lit from above by a clerestory supported on an octagonal arcade. For all the exotic colour, the ultimate inspiration is from closer to home and must derive from the configuration of a Templars’ Church. The traceried windows of the interior reproduced at the top of this page look to have been cribbed from the Bishop’s Eye in the south transept at Lincoln Cathedral rather than anything east of the Mediterranean. The exaggerated cusping relates directly to Croft’s executed church designs, while the vault of an interior which rises to a central lantern looks to have been derived from the former monks’ kitchen at Durham Cathedral. The manner in which this is supported on intersecting ribs gives it a kinship with the second of the schemes for a church with a large domed space. Less easy to relate to any known examples in Croft’s output (although there are shades of the painter John Martin and architect Alexander Thomson) is a strikingly original interior where the same idea is resolved in trabeated forms supported on Egyptian-looking columns with lotus-leaf capitals. The surrounding spaces appear to be based on a repeated hexagonal module.

Oriental capriccio


To reiterate one of my opening comments, what is reproduced here represents only a fraction of the material in the Croft papers. I have concentrated on original architectural designs, but the contents go far beyond these. The topographical views alone or else the capriccios would suffice for a lengthy blog post, and that is to say nothing of the large volume of papers including correspondence with clients, specifications, bills from suppliers (there is one dated 21st March 1864 from Clayton and Bell for the east window at Cold Hanworth), estimates from contractors and so on relating to executed works. It would be a rewarding but daunting task to examine these in detail and to correlate them with whatever turns out to have been deposited in public archives, as well as with detailed examination of what survives on the ground. Attempts to arrange access to the hall and church at Upper Shuckburgh have so far been fruitless. In the case of Birdingbury Hall and All Saints, Cold Hanworth – both private houses – they may prove impossible.

Gothic capriccio
Design for a gentleman’s house

Though I believe that a scholarly account of Croft’s life and analysis of his work is essential for establishing his place in Victorian architecture, it is possible that it will not do much more than elaborate on the information already collated about his known output. There may be unidentified works by him still awaiting attribution, but my hunch is that these are unlikely to be anything substantial – perhaps the odd estate cottage, or minor alterations to a country house. It is unlikely that any textbooks on Victorian architecture will need to be rewritten. In my first post on Croft, I wondered whether there were lost masterpieces and unexecuted works (by which I meant things like competition entries or projects curtailed by circumstances) awaiting discovery. I now see that the answer to those questions has to be ‘no’: he entered the architectural profession relatively late and nothing about the papers suggests that he had a large practice or actively sought commissions. Perhaps, like Peacock – another architect with an intriguing but slender output – Croft’s main line of business was in fact surveying rather than designing; the Shuckburgh family’s landholdings might well have justified retaining him in such a capacity.

Oriental capriccio
Scheme for St Laurence’s in Seale, showing the tower as originally built in 1861 and with a spire instead of a pyramidal roof. Note the grave board to the lower right – a traditional Surrey feature.

But whereas the details of Peacock’s life turned out to be scant and infuriatingly uninformative where influences on his professional formation and aesthetic preferences were concerned, as an artistic personality Croft is an entire world of his own. When I wrote the first blog post, I wondered whether the churches at Lower Shuckburgh and Cold Hanworth might be the only two highlights of an otherwise unremarkable career. Was there any information about Croft waiting to be discovered other than scant biographical data? Would he emerge from a study of it as a naïve artist whose success was more accident than design, or as a fully rounded designer? Even if it does not much expand the catalogue of known works, the family archive reveals Croft’s architectural imagination to have been richer and far more powerful that I could ever have anticipated. It must now be beyond any doubt that, whatever influence Sir George Shuckburgh might have exercised on the circumstances of the commission for the church at Lower Shuckburgh, the original character of the architecture sprang from Croft’s head alone. It is patently not the work of someone whose imagination was animated by someone better travelled and learned than he, and the purported influence of what Shuckburgh had seen in the Crimea must now be dismissed as spurious.

Design for a (?)commercial building
Interior of Henry VII’s chapel at Westminster Abbey

In his omnivorous delight in assimilating influences from the most diverse sources, of all the other architects featured on this blog, Croft most closely resembles Teulon, specifically the Teulon of St Mark’s, Silvertown with its fantastical Mudéjar overtones. But Teulon draws widely on outside influences to solve the practical and aesthetic problems with which he was confronted in his practice – to establish an archaeological precedent for a modern Protestant auditory church, to find a way of achieving maximum visual interest on a tight budget, to beautify Georgian fabric in a manner that works with rather than against the raw material, to broaden the expressive range of an historicising style and so on. In the case of Croft, these influences nourish a powerful, fertile but largely private imagination, which seems not to have depended on opportunities to embody itself in brick and stone to subsist and flourish. If, while working on the Warwick County Lunatic Asylum, he received any kind of training from Frederick John Francis, there is no sign of his having been influenced by that architect’s comparatively staid work. Lower Shuckburgh and Cold Hanworth are artist’s architecture, the fruit of a design process which proceeds from an overriding concern for picturesque, decorative and emotional effects. A desire for strongly individual expression takes precedence over established canons of taste. For all these reasons, Croft qualifies as a genuine architectural outsider.

Oriental capriccio
Gothic capriccio

As far as I know, no other architectural historian has ever looked at the Croft papers. Indeed, Laura Amalir told me that they had been viewed by several generations of the family as little more than a curio – had even been regarded with some embarrassment during the long period in the mid-20th century when High Victorian art and architecture were deeply unfashionable. It is a pleasure finally to be able to restore them to prominence and to share them with a wider audience.

Recusancy in Dorset and the ‘other tradition’ of Catholic church-building

It is inevitable that A.W.N. Pugin looms large in histories of Roman Catholic church-building in the 19th century. Yet in some ways he was as notable for the adopting the faith that he served through his architecture as he was for the buildings that he designed. Would Pugin be viewed in quite the same way by architectural historians had he been Anglican? He claimed not merely to be reviving the forms of the Middle Ages, but the entire theological, aesthetic, philosophical and ethical outlook that they implied.

The interior of A.W.N. Pugin’s church of St Giles in Cheadle, Staffordshire (1840-1846): ‘Cheadle perfect Cheadle, my consolation in all afflictions’ wrote Pugin to the Earl of Shrewsbury, thanks to whose generosity the architect had been able here to attain his ideal in its richest, most sumptuous form.

Yet the Catholic church which Pugin burst in on when he converted in June 1835 was a very different institution to that which animated his vision. The Catholic Relief Act of 1791 restored the freedom of worship lost following the Reformation, but its spirit was to enjoin Catholics to keep a low profile, and this extended to the architectural treatment of places of worship, which were not to have a steeple or bells. Many of the churches built during this period closely resembled externally the contemporary chapels and meeting houses of Protestant nonconformist denominations. Stylistically, they were characterised by the plurality characteristic of the period. The growing influence of the fashion for Gothic was not ignored, but nor was it accorded hegemony. Major architectural statements were just as likely to be Greek Revival, Neo-Classical or Italianate. It was not full Catholic emancipation in 1829 which changed this; it was Pugin. But then there is no fervency quite like that of a neophyte.

One of the most ambitious architectural ventures to be embarked upon by English Catholics in the years immediately following Emancipation was the Pro-Cathedral of the Holy Apostles in the Bristol suburb of Clifton, for which H.E. Goodridge (1797-1864) produced the neo-classical design illustrated here. The T-shaped plan form seems to have been based on early Christian basilicas, with transepts but just a shallow apse. The crossing may have been intended to be lit from above by the tempietto. Work started in 1834 but was abandoned in c. 1840, when the walls had risen to around two thirds of their height, because of insurmountable problems with subsidence on this awkward sloping site, which rendered the footings unable to bear the weight of a large masonry structure. In 1846-1848, C.F. Hansom designed a wooden superstructure, arcades and roof to allow the incomplete church to be brought into use, and in 1876 he produced a design for a west front, narthex and bell tower, illustrated below. The building was abandoned in 1973 after a new cathedral was completed and eventually turned into residential accommodation.
The Cathedral of St Chad in Birmingham (1839-1841), where Pugin employed German Brick Gothic of the Baltic Coast in response to the challenge posed by adapting the forms of the Middle Ages to an industrial setting in a Midlands city.

Though the influence of Pugin would be felt until well into the 20th century, in some ways it did Catholicism a disservice. Its effect on the Church of England was so enormous that, architecturally speaking, the two denominations were left marching in uneasy lockstep. When, after what proved to be a false start, Catholics were ready to make major architectural statements in the capital, they did so in a manner that consciously avoided any invidious comparisons with Anglican church-building. Though they were diverse, none was Gothic. Herbert Gribble’s design of 1878 for the Brompton Oratory was an evocative recreation of an Italian early Baroque domed basilica, while J.F. Bentley’s Westminster Cathedral represented nothing less than an attempt to synthesise a contemporary architectural style from historicising sources. When stylistic plurality re-entered church-building in the late 19th century, Catholics embraced it as enthusiastically as any other denomination. Eventually they largely abandoned historicism when the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council accelerated their Church’s progress towards modernism.

The Drummond Chapel of 1839 at the old church of St Peter and Paul, Albury in Surrey: though it is one of Pugin’s few Anglican commissions, the aesthetic is consistent with his Catholic work and it makes a telling comparison with the Weld Mortuary chapel for the architectural treatment of a private burial place, in this instance for a banking dynasty.
The interior of the Church of St Edmund in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk: a private chapel on the site was licensed for public worship in 1791, the year of the Catholic Relief Act, and in 1837 was superseded by a large new Greek Revival building by Charles Day of Worcester. The top-lit interior with box pews and no structurally defined chancel and sanctuary is about as far from Pugin’s precepts as could possibly be. But for all that he deplored them, such thoroughgoing classical churches were typical of the practice of the early post-Emancipation Roman Catholic Church in England. (Simon Knott)

In short, the history of Catholic church-building in Victorian Britain is about a great deal more than the rise and fall of Gothic. There is an important ‘other tradition’ – to borrow a phrase coined by Colin St John Wilson to describe the work of 20th century architects who refused to subscribe to a narrow, doctrinaire vision of modernism – and few buildings embody it quite so intriguingly as those which form the subject of this post. They constitute part of the remarkable record of church-building by the Weld family, which extends from the period just before the end of the penal times to the 1960s. It is, moreover, a history intimately bound up with people and place.

St Raphael’s Church on the banks of the Thames in Surbiton was built in 1847 as a private chapel for Alexander Raphael, owner of Surbiton Park, who was also MP for St Albans and the first Catholic since the Reformation to be Sheriff of London. The architect was Charles Parker (1799-1881), a pupil of Sir Jeffry Wyatville, who published Villa rustica (1832; 2nd edition, 1848), an extensively illustrated survey of country villas in the vicinity of Rome and Florence, which was influential in promoting Italianate domestic architecture. The ecclesiastical version of this style, which was dubbed Lombardic, was often used later on in the 19th century for remodellings of Stuart and Georgian Anglican buildings to render them more suitable as a setting for ritualistic worship, but a completely new church in the style was unusual. (Andrew Wood)

Chideock – the castle and the martyrs

Chideock (pronounced ‘Chiddick’) is a village in southwest Dorset located just east of Bridport and about a mile inland from the coast. In the late 14th century John De Chideock, who at that point held the manor, fortified his dwelling and created what was apparently a substantial house. Around 100 years later, the property was acquired – apparently through marriage – by the Lanherne branch of the Arundells, a prominent Cornish gentry family. As devout Catholics, the Arundells found the Henrician Reformation unacceptable and maintained their adherence to what they saw as the only true faith. Their social standing and wealth initially offered some defence against official persecution, but in the circumstances confrontation was inevitable and things came to a head during the lifetime of Sir John Arundell (before 1527-1590). Despite benefiting from a number of emoluments, he refused to accept the Elizabethan settlement and actively supported the underground Catholic church. St Cuthbert Mayne, the first of the Catholic seminary priests – that is, clergy who had been trained on the Continent and were sent as missionaries to England – praised Sir John in his final address from the gallows when he was executed in 1577.  

Portraits of English martyrs, including St Cuthbert Mayne (second from left) and Fr Hugh Green (furthest to the right) in the Weld mortuary chapel at Chideock

Around this time, Arundell seems to have put Chideock Castle at the disposal of seminary priests arriving at the nearby port of Lyme Regis, and it became an important local centre of Catholic worship and ministry. Such activity was brutally repressed and between 1587 and 1642 three seminary priests and four laymen – three of them members of the household and one a local resident who had converted to the faith – were arrested, imprisoned and then put to death at Dorchester. As the seat of a family that was not only recusant but also staunchly royalist in its sympathies, Chideock Castle was an obvious target during the Civil War and in 1645 Thomas Fairfax, the Parliamentary General, ordered it to be slighted. The destruction was not total, but it achieved the aim of flushing out the Catholic priests, who were forced to decamp to a nearby farmhouse known as Dame Hallett’s, where they turned the loft of the attached barn into a centre of clandestine worship.

The ruins of Chideock Castle as recorded by Samuel & Nathaniel Buck in 1733

The Welds and Chideock

The Weld family came originally from Cheshire and, like the Arundells, was recusant. In 1641, it acquired Lulworth Castle in east Dorset. This is a remarkable building put up during the first decade of the 17th century by Thomas Howard, 3rd Viscount Howard of Bindon, and is representative of a fashion for medievalising sham fortified castles which enjoyed some popularity during the reign of James I. Thomas Weld (1750-1810) was born at Lulworth and educated at the Jesuit-run college for English Catholics at Saint-Omer in the northern French province of Artois. This was a necessity at a time when English Catholics were effectively barred from studying at Oxford or Cambridge, which required adherence to the Thirty Nine Articles of Faith of the Church of England. During the course of Weld’s studies, the Jesuits were expelled from France and the college moved to Bruges in what was then the Spanish Netherlands. In 1775, Thomas succeeded his elder brother Edward (1741-1775) as heir to the family estates, which had been augmented since the purchase of Lulworth – in part through advantageous marriages and inheritances – and now numbered five, including Stonyhurst and Shireburn in Lancashire.

The exterior of the chapel of St Mary at Lulworth Castle by John Tasker of 1786-1787 (Denis Cameron)

Five years later, Thomas Weld embarked on a major building campaign at his seat when he commissioned John Tasker (c. 1738-1816) to remodel the interior of Lulworth Castle. The work was completed in 1782, but does not survive, having been destroyed when the Castle was gutted by fire in 1929. Tasker was a practising Catholic, who worked mainly for clients drawn from the recusant gentry and aristocracy, such as Weld. He also founded a dynasty of architects who found much work during the great building campaigns that followed Emancipation, notably his grandson, Francis William Tasker (1848-1904). Weld then commissioned Tasker to design a Catholic chapel, construction of which commenced in 1786 on a site in the grounds and was completed the following year. This was to be the first new Catholic place of worship (not counting private house chapels) to be built in England since the Reformation – a bold, potentially even a risky move. Though the penal laws were no longer as brutally enforced as had been the case in the preceding two centuries, anti-Catholic sentiment had been strong enough to bring about the Gordon Riots six years earlier. A provision in the Papists Act of 1778 which allowed Catholics to join the army (though it did not grant freedom of worship) was used to whip up paranoia about fifth columnists acting in the interests of the Catholic powers at that point hostile to Great Britain. Over the course of several days in June 1780, Catholic places of worship in London, as well as a number of public buildings, were looted and burned, and troops eventually had to be deployed to restore order.

The interior of the chapel of St Mary at Lulworth Castle by John Tasker of 1786-1787 (Denis Cameron)

But Weld had friends in high places. He was on close terms with George III, whom he subsequently entertained at Lulworth Castle on several occasions, and also much involved in campaigning for the relief of the penal laws. A family tradition has it that the king did not explicitly grant permission for a functioning church; he instead assented to the construction of a mausoleum and went on to state that how it was arranged internally was Weld’s own business. Whether this can be historically substantiated is unknown, but, in common with most churches erected between the Relief Act of 1791 and full emancipation in 1829, externally Tasker’s design lacked any unequivocally ecclesiastical trappings, such as a bell tower and statuary, or indeed any ornament based on religious symbolism. The airy, spacious, domed interior – an essay in the cool neo-classical manner of James Wyatt’s school – is another matter.

Painted decoration in the sacristy at Our Lady, Queen of Martyrs and St Ignatius in Chideock, perhaps dating from the remodelling in c. 1815 of the old barn chapel by Humphrey Weld.

Weld had 14 children, the eldest of whom, Thomas Weld (1773-1837), took holy orders in 1820 following the early death of his wife and was eventually made a cardinal in 1830 by Pope Pius VIII while visiting Rome, where he then settled. As such, he became the first Englishman to bear that title since Philip Howard (1629-1694). In 1802, Thomas Weld senior purchased the Chideock estate for his sixth son, Humphrey. It lacked a suitable residence and in c. 1810 Humphrey Weld had built on the site of Dame Hallett’s farmhouse a substantial house, which is known as Chideock Manor. Tasker was approached for a design, which survives in the Weld papers in the Dorset Record Office, but for reasons that are currently unknown it was never executed. The interior incorporates spolia presumably salvaged from the ruins of the castle, such as fireplace lintels and chimneypieces, and the Manor was linked to the barn which had been used for clandestine worship during the penal years. This was turned into a proper chapel and fabric possibly dating from this period suggests that Humphrey Weld may have furnished and decorated the interior with some splendour. Archive photographs show that none of this showed externally and indeed the building presented a blind elevation to the road outside.  

Charles Weld and what he built at Chideock: the mortuary chapel

General view from west of the Catholic cemetery and Weld Mortuary Chapel

Humphrey Weld died in 1852 and his estate was inherited by his son, Charles (1812-1885), who continued the family’s architectural exploits. One surmises that his father’s death prompted Charles to address the fact that, though the family was now well established at Chideock, it had no dedicated place of burial. A Catholic cemetery was laid out on a site slightly to the north of the Anglican parish church of St Giles in the centre of the village and work then began on a mortuary chapel, with Charles acting as his own architect. It is remarkable not only as an excellently preserved example of a rare building type, but also as a most original and strikingly forward-looking piece of architecture, to which one could be forgiven for ascribing a date a good half a century later.

The Crucifix adorning the west wall of the Weld Mortuary Chapel
Painted ceiling in one of the arms of the Weld Mortuary Chapel depicting New Testament subjects, such as the Harrowing of Hell (left) and the Resurrection of Lazarus (top right)

Externally it is a compactly modelled form based on the ground plan of a Greek cross. The proportions and steep pitches of the roofs evoke the architecture of the Middle Ages. Some of the detailing is overtly Gothic, such as the clasping buttresses and a shouldered, Caernavon-type doorway, while the bands of fish-scale slates provide a distinctly High Victorian touch. Yet these devices are applied too sparingly to add up to a finite statement of the style. ‘Y’-tracery is curiously jammed into small oeil de boeuf windows. The rubble coursing of local stone is relieved not by architectural devices, but by two crosses, enormous in relation to the proportions of the elevations that they adorn. That to the east is entirely of abstract forms, executed of red bricks with a border of over-fired bricks, the only portion of dressed stonework being a diamond-shaped relief at the intersection of the arms bearing a complex monogram made up of the Chi-Rho, Alpha and Omega and the IHS Christogram.

The interior of the Weld Mortuary Chapel
Tiled dado and terracotta frieze in the Weld Mortuary Chapel

That to the west is no less striking – the crucified Christ depicted in shallow relief, the upper section inscribed within an octagon with the symbols of the Evangelists in the angles of the arms of the Cross and, above Pilate’s inscription, the Mystic Lamb flanked by doves. It has all the monumentality of a free-standing Crucifix – and, indeed, a stepped plinth at the base – but has been drawn into the wall plane. The effect, like that of everything else about the exterior, is primitive, but a knowing, studied kind of primitivism, deliberately rough hewn. Nothing like it is encountered again in English architecture until the landmarks of the Arts and Crafts movement at the turn of the 20th century, and the Weld chapel makes an instructive comparison with W.R. Lethaby’s church of All Saints, Brockhampton in Herefordshire of 1901-1902.

Painted ceiling in one of the arms of the Weld Mortuary Chapel, with Old Testament subjects to the left (Abraham and Isaac, Moses striking the rock, Noah receiving the olive branch from the dove, etc) and New Testament subjects to the right (the Adoration of the Magi, Christ giving the Keys of Heaven to St Peter, etc)
Painted ceiling in one of the arms of the Weld Mortuary Chapel: the iconographical scheme here consists entirely of Old Testament subjects. Daniel in the lions’ den, the three Israelites in Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace and the ascent to heaven of the Prophet Elijah are among those that can be identified. 

Given the diminutive proportions of this structure, opportunities for innovative spatial organisation within inevitably were limited. Four pointed arches define a crossing, there are stepped brick cornices and the interior is open to the panelled underside of the roof structure. But this is more than made up for by the lively, exuberant decorative scheme. The walls are clad up to dado height in tiling with bold geometrical patterns, boldly coloured. Running along the top is a terracotta frieze with a repeated Chi-Rho encompassed by a laurel wreath and various other Christological symbols. Some of the gables, the wall above the crossing arches and all the ceilings are divided up into repeated patterns resembling coffering. These frame a wide variety of scenes, depicting persons and events from Scripture, as well as allegories and symbols, some in colour and others in grisaille. There are inscriptions in scrolls and bands of lettering. Smaller spaces are filled with medallions and there is a row of roundels with portraits of mainly Post-Reformation saints, including English martyrs such as St Cuthbert Mayne and Fr Hugh Green of Chideock (put to death in 1642, although not beatified until 1929). What is most striking after the exterior is that the aesthetic is determinedly neo-Classical.

View from northeast of the Weld Mortuary Chapel

Charles Weld and what he built at Chideock: Our Lady, Queen of Martyrs and St Ignatius Loyola

Whether the need arose from a burgeoning congregation or whether the primary motivation was simply a desire for greater visibility is for the present unknown, but in 1870 Weld began work on a major enlargement of the old barn chapel attached to Chideock Manor. A nave was thrown out to the west, aligned on an axis at a right angle to it, thereby producing a building with a ‘T’-shaped plan. This allowed the church to be oriented and, although most of the exterior could only be properly appreciated from the pleasure grounds and thickly wooded park, still gave it much greater presence than before in the ensemble of the manor and outbuildings, especially when they were viewed from the public domain of the road outside.

The main approach to Our Lady, Queen of Martyrs and St Ignatius, with part of Chideock Manor just visible to the left

The entrance front is arresting. The porch takes the form of a lean-to narthex with a chunkily proportioned, partly blind arcade supported on dwarf columns. Above, filling the upper part of the wall and gable is a device which has the visual presence of a rose window, yet admits no light to the interior (in any case, the space immediately behind it is an organ loft). In the centre is a statue of the Virgin Mary carved in the round, contained within a deep circular recess with a majolica backdrop of a vesica and stars. Circling it are eight majolica roundels containing depictions of the Seven Sorrows of Mary with, in the uppermost, the Crown of Thorns and her heart pierced by seven swords. All these are brightly coloured; the interstices, also of majolica, are monochrome and depict in relief crossed lilies and martyrs’ palms. Though the historical precedents are to be found in the early Italian Renaissance, the incorporation of a work of applied art as the centrepiece of an architectural scheme where ornament is applied very sparingly again looks forward to the Arts and Crafts movement.

Detail of the majolica centrepiece to the west front

In form, the nave is based on an early Christian basilica, although the guiding concern seems to have been to evoke the image of the prototype rather than an archaeologically correct recreation. Within, round-arched arcades of four bays are supported on single columns. It is a grand conception that in photographs belies the actually modest proportions of the building, which can be properly appreciated only in person. Indeed, given the rich decorative scheme in a variety of media, which is maintained throughout, and the limited amount of light reaching the interior, the overall effect is almost claustrophobic. Much of the decorative scheme was executed by Charles Weld himself. He carved the capitals of the nave arcade, which combine vigorous stiff leaves with a variety of symbolic motifs. One supposes that he was also responsible for the capitals to the colonettes supporting the triplets of clerestory windows in each bay. In this he was assisted by Benjamin Grassby (c. 1837-1896), an apprentice of George Myers, who had worked for Sir George Gilbert Scott and Thomas Earp between c. 1856 and 1860 before settling in Dorchester and setting up a highly successful sculpture and stone carving business.   

General view of the interior looking east
One of the capitals of the nave arcade, carved by Charles Weld with assistance from Benjamind Grassby

Weld was responsible for much of the wall decorations in the aisles, which are monochrome and based on the Instruments of the Passion to complement the framed paintings of the Stations of the Cross. He also designed the altars that terminate the aisles to the east. That on the north side is dedicated to the Sacred Heart and is housed in the central niche of a shallow polygonal apse with an elaborate painted scheme. That to the south, dedicated to St Ignatius Loyola, is set in an arched recess and richly carved and gilt, with a central statue of the saint encircled by portraits in medallions. Both altars have stone frontals richly carved in shallow relief.

Coloured and etched glass in one of the aisle window – all the glazing at ground level follows this pattern, presumably to maintain the privacy of the manor grounds outside. There is no figurative stained glass anywhere in the building.
General view of the interior of the nave looking west towards the main entrance

A frieze between the arcade and clerestory contains portraits of 34 English martyrs and Sir John Arundell, all painted by members of the Weld family. The Chideock martyrs are nearest the sanctuary. Other martyrs represented include St Thomas More, St John Fisher, St Cuthbert Mayne and Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury. The interior is open to the structure of the arch-braced roof, but this is finished with boarding to allow for an extensive decorative scheme, also executed by Weld. The surface is divided into squares filled with two-dimensional patterns based on classical motifs with medallions in the centre bearing various symbolic motifs. The scheme become increasingly elaborate towards the east end, with figures depicted in grisaille bearing martyrs’ palms, portraits of the Evangelists and so on. Stylistically, it is consistent with the ceiling decoration of the Mortuary Chapel, though the colour scheme is muted by comparison – at any rate, inasmuch as could be judged in the rather dim lighting.

The Chapel of the Sacred Heart at the east end of the north nave aisle: note the memorial brass to Sir Frederick Aloysius Weld (d. 1891) by Gawthorp of London, partly visible in the middle ground. The doorway visible to the left provides access to a lean-to extension known as the cloister, which currently houses an exhibition about the Catholic history of Chideock.
The chapel of St Ignatius Loyola at the east end of the south aisle

The church was consecrated in 1874. No illustrations or plans have yet been discovered which show how the east end was arranged, but it is not difficult to imagine that the fabric of the old barn chapel must have compared increasingly unfavourably to Weld’s splendid nave. As the liturgical focus of the building, the altar demanded a more dignified setting. Around ten years later, it got it when the east end was remodelled. Though Weld was still alive, on this occasion a professional architect was engaged. The reasons for that await discovery, but the chosen solution displays a certain structural daring and, conceivably, Weld feared that his own lack of technical expertise might lead to problems. The shell of the barn chapel was retained, but a new domed structure was dropped into it, forming a sort of gigantic baldacchino. It is supported on all four sides by serlianas, though the central arch of each one is pointed rather than round. Pointed too are the squinch arches in the angles, which effect the transition from square to octagon. Above, more arches with pendentives transform the octagon to a circle, on which rests a spherical dome, lit by sexfoils at the angles. The decorative treatment of this part of the building is very different to the nave. Instead of stiff leaf carving, the capitals, which are supported on octagonal shafts, are modelled with flat surfaces and deeply incised ornament based on abstracted motifs. The entablature is inscribed with the opening verse of the Canticle of David (1 Chronicles 29:10) ‘Benedictus es, Domine Deus patrum nostrorum, et laudabilis in saecula’. Given the historical context of the church, the phrase ‘Deus patrum nostrorum’ – literally ‘the God of our fathers’ – carries particular weight.

The baptistry at the west end of the north aisle
View of the high altar from the Weld family pew

The serliana at the junction of the nave and sanctuary effectively functions as a chancel screen, while that on the east side is used to create a setting for the reredos. The east wall of the old barn chapel was built up externally with a transverse gable and decorated internally with an elaborate and vibrantly coloured and patterned painted scheme. In the centre is a vesica with a gilt statue in the centre, supported on a bracket, of Our Lady being carried heavenward by angels. This is lit with baroque theatricality by daylight from a concealed source – a cinquefoil in the transverse gable. The combined free-standing altar and reredos is richly carved and polychromed, with paintings executed by members of the Weld family of their patron saints: St Edmund, St Lucy, St Humphrey and St Apollonia. But the Gothic detailing is weak, generic and at odds with its architectural setting. It does not appear to have been designed for this location and probably predates it. On the north side of the sanctuary is the family pew, to which there was formerly direct access from the manor house (since it was sold in 1996 no longer inhabited by the Weld family), while to the south is a largely blank wall, with a doorway giving access to the sacristy. This contains a now badly faded but once elaborate painted scheme, perhaps dating from Humphrey Weld’s remodelling of the barn chapel in 1815.  

General view of the chancel arch and dome above the sanctuary
General view of the sanctuary, with a modern forward altar visible in the middle ground; the Weld family pew is just visible to the upper left. The provenance of the statue of the Virgin and Child on a Solomonic column with cosmatesque inlay to the spirals is currently unknown. It is one of a pair – its counterpart on the north side, visible in the illustrations above, depicts St Joseph.

Internally, the dome is painted light blue and powdered with gilt stars, as shown in the photograph forming the featured image at the top of the page. There is a gilt roundel in the centre consisting of densely packed bands of ornament with the Hand of God in the middle flanked by the Alpha and Omega. But externally is it finished with diagonal bands of coloured and glazed tiles, rising up to a lead-clad finial and gilt cross. This can be glimpsed in views from the west, in which it picks up the majolica reliefs of the entrance front, but can only be properly appreciated from the grounds of the manor. The tiles were reinstated in 2014, when a slate covered mansard roof, which had been substituted for them in the 20th century, was removed.

Aerial view from southeast of Our Lady, Queen of Martyrs and St Ignatius and Chideock Manor, showing the garden front of the latter: the envelope of the old barn chapel can still be clearly read and much of its fabric survives intact, although the slate roof coverings that include bands of fish scale tiles, as well as the crested ridge tiles, must date from Charles Weld’s programme of extension and remodelling. The transverse eastern gable with the cinquefoil that provides concealed lighting for the reredos is visible, as it the entire volume of the dome. It is not known whether the three image niches were ever filled with statues. (

Weld’s collaborator

Presentation drawing of the interior Church of the Holy Name in Manchester, presumably from the office of its architect, J.A. Hansom. It was built in 1867-1871, latterly under the guidance of Joseph Stanislaus Hansom, although the upper stages of the west tower were not completed until the 1920s and then to a different design. (Jesuits Britain)

The nominal architect of the domed sanctuary was Joseph Stanislaus Hansom (1845-1931). He was born into a dynasty of Catholic architects, who had attained their standing thanks to the post-Emancipation building boom. Joseph’s father was Joseph Aloysius Hansom (1803-1882), a native of York who descended from a line of recusants. During his early career in the 1820s-1840s, he secured a number of prestigious commissions, such as Birmingham Town Hall, won in a competition of 1831, which he entered jointly with Edward Welch (1806-1868). The two young architects stood surety for the builders and, as a result of underestimating the cost of transporting the hard stone from Anglesey with which the building was to be faced, went bankrupt in 1834. Hansom then left architectural practice for several years and went into business, taking out a patent in 1834 for what came to be known as the Hansom cab and then in 1842 setting up The Builder, the first issue of which appeared in December that same year. He then returned to architectural practice, now thoroughly imbued with the teachings of Pugin, as an ecclesiastical specialist. He produced some of the most boldly original designs of the 1850s and 1860s, such as St Walburge’s in Preston (1850-1854), where a mighty single vessel, to which a crazily tall tower and spire were added in 1869, is spanned by an immense hammerbeam roof. At St Wilfrid’s in Ripon (1860-1862), the building culminates in an extraordinary lofty apsidal chancel that is taller than the nave and treated as a tower-like form, a device tried again at St Mary’s, Lochee in Dundee of 1865. At the Jesuit church of Holy Name, Oxford Road in Manchester, inventive planning based on medieval Spanish prototypes and structural innovation – the use of terracotta blocks allowed the span of the vaults to be greatly increased – led to the creation of an exhilaratingly broad and lofty interior.

The interior of St Walburge’s Chuch in Preston (J.A. Hansom, 1850-1854), as illustrated in The Builder of 14th February 1852: this view shows the church as originally designed, prior to the addition of the apsidal sanctuary in 1872.

Hansom taught his younger brother, Charles Francis Hansom (1817-1888), who went on to design a number of equally powerful buildings, notably St John the Evangelist in Bath (1861-1863), whose 220-foot-tall spire is one of that city’s landmarks. Charles Francis Hansom’s son, Edward Joseph Hansom (1842-1900), after training with and working in partnership with his father, moved to Newcastle in 1871 and formed a new partnership with Archibald Matthias Dunn (1832-1917). Among other things, this practice designed the new chapel of 1882-1884 for Ushaw College in County Durham – the successor institution to the English College in Douai – and the cathedral-sized church of Our Lady and English Martyrs in Cambridge (1885-1890). Joseph Aloysius took Joseph Stanislaus into partnership in 1869 and the son was jointly responsible for some of his father’s works, including Holy Name in Manchester. The younger Joseph also took over the practice of John Crawley (1834-1881) on that architect’s death and oversaw the completion of a number of his commissions, such as the Cathedral of St John the Evangelist in Portsmouth.

Charles Hansom’s design for the completion of Goodridge’s pro-cathedral in Clifton, as illustrated in The Architect of 17th November 1877. The narthex and west front were complete as shown here by this date, but the bell tower and the remainder of the recasing of the fabric of the 1834-1840 and 1846-1848 campaigns were never executed.
St Mary Immaculate in Falmouth, Cornwall: the powerfully modelled bell tower was added in 1881-1882 by J.S. Hansom to a church of 1868 designed by his father. (© David Dixon and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence)

Yet his own architectural personality is hard to pin down. Though he could hardly have been better placed to acquire a comprehensive training and establish advantageous professional connections, in other respect his circumstances counted against him. There can have been little opportunity to emerge from the shadow of his father and uncle until both had retired, and by that point the opportunities for major new commissions were much decreased. Though more study is needed to give a proper account of his career, J.S. Hansom seems to have confined himself mostly to piecemeal additions to existing buildings, usually by this father. Only one complete design for a church by him has so far been traced – Our Lady of Sorrows in Bognor Regis, West Sussex, built in 1881-1882, although not executed in full. The facade is muscular Gothic, somewhat tardive for its date and handled without any great panache. The interior is relatively plain and, in any case, has been much altered in the 20th century. Yet there are works that hint at greater individuality, such as the original and powerfully modelled tower in a free Romanesque that he added in 1881-1882 to his father’s church of St Mary Immaculate in Falmouth, Cornwall.

Our Lady of Sorrows and the adjoining Servite convent in Bognor Regis, West Sussex: originally published in The Builder of 19th November 1881, this artist’s impression was later turned into a postcard, apparently to aid a fundraising drive. The proposed transepts, Lady Chapel and sanctuary were never built, and the five bays of the nave – all that was ever completed of J.S. Hansom’s scheme – terminated in a blind wall until the mid-1950s, when W.C. Mangan added an eastern arm to his own design. The convent closed in 1975 and the adjacent building housing the nuns’ quarters was subsequently demolished for redevelopment. (The Bone Postcard Collection, to be deposited in West Sussex Record Office)
General view looking west of the interior of St Joseph’s in Wool by Anthony Jaggard, 1969-1971 (Malcolm Woods)

The church at Chideock has been little altered since the completion of Hansom’s domed sanctuary and it avoided the kind of wholesale reordering carried out in so many Catholic churches following the Second Vatican Council. But the story of the Weld family’s architectural patronage does not end here, since in 1968 Sir Joseph Weld (1909-1992) commissioned what turned out to be one of the most striking and original post-war churches to be built for any denomination. The Church of St Joseph was built in 1969-1971 to serve the village of Wool north of Lulworth, the population of which had been swelled during the 20th century by the establishment nearby of military bases. Designed by Anthony Jaggard (1936-2020) of John Stark and Partners, it is a remarkable instance of a modernist architectural language at its most uncompromising being put at the service of the most traditional of briefs, as epitomised by the inclusion of a family pew – perhaps the last such to be built in any English church. Unusually for a Catholic church built in the years immediately after the Second Vatican Council, it eschews centralised planning for a conventional longitudinal configuration. The broad nave is spanned without any intermediate supports thanks to the use of a space-frame roof structure built of polished aluminium. Plans to install stained glass came to naught and, as Elain Harwood notes in England’s Post-war Listed Buildings, ‘the interior relies on the strength and quality of its materials’ for its architectural effect. The roof slopes gently upwards from west to east and the sanctuary – overlooked by the family pew on the north side – is top-lit by a lantern which externally forms the visual focus, making the building a distant echo of the Chideock church.

General view from southwest of St Joseph’s in Wool by Anthony Jaggard, 1969-1971 (Michael Day)


Assigning labels is a risky business. Though it is tempting to categorise Weld’s work as amateur architecture, the term cannot be fairly used without guarding against certain associations which do him an injustice. He was an amateur only in the sense that architecture was not for him a vocation. Though his aesthetic is highly personal, it is not naïve, nor is it wilfully eccentric – two qualities which sometimes arise from the lack of a professional grounding. As far as is known, Weld was his own paymaster and, within the limits of his own means, had total control over the execution of both buildings at Chideock. Neither the mortuary chapel nor the church is a fluke – they are both serious, carefully considered piece of architecture. But a great deal remains to be discovered about them and the influences Weld had absorbed, from which he subsequently distilled these designs. Reputedly, he travelled widely on the Continent and was prodigiously cultured, but for the moment these claims have to be taken on trust.

All Saints, Brockhampton, Herefordshire (W.R. Lethaby, 1901-1902), general view from southwest

A brief examination of entries for Weld family papers in the Dorset Record Office returned by the on-line catalogue does not return any results that appear immediately relevant. Anecdotally, Charles Weld’s own papers were all lost in an accidental fire, which, if true, represents a huge loss to architectural scholarship. But some valuable conclusions can still be drawn from comparative study and, in turn, more questions invite themselves. The influence of the Gothic Revival was so pervasive by the time that Weld began work that to reject an architectural language based on the heritage of the English Middle Ages represents a conscious position. What, then, were his grounds for doing so? What was his attitude to Pugin and the other Goths? What was his measure of propriety for Catholic sacred architecture? Taking an early Christian basilica as a model for the nave at Chideock is unusual for the 1870s, considerably in advance of a trend in Catholic ecclesiastical architecture that, though extensive, only established itself much later – a locus classicus for it might be Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s church of St Alphege in Bath of 1925-1929. What prompted this choice? Joseph Stanislaus Hansom’s work at Chideock is very unlike anything of the school in which he had been formed and practised. Did Weld choose him from what was by that point a crowded field because of a sympathetic aesthetic outlook? Was Weld involved in the design process of the sanctuary and dome? If so, what were his and Hansom’s relative contributions?

General view of the interior of Our Lady and St Alphege, Oldfield Lane in Bath, designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (1880-1960) and built mainly in 1927-1929, although not finally completed until the 1950s. (Dan Brown)

The way in which the mortuary chapel prefigures Lethaby’s innovations at Brockhampton has already been mentioned. But there are also some parallels from much closer in time. Taken as a whole, Our Lady, Queen of Martyrs and St Ignatius is reminiscent in its planning and, to a degree, also stylistically of St Joseph’s Church in Highgate, London, built in 1888-1889 to the design of Albert Vicars (1840-1896). That building also incorporates a broad nave based loosely on early Christian prototypes. Here, too, the it leads towards a domed space, which, instead of rising above a crossing, encompasses the sanctuary. Coincidence? Or is there a line of influence waiting to be discovered? It should be noted in passing that the community of the Passionist Fathers which serves the church resides in an attached clergy house of 1874-1875 by the same F.W. Tasker mentioned above as the grandson of the architect of the East Lulworth church. It exemplifies his spare, but refined classicising manner – every bit as radical a departure from the Puginian tradition as the other buildings discussed here.

General view of the interior of St Joseph’s Church, Highgate Hill by Albert Vicars, 1888-1889 (Lucio Carta)

The motif of the Serliana with a pointed arch to the central opening appears in a work by the remarkable French architect Pierre-Marie Bossan (1814-1888). A native of Lyon, he began his career with accomplished, but unadventurous work in an historicising vein, such as the church of Saint-Georges de Lyon in his home city, begun in 1842. During a prolonged sojourn in Italy begun in 1845, occasioned by the need to escape creditors after the failure of a gas-light company in which he and his brother had invested heavily, he visited Sicily. There, he discovered the highly individual buildings put up during the period of Norman rule on the island, such as the cathedrals of Monreale and Cefalù, and the Palatine chapel in Palermo, which combine Romanesque and early Gothic with Byzantine and Moorish influences. When Bossan resumed architectural practice on his return to France, his style had changed dramatically. The verbatim quotations from Sicilian prototypes are plain enough to see, but what is most striking is the way in which a wide range of diverse, even disparate influences have been synthesised into an idiom that is wholly personal and, crucially, immediately identifiable as a product of the 19th century.

Plans and artist’s impressions of F.W. Tasker’s design for St Joseph’s Retreat for the Passionist Fathers on Highgate Hill, as published in The Building News of 1st January 1875. This shows the complex more or less as built, although before the existing church of 1863 was demolished and replaced by the much larger successor designed by Albert Vicars and illustrated above, which now visually dominates the complex.

Bossan’s most celebrated work is Notre-Dame de Fourvière in Lyons, a votive church begun in 1872 as a thank offering for the defeat of the Prussians at the second battle of Dijon two years earlier during the Franco-Prussian War. It his wholly characteristic of his mature style, but the building where a kinship with Chideock becomes evident is the Basilica of St Philomena at Ars-sur-Formans in the Auvergne, built in 1862-1865 to house the shrine of Jean-Marie Vianney (1786-1859), the parish priest under whole influence Bossan became a devout Catholic, who became the subject of a cult soon after his death and was eventually canonised in 1925. Bossan produced a church on a centralised plan based on an irregular octagon with a central lantern. It is in the vestibule-like space forming the junction between this and the medieval nave, retained in commemoration of Vianney, that the Gothic serliana appears.

The interior of the Basilica of St Philomena at Ars-sur-Formans in the Auvergne by Pierre-Marie Bossan of 1862-1865 (Jean-Marie Clausse)

Architectural scholarship is a good deal more than an ‘I-Spy’ game of identifying shared devices, of course, and one would not want to push the comparison. Perhaps Weld was aware of Bossan’s work and drew inspiration from it. But perhaps the points of similarity are entirely coincidental and arose quite independently of each other. What does, however, seem plausible to me is that both architects shared one of the great preoccupations of the 19th century – the search for an authentically contemporary idiom. Though in Britain the Gothic Revival produced many works of great power and originality, in the ecclesiastical field there is all too often a sense that the architects (and certainly the clergy) of the Middle Ages are looking over the designers’ shoulders. The sources may be diverse, but there is always a great concern with archaeological precedent. This perceived failure of Victorian architects to produce a style that belonged wholly to their own century weighed heavily on the minds of certain representatives of the profession. ‘How is it that there is no modern style of architecture?’ was the title of an after-dinner address given by no less a figure than Alexander Thomson (1817-1875) in April 1871 to the Glasgow Institute of Architects. In it, he appealed for an understanding of the fundamental laws that had guided architecture of all civilisations and periods to replace canons of taste based on archaeological fidelity, which he hoped would free the art from ‘the bondage of dead forms’. But while all that is clear enough where Thomson’s inimitable architecture is concerned (and it is sometimes forgotten that he was classed by Goodhart-Rendel as a ‘rogue’), it can only be advanced as a tentative hypothesis in relation to the church and mortuary chapel at Chideock.

Exterior view from south of the Basilica of St Philomena at Ars-sur-Formans in the Auvergne by Pierre-Marie Bossan of 1862-1865: the red brick tower and all the fabric to the right of it are what was retained of the medieval church on the site. (Wikipedia Commons)

To return to the opening of this conclusion, the kind of terms usually applied to buildings such as these – to ‘amateur architecture’ one might add ‘eclectic’ – are loose-fitting and unhelpful. If there is no pat label to hand, then they are categorised apophatically in terms of what they are not, which of course in this instance means Gothic. A short study like this can do no more than highlight possible lines of inquiry: there must be a Master’s dissertation at the very least and, quite possibly, a doctoral thesis in Weld’s work at Chideock, and it is unlikely that we could arrive at a proper understanding of it without viewing it in a very broad context. But whatever such a study brings to light, this is architecture that deserves at last to be understood on its own terms.

Cross adorning the east wall of the Weld Mortuary Chapel in Chideock

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 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 that it was one of his own designs.
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. Neglect during the long period when this building was derelict following redundancy in 1977, as well as chemical interraction resulting from his ill-advised combination of limestone and sandstone for the external arcading, caused serious decay to the elaborate carved exterior ornament, which is only now slowly being restored.

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. ‘The body of the church restored by S.S. Teulon, 1852-1853’, wrote Ian Nairn of St Margaret’s in Angmering in the first edition of the Sussex volume. ‘Experienced users of The Buildings of England will know that this is likely to be the most important visual fact about the church. It is: Teulon had a field day…’ Mark Girouard wrote equally appreciatively about him in The Victorian Country House, first published in 1971, including a detailed account of his remodelling of Shadwell Park in Norfolk.

The window lighting the organ chamber at St John the Baptist in Huntley, Gloucestershire, rebuilt in 1862-1863 at the expense of the then-rector, the Rev’d Daniel Capper, and described by no less an authority on Victorian architecture than H.S. Goodhart-Rendel as ‘one of the most interesting buildings in England’.
The font and north nave arcade at St John the Baptist, Huntley in Gloucestershire: the clustered shafts in polished marble to the piers of the nave arcade are structurally redundant, serving only to provide visual balance for the richly carved, overscaled capitals.

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 justice to Teulon’s colourful architecture (something acknowledged by the author), the scholarship is first-rate and the book very well written. This was followed by a general survey of his 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, published in 1989.

St John the Baptist, Burringham on the eastern bank of the River Trent not far from Scunthorpe in Lincolnshire (1856-1857), view from southwest: note the extraordinary boiler house flue emerging from one corner of the tower. This church is now redundant and in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust.
General view of the interior of St Stephen’s, Rosslyn Hill: after the church ceased to be used for worship, many of the fittings were sold off and what remained was either destroyed outright by vandals or severely damaged during a lengthy period of dereliction. Some were later additions, but the pulpit and lectern, of which only the bases now survive, were Teulon’s work. The capitals of the nave arcades were executed by Thomas Earp. One was donated by Teulon, another by his friend and fellow-architect, Ewan Christian. The mosaics in the apse were the work of Salviati.

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 towards Blackheath. His father, also called Samuel, was a cabinet maker and upholsterer, who later on in life had turned to surveying.

Teulon the artist: the basilica of San Zeno in Verona, as sketched by the architect, probably during his European tour of 1841-1842. The influence of this building re-emerges in a fantasy design for rebuilding the church of St Paul in Sandgate, Kent – a close neighbour of Enbrook, pictured below. (RIBA Collections)
Teulon’s sketchbook from his European tour of 1841-1842 includes a view of the centre of Ghent, which raises the possibility that he had seen for himself there a building whose influence is explicit in a number of important designs for urban churches – the 14th century Dominican church, the south elevation of which is seen here. The Order attached great importance to public sermons, and to this end the church was constructed with internal buttresses, which allowed for an immense vessel spanned by a single timber barrel vault and thus unencumbered by any intermediate supports that might block views of the preacher. This provided an excellent historical precedent for reinterpretation as a modern Protestant auditory church. It seems that Teulon tried out the idea in an unexecuted design of 1853 for rebuilding Christchurch, Blackfriars Road in Southwark, but it was first realised at Holy Trinity, Hastings (designed 1857), which also reproduces the model most closely, with internal buttresses and prominent transverse gables to each bay of the south side of the nave. Variants of the aisleless plan were used again for St Thomas’s, Westminster Bridge Road in Lambeth (1856-1857, demolished in 1961 after war damage), the original and short-lived St Thomas’s, Agar Town (see illustration below) and St Paul’s, Avenue Road in Hampstead (1858, demolished in 1958-1959 after war damage). Though the conventual buildings survive, the Dominican church does not. After the friars abandoned the complex in 1822, it was used for a while as a warehouse, but by then was in such poor condition that it was demolished in 1860.
Teulon the draughtsman: one of a set of contract drawings recently discovered and identified for the first time, detailing Teulon’s remodelling of Holy Trinity in Leicester, carried out in 1871. The last of a series of what he termed ‘recastings’ of Georgian auditory churches, the starting point in this instance was a building of 1838 by Sydney Smirke (1797-1877), whose low-pitched roofline is indicated on this drawing by a dotted line. The church occupies a prominent location at the intersection of King Street and Regent Road in a neighbourhood of stately late Georgian and Victorian middle-class housing. Teulon gave it greater prominence in the townscape by adding a steeple based on the southwest tower of Chartres Cathedral, flanked by staircase towers serving the galleries with tall hipped roofs. Note the tumbled brickwork of the set-offs to the buttresses – a favourite device.

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.

The garden front of Wetheringsett Manor in Suffolk – originally built in 1843 for the then-rector, the Rev’d Robert Moore, but sold into secular ownership just 20 years later, when it acquired its present name and was sympathetically enlarged. Note the crystalline forms of the extraordinary combined chimney stacks and bellcote, a foretaste of a signature trait of Teulon’s mature style. (Photograph taken with kind permission of Wetheringsett Manor School.)
The former mechanics’ institute on South Street in Manningtree, Essex, an essay in Teulon’s early neo-Jacobean manner: built in 1849, it served its original function only until the beginning of the 20th century, and in 1906 was purchased by the Mistley Masonic Lodge to serve as their hall, which it remains to this day. The oriel between the two doorways lit the reading room, the monitor roof visible behind a lecture theatre.

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.

Perspective view of the proposed remodelling of Perry Hall (formerly Staffordshire, now West Midlands) for the 4th Lord Calthorpe. This may be the basis of a presentation drawing exhibited by the architect at the Royal Academy in 1850. Though Teulon carried out alterations to this house in an Elizabethan style to harmonise with the original fabric of the 1560s-1570s, the porch spanning the moat was cut down to the single story in execution and the tall tower was destined to remain on paper. All was lost when the house was demolished in 1929. (RIBA Collections)
The Browne and Wingrave almshouses in South Weald outside Brentwood in Essex: originally founded in 1567 by Sir Antony and Joan Browne, this institution was effectively reestablished under new statutes in 1851 and doubled in size. In 1854, new accommodation was erected to a design by Teulon to provide 10 dwellings for five men and five women. This is Teulon in the same mode as at the Thorney post office, pictured below – earnestly Puginian, but not averse to self-consciously picturesque touches, such as the deep eaves that ‘kick up’, and the complex is deftly planned and composed to exploit the fall in the land across the site. Note the delightful well house, which bears a prominent carved inscription running beneath the eaves from Proverbs 17:13: ‘The beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water: therefore leave off contention, before it be meddled with’. The chapel in the centre originally had a tall bell cote straddling the ridge, which was removed in the mid-20th century after suffering storm damage, but otherwise survives intact with its original fittings. The initiator of the project seems to have been the Rev’d Charles Belli, who was vicar from 1823 to 1876 and carried out an ambitious building programme during his long incumbency. He commissioned Teulon to design a school, built on a site almost opposite in 1856 (demolished in 1968) and to enlarge and remodel the medieval church, which was carried out in 1867-1869.
Huntley Manor in Gloucestershire: this property belonged to the Probyn family, who leased it to Daniel Capper, rector of the parish. He employed Teulon to rebuild the house at the same time as the architect was involved at the church. But Capper resided there only for a short time after work was completed, and in 1866 exchanged the house for another property belonging to the same freeholder. Note the geometrical patterning of the slate roofs.

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 a 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 decked 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 Lavers and Barraud in the great hall at Elvetham Hall depicting the visit to Winchester in 1522 of Henry VIII and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. The monochrome drawing with sparing highlights in gold was an innovation of Teulon’s. Examples in an ecclesiastical setting are numerous, but the extent of its use for secular commissions awaits discovery.

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 conceivably 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 might have 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.

Teulon in Puginian mode: the former post office and constable’s house on Abbey Place in Thorney, Cambridgeshire, erected c. 1848 when the 7th Duke of Bedford engaged the architect to lay out an estate village around the remains of the Benedictine abbey, whose lands had been granted at the Dissolution of the Monasteries to the 1st Duke.
Balusters to the lower flight of the main stair at Wetheringsett Manor of 1843 (Photograph taken with kind permission of Wetheringsett Manor School.)

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 perhaps more in need of badges of allegiance than a thoroughgoing aesthetic and may ultimately be of more use in explaining how Teulon won his commissions than how they came to look as they did.

St Peter’s in Great Birch, southwest of Colchester in Essex: the imposing dimensions of the church (the spire rises to 110ft/34m) were due to the munificence of Charles Gray Round of Birch Hall (d. 1867), who paid for this replacement of a medieval predecessor on a grand scale. Always too large for the tiny estate village that it served, it has been redundant since 1990, is now in a parlous state and, following the failure of the latest of several attempts to find a new use, is likely to be demolished.
The now former rectory of 1854 in Upper Broughton, Nottinghamshire, a village located to the northwest of Melton Mowbray: though it postdates its counterpart at Wetheringsett pictured above by just ten years or so, Teulon’s domestic design has changed dramatically during the intervening period. Symmetry is consciously eschewed in the planning and elevations, and neo-Tudor has been abandoned for a punchy idiom that is unmistakably High Victorian. The commission was to have been undertaken in parallel with the restoration of the adjacent church of St Luke, but it seems that Teulon’s extensive scheme of alterations was either never carried out, or else executed in much reduced form. (Postcard, author’s collection)

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. Winston Grange (formerly the vicarage), its exact contemporary located 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: Teulon’s synthesis of an obelisk with a Venetian campanile allowed the monument to be expressed as a single, immense sculptural form, 111ft (34m) in height, while at the same time providing architectural expression for the uppermost storey. The former was essential to allow the monument to command all the long-range views taking in its elevated location on Nibley Knoll, in which no fine detail would have been visible; the latter was necessary in view of the covered platform, from which viewers who ascend the spiral staircase running up the middle can enjoy views stretching as far as the Severn Bridge and the Black Mountains.

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)

At their simplest, Teulon’s new churches from this period are plain, lancet-style designs 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 church – a nave with two broad aisles, deep chancel and tower with a tall spire. 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 embody the strongly individual architectural personality that made Teulon’s reputation.

The font at All Saints in Icklesham, East Sussex, introduced by Teulon as part of his restoration of 1848-1849
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.

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 wilful and acerbic is difficult to pinpoint, and it was probably a gradual process rather than a sudden change. That 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 that it represented. 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 Giles’s Church, Uley in Gloucestershire, built in 1857-1858 to replace a dilapidated medieval predecessor. Like Netherfield, it exemplifies Teulon’s angular, spirited handling of Middle Pointed Gothic. The upper stages of the tower are, perhaps, a homage to the pierced crowns and openwork belfry windows of the Perpendicular Gothic towers of the locality.
Holy Trinity, Hastings in East Sussex, artist’s impression by W.E. Hodgkins 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 a porch. The debt to the Dominican church in Ghent is very clear in the north elevation of the nave with its transverse gables, but that building had (latterly, at any rate) a flat east end, whereas a polygonal apse was aesthetically a better fit for the awkward urban site at the angled junction of two streets. Matthew Saunders claims that this was based on the apse of St Pierre at Caen, which Teulon had seen on his travels, but the influence is not entirely clear, since that had a two-storey elevation with an ambulatory, and needed to be translated from Flamboyant Gothic to Teulon’s distinctive brand of Geometrical Decorated. The Ecclesiologist reported that the crow-stepped gable visible in this view, which marks the junction of the nave and chancel, had been borrowed from the west front of the Frauenkirche in Nuremburg. It was omitted in execution.
Looking north west across the south aisle and nave at Holy Trinity, Hastings: the grand entrance through the tower porch brought worshippers into the church at its southeastern corner. Teulon exploited this unusual entrance route to achieve a dramatic coup de théâtre. After passing through the porch, one is directed through a narrow passage which turns out to belong to a kind of church within a church – a side chapel with its own nave, aisles and clerestory, all tucked in underneath the organ chamber on the south side of the chancel – and then on emerging from this confined space, the huge expanse of the nave and south nave aisle suddenly and dramatically reveals itself. Note the deep recesses around the windows on the north side of the nave, the result of the use of internal buttresses – another device borrowed from the Dominican church in Ghent.

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 work was perceived 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’. Teulon’s proposal to remove the catslide roofs spanning both nave and aisles and to reinstate 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’. 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 flimsy, slapdash detailing.

Christ Church on Copse Hill in Wimbledon was built in 1858-1859 to serve a new middle-class suburb. Though stately and with considerable presence, it was an economical building, providing just short of 600 sittings at a cost of only £3,425. This is one of the first of Teulon’s churches to embody his favourite configuration of a bell tower placed over the chancel. The architect’s hand also reveals itself in details such as the rose window recessed behind a cusped opening beneath the belfry stage of the tower and the pointed quatrefoils in the side wall of the porch. The stair turret incorporating a chimney may be a later addition; if it is, it shows admirable sympathy for Teulon’s aesthetic.
General view of the interior St John the Baptist, Burringham in Lincolnshire (1856-1857), demonstrating the dramatic contrast between the lofty, light-filled space of the tower and the much darker nave and chancel.
Teulon’s original design for the church of St Thomas, Agar Town in Camden, as published in The Builder of 5th June 1858: the building on the right was to be the parish school and was intended to serve as a worship space until the church was ready. The foundation stone had been laid the previous year, and construction must have been well advanced by the time this report appeared. The foundation stone of the church was laid just almost exactly one year after the publication date, but soon afterwards the site was purchased by the Midland Railway for the construction of its London extension into St Pancras station and cleared. Teulon provided a new design for the church, which went up on a site on nearby Wrotham Road and was eventually consecrated in 1863.

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 the secondary trusses that alternate with them extend downward 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.

The spire of St Thomas’s Church in Wells, Somerset, constructed during the first phase of building works in 1856-1857. It rises to a height of 148ft (45m). Note the use of banding in a different coloured stone to create structural polychromy, the figures of the Evangelists positioned on the set-offs to the buttresses and the complex geometry of the upper stages, where the transition from a square to an octagonal plan is subtly achieved with the broaches hidden behind pinnacles.
St Margaret’s, Hopton-on-Sea, Norfolk (the parish was transferred from Suffolk as a result of the local government reforms of 1974): this church was built in 1865-1866 on a site given by the banker and philanthropist Daniel Gurney (1791-1880) of North Runcton Hall in Norfolk to replace a medieval predecessor that had been gutted in an accidental fire. The use of knapped flint to face the exterior is a nod to local traditions, but otherwise this is a thoroughgoing essay in Teulon’s muscular manner. The composition demonstrates the architect’s love of elemental geometrical solids, though the form of the upper stages of the central tower – an octagonal cylinder interpenetrating with a square-based pyramid that forms its base – may derive from that over the crossing of the medieval church of St Mary’s in Pakenham, Suffolk, which Teulon had restored in 1849. He used the same device at St Thomas’s in Agar Town in Camden (completed 1863, demolished c. 1860).
SS Peter and Paul, Hawkley, near Liss in Hampshire: this church was paid for by J.J. Maberly, the owner of Hawkley Hurst, who in 1860 approached Teulon simultaneously for a design for his prospective new residence and for a replacement for the existing medieval chapel-of-ease. Drawings in the Hampshire Record Office dated that year show that the initial scheme was more modest – a nave with arcades of two bays in length (as opposed to the three-bay arcades that eventually materialised) and a west porch with a timber bell cote above rather than a proper tower. The design was revised to take the form that was eventually executed later the same year, but building work did not commence until September 1864. It was completed quickly, the new church being consecrated on 25th July 1865. The walls are faced in rubble-coursed clunch, reflecting local vernacular traditions.

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 ten 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, whose sumptuous interior is thoroughly baroque in its profusion of ornament and colour.

The space below the tower at St Margaret’s, Hopton-on-Sea, Norfolk: whereas at St Stephen’s, Rosslyn Hill and St Mark’s, Silvertown this area does duty as a chancel, this building represents a variation on Teulon’s favourite plan in that the chancel projecting to the east is more than vestigial, being long enough to house the seating for the choir. Note how the red-brick striation of the courses of brick forming the arches follows varied and independent rhythms, ‘thus making chaos out of order’, as James Bettley puts it in the East Suffolk volume of The Buildings of England. Note also the oculus with its striped reveal to the left of the organ, a feature encountered again at Rosslyn Hill. The lectern and pulpit, with the base of the latter composed of Teulon’s beloved crystalline forms, are wholly characteristic. The organ is something of a puzzle: the pipework postdates the building by several decades, but devices such as the use of interwoven pointed arches with repeated cusped openings to form the two panels flanking the central screen suggest the hand of the architect in the design of the case.
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. Compare this with the remodelling of Holy Trinity, Leicester, illustrated in the elevation drawing above.
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 began 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.

St George the Martyr, Queen Square in central London was originally built in c. 1706 as a chapel of ease to St Andrew’s in Holborn. In 1867-1869, at the same time as Teulon was busy remodelling that church, he transformed beyond recognition what had been a restrained English baroque preaching box, recasing the exterior, adding Lombardic tracery to the windows and replacing the bell turret. Internally, he removed all but one of the galleries, almost all the original fittings and turned the interior round through 90 degrees to face a new raised chancel area with a sumptuous mosaic reredos and richly painted canopies enclosing the (liturgical) east windows. This is enclosed on either side by chunkily detailed wooden screens, and that on the liturgical south side terminates in a spectacular pulpit, whose stairs wrap around one of the columns
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 and St Margaret’s, Hopton-on-Sea, both pictured above, and the lost St Thomas’s, Agar Town. (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 tower to octagonal spire. Teulon had first tried out a Rhenish helm spire at St Stephen’s, Manciple Street in Southwark of 1848 (demolished 1965): in most other respects, that was an unadventurous design, but when he used the device again 17 years later for the rebuilding of SS Peter and Paul, Hawkley in Hampshire, it formed part of a striking and convincing essay in neo-Romanesque with decidedly Germanic overtones. Perhaps he had been prompted by recollections of something that he had seen on his travels as a young man. It is likely that he had seen for himself Romanesque buildings in the Rhineland, and one of the sketchbooks in the RIBA Collection includes a view of Friedrich August Stüler’s SS Peter and Paul in Wannsee outside Berlin, a Rundbogenstil design completed in 1837. 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 recall the openwork screens in Moorish architecture. Something similar, although interpreted even more personally, cropped up at St Thomas’s, 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 to carry the tower.

The font in St Thomas’s, Wells in Somerset – a tour de force of the kind of crystalline forms that Teulon seems to have particularly enjoyed and used to articulate a wide range of architectural features.
Detail of the tiled chancel floor of St George the Martyr, Queen Square, which incorporates representations of the church’s patron saint. The maker has yet to be identified.
St John the Baptist, Huntley in Gloucestershire: one of several windows in the nave which combine scenes executed in Teulon’s trademark monochrome technique (here, Mary Magdalene washing the feet of Christ in the house of Simon) with coloured sections of glass. The reason perhaps was to overcome the effect that large expanses of stained glass could have of making church interiors gloomy and cave-like on all but the brightest of summer days.

Teulon pursed a total aesthetic in his churches every bit as avidly as any other 19th century architect. Fittings were usually bespoke and their design is full of the invention and originality that characterise the architecture which forms their setting. He also collaborated extensively – and by no means exclusively on ecclesiastical commissions – with leading artists and craftsmen of the time: Thomas Earp (1828-1893) for sculpture (the reredos that he executed for St John the Baptist, Huntley was shown at the Great Exhibition of 1862), 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.

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. (London Metropolitan Archives)
St James’s, Leckhampstead, Berkshire (1859-1860): exterior from southwest

All of these commissions were generously supported by wealthy private donors. Yet Teulon was by no means dependent on largesse to stimulate his architectural imagination. Though The Ecclesiologist might have insinuated 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’s, 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 red 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

Teulon’s major country houses

Elvetham Hall (1859-1862), the entrance front viewed from the southeast: the porte-cochère which shelters the main entrance is an addition of 1901, designed in a manner which shows great sensitivity to Teulon’s idiom, which by that date must have appeared distinctly old-fashioned. The transverse open gateway which formerly occupied the ground floor of the tower was filled in and the tower extended outwards at ground- and first-floor level. This later section can be distinguished here by the slightly brighter shade of the brickwork.

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. It is the product of an architect – and, indeed, of an age – that had neither fully relinquished the fashions of a previous age nor wholly assimilated the innovations of the new one that was already upon them. A drawing in one of the sketchbooks in the RIBA Collection depicts an intriguing design for what is essentially an oversized cottage orné, based on a cranked axis, with a caption in a much later hand stating that it is Tortworth Court. If this was indeed Teulon’s initial offering to the Earl, then the concept evidently changed radically in the design process.

Tortworth Court in Gloucestershire as it appears today, viewed from the pleasure grounds to the south of the house. The terrace with stone balls and steps in the middle ground form part of Teulon’s original design for the landscape. The bay windows mark the position on the ground floor of (going left to right) the library, the drawing room and the morning room.
What may be a first design for Tortworth Court in one of Teulon’s sketchbooks: note the pair of chimney stacks linked by an arch and supporting weathervane on a tall stem, a feature already familiar from Wetheringsett Manor, pictured above. (RIBA Collections)

As built, the garden front is entirely symmetrical and effectively Georgian Gothick; the entrance front is wilfully asymmetrical, with advancing and receding planes, and decidedly Puginian. There is an uncomfortable discontinuity between the two and, as designed, it depended for its effect on a vivid skyline of turrets, gables, pinnacles and tall chimneys, all grouped around a tower containing the main stair with a tall pyramidal roof crowned by a large cupola (as Mark Girouard notes in The Victorian Country House, this feature owes a visible debt to James Wyatt’s Ashridge in Hertfordshire of 1808-1821). The removal of this feature in the late 19th century (around the time that the free-standing chapel was demolished and replaced by a conservatory) robbed the exterior of much of its coherence, while the subdivision of the grounds and later planting on the eastern side from which the house is approached (it is now a luxury hotel, with an open prison occupying part of the former park) has destroyed the long-range views in which it must once have cut an evocative figure.

Tortworth Court, Gloucestershire: the free-standing gatehouse that provide access to the entrance front with its vaulted porch visible beyond.
Section of the staircase tower at Tortworth Court, as illustrated in The Builder of 29th October 1853. The tall roof structure with hammerbeam trusses and a central lantern was removed in the late 19th century and replaced by a flat ceiling.

Stylistically, the exterior is an amalgam of late Georgian Gothick, neo-Jacobean and Puginian Gothic. What can be deduced from the surviving interiors – much was apparently lost during a bad fire in 1991 – suggests that, within, the detailing was mostly Tudor Gothic, but there are germs of several ideas that recur in Teulon’s later work. The use of overscaled brackets to support the flights landings of the main styair, for instance, is an early instance of something that became a favourite device and was translated into his brand of muscular Gothic. The architectural language was flexible and, as had already been shown at 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. It is perhaps telling that Marsten, a contemporary estate cottage on a road that skirts the eastern boundary of the parkland, coheres more successfully as a discrete sculptural form: Teulon had yet to develop an architectural language capable of responding to large-scale planning.

The main staircase at Tortworth Court as it appears today: the planning of the house, with a lofty top-lit space in the centre, makes an instructive comparison with the later Bestwood Lodge, pictured below.
The former library at Tortworth Court looking through the sliding doors that communicate with the former drawing room beyond.

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 nonetheless 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. But 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 in the background 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, hollowing 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. In 1920, the property (which by this point was known as Chichester House) was acquired for use as a Star and Garter convalescent home for soldiers who had been wounded in World War I. Teulon’s house was replaced in 1924-1928 by a new structure in a Cape Dutch style designed by Edwin Cooper (1874-1942), who incorporated a substantial portion of the entrance front pictured above, including the prominent oriel lighting the main stair and porte-cochère, into the new structure. The stylistic contrast was disconcerting and Cooper’s rationale for such a perverse decision remains a mystery. The building subsequently housed a police training college, before the site was purchased by holiday operator the Saga Group, who obtained listed building consent to clear it to make way for an office complex by Michael Hopkins, constructed in 1997-1998.

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.

This image of the front to the pleasure grounds at Elvetham Hall, which has only recently come to light, is an important record of Teulon’s original intentions for this aspect of the building. It was substantially altered as a result of the extensive scheme of modifications carried out in 1911-1913: the loggia was filled in and much of the ground-floor elevation disappeared behind an extensive conservatory. The tower visible in the centre rising above the bay window of what was originally the drawing room lost its pyramidal roof, which was replaced by a baroque-style cupola on a flat base, and the first-floor balconies were removed. Though much of what is pictured here remains intact, the modifications removed a great deal of interest in the treatment of the wall planes and obscured Teulon’s carefully judged massing, especially of the polygonal termination to this wing with its massive buttresses. (Carte de visite from the collection of Paul Kingswell)
One of the distinguishing features of Elvetham Hall is the superb quality architectural sculpture executed by Thomas Earp both inside and outside the building. This aedicule enclosing two falconers is to be found on the north face of the tower above the main entrance. Note also the tumbled brickwork to the gable, a favourite Teulon device.

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 aspect of Teulon’s architectural personality. It owes much to the architectural language that seems to have come into being at St John the Baptist in Burringham, but there are few pointed arches to be seen. A curious kind of stretched trefoil with keystones at the intersections of the arcs forms a kind of leitmotif in the design. It is shrunk to the scale of an image niche, blown up and stretched laterally in its proportions to serve as arches to the service court, but always employed in a manner entirely detached from the architectural language of early Gothic whence it derives. It is used sparingly, mainly at visually prominent locations, and the remaining openings of windows and doorways are almost everywhere segmental. When tracery finally appears in the windows to the main stair, it takes forms reminiscent of 17th century ‘Gothic Survival’. Indeed, eclecticism is the keynote, in that a stylistically diverse variety of devices is thrown into the mix – square pinnacles and openwork parapets that might have been cribbed from Elizabethan architecture at its most mannered, Dutch gables, thoroughly classical moulded cornices and ball finials.

The main staircase at Elvetham Hall: the heraldic beasts crowning the newel posts, carved by a Mr Grinham, were added during the modifications of 1911-1913. The stained glass, supplied by Lavers and Barraud, illustrates historical figures associated with the Hall. Note the horseshoe arches of the openings in the balustrade of the stair. The tracery of the large central window makes an interesting comparison with that of the school in Netherfield, pictured below.
This rough preliminary sketch of the entrance front at Elvetham Hall makes an instructive comparison with the artist’s impression reproduced below, which shows the building from exactly the same angle. Though some of the elements of the final design are already present, such as the combined tower and porte-cochère, stylistically the treatment is very different. It is overtly medievalising in a way that what was eventually executed is not. Why and under what circumstances the concept changed awaits discovery. (RIBA Collections)
View from the north of Elvetham Hall, as published in The Builder of 26th May 1860: this is important as a record of the building’s original appearance before the lean-to porte-cochère was added in 1901 and the new hall and library in 1911-1913, making a comparison instructive with the view of the entrance front as it appears today reproduced at the beginning of this section. It may well be copied from a presentation drawing of Elvetham Hall which Teulon exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1860.

Yet Teulon’s omnivorous approach does not translate into stylistic indeterminacy since all these features are subsumed into a compelling, strongly individual whole. The boldly asymmetrical composition is modelled in powerful, chiselled forms, with stridently patterned polychromatic brickwork, produced in kilns set up on the estate, pullulating in each elevation. Whatever the historicising overtones may be, the aesthetic is distinctly and unmistakably High Victorian, capable of being ascribed to no century other than the nineteenth. It is sustained throughout all Teulon’s numerous buildings and structure on the estate, which include not only the mansion and stable block, but also a bridge across the River Hart, walls and steps in the pleasure grounds, estate housing and even a water tower. The church of St Mary a short distance away to the east in the grounds had been rebuilt in neo-Norman by Henry Roberts (1803-1876) in 1840-1841. Teulon’s brief here seems to have been confined to adding architectural sculpture to the spire, turning Roberts’ design into a haunting, even unsettling presence, adding to the vivid skyline of the ensemble. The interior of Elvetham Hall strikes a more light-hearted tone. Pageantry abounds in the extensive scheme of figurative art, executed in a variety of media, which celebrates events in the long and illustrious history of the house, notably the lavish reception put on for Elizabeth I and her retinue by the Earl of Hertford, the then-owner, in September 1591. The great hall incorporates an extraordinary apse-like alcove lit by tall lancets and glazed with Teulon’s distinctive monochrome stained glass, making it a secular counterpart to the baptistry at St Mary’s in Ealing.

Elvetham Hall, fireplace in the former drawing room: the relief shows Queen Elizabeth I at the head of her train when she arrived at Elvetham on 20th September 1591. To the left are the six virgins, who, it is recorded, walked ahead of her, singing and scattering flowers on her path.
Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, as depicted in one of the ceiling panels in the drawing room at Elvetham Hall, which were executed by Harland and Fisher and illustrate characters from Walter Scott’s novel Kenilworth.

Teulon had been engaged to work on Elvetham by Frederick Gough-Calthorpe (1790-1868) the 4th Lord Calthorpe, 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 family had acquired Elvetham through marriage in the 1700s, but leased the estate to a succession of occupiers from the end of the 18th century, when it ceased to reside there. In the 1800s, one of these – Lieutenant General Gwynne, a veteran of the Peninsula Wars – demolished a large, substantially Elizabethan house and replaced it with a relatively modest classical villa. The 4th Lord Calthorpe left Edgbaston to take up residence at Elvetham and it was income from the ground rents that allowed him to rebuild the house on such an imposing scale. The choice of architect seems to have fallen on Teulon because he had already commissioned from him a number of buildings for the Edgbaston Estate, notably the church of St James (1851-1852), as well as modifications to Perry Hall in Staffordshire, another Calthorpe property.

The entrance front of Bestwood Lodge in Nottinghamshire, built in 1862-1865 for the 10th Duke of St Albans. The octagonal tower on the right was added after 1867.
The top-lit Great Hall at Bestwood Lodge in Nottinghamshire: the main staircase is offset and access is now through the doors visible just to the left of centre marked by the green fire exit sign. Note the carved relief opposite beneath the middle bay, possibly resited here from an exterior location during one of the remodellings.

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 national evangelical societies. The fifth lord was part of the Marlborough House set, which revolved around Edward, Prince of Wales. So also was the 10th 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. Here, the strident manner of Elvetham is still present, but overt medievalising returns, this time in the form of the architect’s highly personal interpretation of Ruskinian Gothic. As at Shadwell Park, every possible device at Teulon’s disposal – steep gables, pyramidal roofs, towers and turrets of differing sizes, decorative ironwork, prominent chimney breasts and tall stacks – are brought into play to create an evocative skyline, whose effect is augmented by the substantial quadrangular stable yard to the north, for which similar devices are employed. The components of this sprawling complex are picturesquely disposed and the massing broken up in a manner that belies the substantial proportions of the house.

Artist’s impression of Bestwood Lodge, then still under construction, as published in The Builder of 5th September 1863 – possibly based on a presentation drawing exhibited at the Royal Academy the following year. The house did not remain in the form depicted here for long. Soon after completion, a conservatory was built on to the right of the main entrance, running parallel to the servants’ hall. Following a serious fire in the 1890s, this was rebuilt as a drill hall, acquiring a first floor with dummy half timbering.
Bestwood Lodge – corbel supporting the outer angle of the large, obliquely positioned corner flue visible in the illustration above. Though the later extension has deprived this feature of its visual prominence, it may have inadvertently ensured the preservation of the detail shown here by sheltering it from the weather. The red Mansfield sandstone is soft and many of the other exterior carvings are now badly weathered. The prominent whiskers suggest that this is a caricature of someone connected with the house.

The servants’ hall that extends along the north side of the cour d’honneur is treated as a discrete form and terminates at one end in a tall crow-stepped gable and spired bell cote, giving it an ecclesiastical air that might lead a casual observer to mistake it for a domestic chapel – something noted, greatly to its displeasure, by The Ecclesiologist. Even allowing for the impact of later alterations, the eschewal of symmetry in the elevations and axiality in the composition is the defining feature of views from any angle, making a perambulation of the grounds a decidedly disorientating experience, something accentuated by the sharp fall of the land on the garden side. The love of sculptural invention is again evident, especially in the hyperactively busy composition of the entrance tower with its intricate buttressing and oriels. The house originated as a hunting lodge in a royal park, which had reputedly been granted by Charles II to Nell Gwynn, his mistress and mother of the 1st Duke. As at Elvetham Hall, episodes from the past history of the site and local legend informed the decorative scheme, the sculptural elements of which were once again executed by Thomas Earp, this time in red Mansfield stone. The base of the oriel window above the main entrance incorporates portrait busts of Robin Hood and his Merry Men, while a relief in the Great Hall depicts Edward III hunting in Bestwood Park.

The south-facing garden front and terrace of Bestwood Lodge: the three tall windows aligned with the tower capped by a pyramidal roof mark the location of the main stair. The former drill hall just visible to the far left obscures one of Teulon’s trademark chimneys offset at an angle, visible in the illustration from The Builder reproduced above, which conveys just what an important element this originally was in the composition of the entrance front.
Fireplace in the Great Hall at Bestwood Lodge: the half arches projecting forward are a favourite Teulon motif, which here echo those used to support the first-floor gallery visible in the photograph above.

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 who had been 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 commissioned by the fifth Lord Calthorpe – not as a country seat, but as a summer coastal residence, and was not a brand new house, but a remodelling of an 1840s villa. The French Renaissance manner is idiosyncratically interpreted, and 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, other residential work and estate buildings

Elsewhere, Teulon’s country house practice brought commissions for extensions and modifications to existing buildings in addition to the construction of entirely new ones. 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 (another Buxton property) in Upshire near Waltham Abbey in Essex. This is dated to 1879 in several reference sources – erroneously, since the architect was long dead by that point – and here, as in so many other places, there is ground to be broken in researching this aspect of Teulon’s career. Country houses are particularly susceptible to the 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, which had been built for J.J. Maberly outside the village to which this landowner gifted the neo-Romanesque church pictured and described above. Following its sale to a new owner in 1912, the house was rebuilt out of all recognition and 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 from the illustration reproduced below. Access to country houses can be difficult to obtain for field study, while papers vital for an architectural historian’s research sometimes have yet to be deposited in record offices or may have disappeared altogether, further complicating the task.

Design for a lodge house at Elkington in Lincolnshire: typical of the Italianate designs for country house work with which Teulon was much involved in the 1850s, nothing is currently known of this commission, including whether it was executed and, if so, whether it is still extant. (RIBA Collections)
Former workshop buildings at Thorney, now known as Bedford Hall: erected in c. 1855 in collaboration with engineer John Hodgson Jones (1823-1892), this complex provided the estate village with fresh water (the tall tower housed a header tank) and gas for lighting. It also housed a carpenter’s shop and smithy, as well as accommodation for a superintendent.
The bridge taking the main drive across the River Hart at Elvetham Hall

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. 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, could have led to commissions for the Royal Estate in Windsor. In addition to workshop buildings (1858) and the addition of a chancel to Queen Victoria’s chapel at the Royal Lodge (1863), 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, 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.

Marsten, a cottage bearing a datestone of 1854 on the Tortworth Estate, located on the eastern border of the former park surrounding Tortworth Court.
Part of Nos 54-68 Wisbech Road in Thorney, designed by Teulon for the 7th Duke of Bedford’s extensive building programme of estate housing, carried out between 1849 and 1865. Almost all of the housing is constructed of yellow brick, produced by the estate’s own brickworks. The terrace of Nos 54-68 is one half of an almost symmetrical pair and, compared to some of the other cottages, unusually elaborate with liberal use of dressed stone for the mullion and transom windows, the doorways and even the brackets for the porch roofs. Though the style is a fairly restrained neo-Tudor, Teulon’s wilfulness starts to come out in the peculiar first-floor window of the tower-like cottage to the left – one of two which bookend the twin terraces.
No. 23A New Market in Beccles, Suffolk of 1868 – a rare instance of Teulon designing a commercial property. The ground floor of the elevation to New Market has been much altered and the building has lost the elaborate pierced parapet that it once sported. Gurney’s Bank was absorbed into Barclays in 1896 and the connection with the Gurney family mentioned in relation to the new church at Hopton-on-Sea pictured above may account for the commission, although the hypothesis needs to be tested.

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 and Capper’s own residence of Huntley Manor 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’.

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.
The public fountain at the tip of the site occupied by Holy Trinity in Hastings, designed by Teulon and erected in 1862 in commemoration of Sarah, Countess Waldegrave. Under the vaulted canopy, which has lost the tip of its spire, is a sculpture of Christ and the woman of Samaria. This, like so much of the exterior stonework of the church itself, has been severely eroded by the action of the maritime climate (the church stands just a few hundred feet from the seafront) to the point of being beyond recognition. Immediately behind is the polygonal vestry added in 1892 to the design of W.H. Romaine-Walker, while to the right at the end of Trinity Street can be seen W.L. Vernon’s Brassey Institute (now the town’s library) of 1878-1880.
Hawkley Hurst in Hampshire, 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, after which date the house was drastically remodelled. Note that, as at the church (pictured above), rubble-coursed clunch is used to face the building.

It is becoming increasingly clear that a great deal has yet to be discovered about Teulon’s domestic architecture, especially the smaller country and suburban houses and estate cottages. 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, a circumstance which may explain the loss of the original interiors. Almost opposite is what was formerly Westfield House, a suburban mansion of 1860-1861 which, by contrast, is given an attribution in The Buildings of England, but also remains unlisted. By contrast, the attribution to Teulon of the remodelling of a modest 18th century cottage to turn it into what became Hawkley Place in the list description for that building may well be inaccurate. The date of 1862 in the same source is not borne out by map evidence and it is more likely that the work was carried out in the 1880s when Maberly purchased the property for his nephew.

Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton (1837-1915) engaged Teulon to carry out an extensive scheme of works at Warlies, the estate at Upshire in Essex near Waltham Abbey, which his father had purchased in 1851. This seems to have included the stable block, dated 1862, of which the overseer’s house and clock tower are pictured here. Buxton was the namesake and grandson of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton (1786-1845), the abolitionist, and nephew of Charles Buxton (1822-1871), the amateur architect.
Teulon’s work at Warlies included alterations to the main house, a restrained classical building of the late 18th/early 19th century. He remodelled the interior and much of the northern half, adding a two-storey porch in an Italianate style just visible to the right. This faces a long service wing, also added by Teulon, totally at odds with the host building, but cleverly arranged: seen face-on, it rambles; when seen from the porch, foreshortening resolves it into a more compact, highly picturesque composition. The date stone reads 1879, implying that it was at least completed after the architect’s death.

But for the most part, the catalogue of Teulon’s works wants additions rather than subtractions. Although research is needed to corroborate the hypothesis, it would seem that his activity at Rushford in Norfolk for the Buxtons went beyond the remodelling of the former priests’ college. In addition to the school pictured below, there are two pairs of semi-detached cottages in close vicinity to it which appear to be of the same vintage and may well also turn out to be his work. The full extent of Teulon’s work in Upshire also wants clarification and description. He designed a combined chapel and school in the village (built c. 1855, demolished 1954) and possibly also the lodge by the entrance to the Warlies estate on Horseshoe Hill, which, with features such as dummy half-timbering, is characteristic of the picturesque manner that he employed for estate housing elsewhere.

Final years and afterword

St John the Baptist, Huntley, Gloucestershire: items such as the lectern, seen here, represent a tour de force of carving by Thomas Earp, whose effect is augmented by the use of coloured marbles and painted decoration, as seen here. Note the original chandelier suspended from an elaborate gilded wrought iron bracket, positioned to the right of the chancel arch.

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 own work, he never responded in print and left no writings other than professional correspondence.

The front to Wells Road in Great Malvern of Tudor House, built in 1852 to provide accommodation for male patients receving the water cures administered by Dr James Gully. A covered aerial walkway links it to Holyrood House (the cream stucco building visible beyond), which provided accommodation for female patients.
With its chunky forms and thick-cut detailing, the pulpit at St Mary’s, Woodchester in Gloucestershire epitomises Teulon’s High Victorian church fittings. Note the stone base, an exercise in his favourite crystalline geometry.
In 1869, Teulon was engaged to design a new combined rectory, Court House and vestry clerk’s office for the church of St Andrew, Holborn in the City of London to replace predecessors which were to be demolished for the Holborn Valley Improvements. He designed them as a compact ensemble, tucked away behind a boundary wall and lodge house on a confined site to the south of the church fronting New Fetter Lane. The traceried windows mark the location of the court room. At the same time, Teulon also carried out a sumptuous reordering and redecoration of the interior of this Wren church, recorded in photographs, but all lost when the building was gutted during the Blitz.

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 ceased 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 were thus driven 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. The foundations of the house were reused for a neo-Georgian successor, which reproduces some of the angular modelling of Teulon’s design.
The intricate tracery of the overlight to the entrance from Claremont Street and sexfoil above in the west wall of the south aisle of Holy Trinity in Hastings. Teulon’s wilful treatment of motifs drawn from curvilinear Decorated English Gothic of the 14th century makes an instructive comparison with the window to the organ chamber of St John the Baptist in Huntley, Gloucestershire, pictured above.

At a conference in 2018, 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 embark on 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 newspaper 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.

The stairs providing access to the room over the archway into the stable block of 1862 at Letton Court: the splat balusters are a favourite Teulon device.
Completed in 1863, St Mary’s, Woodchester in Gloucestershire is representative of a group of church designs by Teulon from his maturity that are handled in a more conservative vein. The idiosyncratic detailing is there, but played down and is very much subservient to the general effect. The anomalies have been remarked on by architectural historians, but never explained and research is necessary to identify the causes. One of the sketchbooks in the RIBA Collection contains a view of an early design for this church, monolithic in its composition with the tower rising from above the chancel and lean-to aisles. Why this was abandoned is currently unknown.

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.

High Victorianism for the Kent Coast: the architecture of Wheeler and Hooker

The three series of Six English Towns that Alec Clifton-Taylor made for the BBC in the 1970s-1980s are an excellent introduction to some of the most attractive, best preserved and architecturally most rewarding historic places in the country. All 18 subjects were well chosen and all of them will repay handsomely the time and effort of a day trip. For a while I was under the misapprehension that Faversham was among them. It was not – the only town in Kent to be included was Sandwich. But I aver that I was not wholly misguided in thinking that it might have been, since Clifton-Taylor would have found a great deal to enjoy there, principally the huge variety of vernacular buildings and traditional construction techniques, Georgian townhouses, well-preserved streetscapes and engaging topography in which he typically delighted. But, as someone whose antipathy for Victorian architecture was well known, there is also something which would have greatly displeased him, and it is this.

Corbel on the north side of the chapel of Faversham Almshouses

If one heads out of the medieval centre to the south or west, the townscape changes dramatically. Half-timbering, limewash, cladding in mathematical tiles, weatherboarding, stucco and peg tile roofs are replaced by stock brick, terracotta, slate and cast iron. Houses on main streets gain an extra storey. The haphazard, irregular medieval street pattern gives way to a strictly orthogonal layout. It is as though one had suddenly been spirited to a London suburb. And then one chances upon a most extraordinary apparition. A steeply pointed roof and twin, pencil-like turrets have been playing hide-and-seek in views from afar for some time now. But when one emerges onto South Road, one is struck not merely by the assertiveness of these features, but the sheer scale of the building to which they are attached. The chapel of which they form a part is merely the centrepiece of an immense frontage which stretches out in both directions to attain a length of nearly 500ft (152m). It would be striking enough in a big city, to say nothing of a market town. What is it and who designed it? One immediately suspects a neglected masterpiece by a major figure. But it is not.

Exterior from liturgical east of the chapel of Faversham Almshouses

Henry Wreight’s bequest and how the almshouses came to be

Almshouses are a prominent feature of many historic urban centres in Britain, and the building type has a long and illustrious history. Before the advent of the Welfare State, they fulfilled a vital role in providing for the poor and infirm in their old age. Like any town of comparable antiquity and substance, Faversham – a limb of the Cinque Ports and location of a major abbey until the Dissolution of the Monasteries – had several. How they came to be superseded by the edifice described above is an intriguing story recounted in The Building of the New Almshouses in Faversham by John Blackford, a booklet published in 2013 to mark the 150th anniversary of its opening, from which most of the information that follows is drawn. It begins with Henry Wreight (1760-1840), a successful and wealthy local solicitor, who founded two new sets of almshouses – one for six poor widows on Preston Street, and another for former dredgers or their widows on Abbey Street. By the time of his death, Wreight, who never married and had no dependants other than a widowed sister, had amassed a considerable fortune. He bequeathed to the town the bulk of his estate – valued at £80,000, an astronomical sum for the period – intending it to be used for good works.  

Faversham Almshouses: the main front to South Road

A board of trustees to administer the town’s various charities had been set up four years prior to Wreight’s death and there was no shortage of deserving causes. But the terms of the will were vague and this left the trustees in a quandary as to how to put such munificence to a worthy use. Initially they proposed to rebuild and endow the town’s National Schools. This was agreed by the Charity Commissioners, whom they approached for guidance on the administration of the legacy. In turn, the Commissioners encouraged the trustees to apply to the Attorney General for a scheme to set out their objectives, which was eventually formalised by an Order in Chancery in 1856. Various proposals were entertained involving the improvement and expansion of the existing almshouses in the town before at some point in 1854/1855 they settled on the notion of uniting them all into a single institution, for which they would build new premises. To this end, they initially approached the architect Richard Charles Hussey (1802-1887). Born in Harbledown just outside Canterbury, Hussey initially trained with John Wallen (1785-1865), just like T.E. Knightley.

The former National Schools in Faversham by R.C. Hussey of 1852 – the inscription over the main entrance records that it was put up ‘by the Trustees of Public Charities of this Town out of Funds munificently bequeathed for Charitable Purposes by Henry Wreight Esq’.
The vault over the main entrance of the former Faversham National Schools

But the main influence on his professional development was Thomas Rickman (1776-1841), an important pioneer of the Gothic Revival, whose Birmingham-based office he joined in 1831. Rickman not only designed some of the first churches in which an archaeologically correct revival of medieval architecture was seriously attempted, but was also an antiquarian and scholar, who, in An Attempt to Discriminate the Styles of English Architecture of 1817, had set out the terms describing the main phases of English gothic – Early English, Decorated and Perpendicular – still in use today. Hussey became a partner in the firm in 1835 and took over as principal in 1838 when Rickman’s health began to fail. He practised extensively in his native county, undertaking numerous restorations of medieval churches, and was the architect of the new building of the National Schools in Faversham, completed in 1852 – an unusually lavish and grandly-scaled example of the type, planned like a collegiate complex with a tall gatehouse tower and inner quadrangle. The brief that he was handed by the trustees envisaged not just almshouses comprising 30 dwellings with their own chapel, but also a commercial school, library and a reading room.

Cleave’s almshouses in Kingston upon Thames of 1668, a good example of the classic configuration of this building type, with a central chapel flanked by residential wings.
The neo-Jacobean Bedingfield almhouses on Lambseth Street in Eye, Suffolk – new accommodation of 1850 for an establishment founded in 1636, as the inscription on the front declares, and a good smaller early Victorian example of the type. The new edition of the Suffolk volume of The Buildings of England ascribes this to a builder from Diss called Thomas Farrow, but such a confident piece of design suggests the hand of a regionally, if not nationally significant figure.

Satisfied that the trustees were making good progress with the educational components of their scheme (which included not only capital works, but also funds to provide clothing for former pupils of the town’s national schools and exhibitions for study at Oxford or Cambridge for former pupils of its grammar school), in 1858 the Court of Chancery granted them permission to proceed with their plan for the new almshouses. Hussey’s design was adopted and submitted for approval to the then-attorney general, Sir Richard Bethell. At this point, events took an unexpected turn. In a letter of August 1859, Bethell castigated the design in the most virulent terms. ‘Everything is wrong. The site seems bad, the position of the Chapel which is so far from some of the houses, and the general idea… The sum to be expended is too large… instead of separate houses there should be one or two large houses built in flats and connected to the Chapel by a corridor’. As if this were not enough, the proposed library attracted little support from the townsfolk, who wanted a recreation ground instead. The trustees requested permission from Bethell to use part of Wreight’s legacy to purchase farmland on the east side of the town, but this was refused. The proposal could not be enacted until the following year when a local landowner, who in the meantime had purchased the land to build housing next to the new railway station, offered part of it for sale at a much reduced price and a portion of the cost was offset by a campaign of public subscription. The recreation ground was ceremonially opened in August 1860, but the library project fell by the wayside.

The former mortuary chapels (now the crematorium) of Woodvale Cemetery in Brighton by Robert Wheeler of 1856 (Wikipedia Commons)
North Lodge of Woodvale Cemetery in Brighton by Robert Wheeler of 1856 (Wikipedia Commons)

Supported by the Master of the Rolls, Bethell had insisted that Hussey should discard his existing scheme for the almhouses and prepare a new design. Instead, the trustees decided to open the field to new entrants and to hold a competition. The brief for the scheme was based on Bethell’s stipulations: the almhouses, all of which were to have a sitting room, a kitchen, two bedrooms and necessary outbuildings, should be linked by a covered way to a chapel in the centre of the complex. The site chosen for the complex was in the angle of Ospringe Road (later renamed South Road) and Tanners’ Street, and as many of the houses as possible were to have a frontage to one of these roads. The total cost was not to exceed £11,000 and the closing date for entries was 31st May 1860. George Gilbert Scott, who at the time was engaged in a major scheme of works to remodel and refurnish the town’s enormous parish church of St Mary of Charity, was invited to act as judge, but declined the offer because of pressure of work and suggested instead approaching Benjamin Ferrey, Philip Hardwick Junior and John Loughborough Pearson. The trustees settled on Ferrey, who undertook a ‘blind’ assessment and drew up a shortlist of four designs from which they were to select a winner.

Enter Wheeler and Hooker

The colourful display of tiles by Minton and Maw in the sanctuary of the chapel of Faversham Almshouses

Their choice, with which Ferrey concurred, had been entered under the initials ‘W.H’. These were not the initials of an individual, but the first letters of the surnames of Robert Wheeler (1830-1902) and John Marshall Hooker (1829-1906), two architects who had formed a partnership only the previous year. Hooker had been born into a landowning family in Brenchley near Tunbridge Wells. Nothing is currently known of his training, but from 1853 to 1857 he was in partnership with an obscure architect based in Margate by the name of William Caveler (dates unknown), who in 1835 had published Select Specimens of Gothic Architecture. Hooker’s earliest work so far identified is the rectory in Manton, a small village in the north of Lincolnshire to the southeast of Scunthorpe. He was back on more familiar turf in 1859, when he was engaged to design the combined gardener’s lodge and pavilion for the new recreation ground in Faversham. The banding of red bricks and striped voussoirs to the arches imply a passing familiarity with Ruskinian influence, but otherwise this is a charming exercise in the early Victorian cottage orné mode, full of self-consciously picturesque devices such as the acutely pitched roofs, the overscaled bargeboards and central oriel window. The tile-hanging is a recent addition – the first floor was originally finished in dummy half-timbering. In 1860, Hooker designed in a similar vein (apparently a solo effort, despite the partnership with Wheeler) a school on Churchfields in Hertford. This was established by Abel Smith (1788-1859), the banker and sometime MP for Hertfordshire, to take the girls from the Cowper School in the town, which had been established in 1841 and was now oversubscribed. The layout follows a well established pattern in consisting of a couple of large schoolrooms, arranged in a ‘T’ shape, with the schoolmaster’s house adjoining one end of the larger of the two.

J.M. Hooker’s former gardener’s lodge of 1859 in Faversham Recreation Ground

Beyond the scant biographical details that can be extracted from censuses, Wheeler’s background and training still await elucidation. A native of Worcester, by 1856 he had an independent practice in London and apparently participated in competitions for a number of municipal cemeteries. That same year, he was engaged to design a new parish cemetery for Brighton, a measure made necessary in 1853 when the Privy Council prohibited burials in or around the churches and chapels in the town under the Burials Beyond the Metropolis Act. Wheeler’s mortuary chapels (adapted as a crematorium in 1930) embody a confidently handled robust kind of Geometrical Decorated Gothic, rather in the manner of R.C. Carpenter. The building follows the typical configuration of the period in consisting of separate chapels for nonconformists and Anglicans, arranged in a symmetrical composition with a bell tower and spire rising over what was originally a carriage arch for hearses in the centre. Lodges flanking the head of the drive from Lewes Road survive, although the ceremonial archway that formerly linked then, built as a memorial to the Marquess of Bristol, was demolished in 1947. Only one building other than the Faversham Almshouses has been positively identified as a joint work and that is the church of St Hybald’s in Manton of 1861, where Hooker had built the new rectory seven years previously. It is a typical High Victorian smaller rural church in Middle Pointed with a diminutive tower and spire over the porch to give it extra presence in the landscape – all wholly characteristic of the period but not embodying an especially distinctive architectural personality.

The former church of St Hybald (now a private residential property) in Manton, Lincolnshire by Hooker and Wheeler of 1861 (Mark Woods)

The same could not be said of the almshouses. The terms of the trustees’ scheme and the prescriptions of the Attorney General had a considerable bearing on the design. The basic configuration of a chapel positioned in the centre and flanked by terraces of two-storey cottages was well established for almshouses and examples are legion. What is surprising here is the greatly increased scale. In addition to the total of 28 dwellings provided by the five old complexes, the opportunity was taken to use part of Wreight’s legacy to create two more beneficiaries, bringing the number up to 30. The dwellings were generously appointed relative to comparable accommodation elsewhere, with living rooms of 13ft by 11ft (4m by 3.4m) and kitchens of 12ft by 11ft (3.7m by 3.4m); other rooms seem to have varied in size. The architects took the decision to turn the principal frontage towards the busier of the two thoroughfares, which links Faversham with its satellite of Ospringe (now effectively absorbed into the town) on the Roman Watling Street. The ground slopes across the site and extensive groundworks, carried out by a local contractor, were needed to provide a level terrace before Chinnock’s of Southampton could move in to begin construction. The foundation stone was laid on 8th August 1862 and the first houses were ready for occupation by June the following year, but work on the chapel seems to have dragged, since it not dedicated until September 1866.

The former schoolmaster’s house of what was originally the Abel Smith Memorial School on Church Path in Hertford, designed by J.M. Hooker and built in 1860 (Andrew Wood)
The former Abel Smith Memorial School in Hertford from the north (Andrew Wood)

With such a long frontage composed of repeated identical units, there was a real danger of monotony, and indeed the fenestration follows a set pattern. But thereafter Hooker and Wheeler deployed every weapon in their arsenal against it. How is this done? Firstly, the elevation is articulated into a series of advancing and receding planes. At first floor level, alternative pairs of front bedrooms break forward over the covered walkway, united above by a shared gable. Yet the intermediate pairs also break forward slightly (and on both floors), each one independently, its presence emphasised with a hipped roof. The openings of the covered walkway aligned with the entrances to the dwellings are paired, like the doorways behind them. The openings in front of the sitting room windows are, naturally enough, wider and also higher, breaking through the eaves line of the walkway into dormers in order to admit extra light. In between the bays that break forward at first floor level, the covered walkway is supported by elegantly slender columns, their shafts made of cast iron, set on tall bases of complex form and capped with typically High Victorian overscaled foliate capitals, all of which makes of each of them a complex, highly sculptural form. The arcade has a monumentality that belies its almost toy-like proportions, which only become evident on close inspection.

The east residential wing of Faversham Almshouses
The walkway of the west residential wing of Faversham Almshouses looking towards the entrance to the chapel

Where the arches have to be load bearing, naturally enough they are bulkier and the articulation into pillar and arch is dispensed with. Thus an ABBC rhythm is established – or would be, were it not for the fact that the arches of the endmost bays of the walkway (i.e. those that adjoin the chapel or the cross wings) are trefoiled and rise up into crocketed gables. The same units are cut and reshuffled for the lateral fronts of the crosswings, where the openings of the covered walkway follow an AABBABBAA pattern. The end elevations of the cross wings have handsome polygonal gables at first floor level growing out of a buttress at ground-floor level. In the inner angles of the returns are towers with tall, hipped pyramidal roofs. These originally housed water tanks, fed by wells on the premises, though the system proved so unreliable that by 1864 negotiations were in hand to connect the complex to the municipal supply. Red brick with Bath stone dressings and banding was chosen for the facing material, as it was thought to be warmer than the Kentish rag popular at the time for Gothic buildings. White bricks are used in places to achieve sparing but effective polychromatic patterning for some of the arch heads and relieving arches, and also for the splendid bases of the chimney stacks, which sport set-offs that are both striped and tumbled.

Interior of the chapel of Faversham Almshouses looking towards the sanctuary
The former east window from the parish church of St Mary of Charity at the (liturgical) west end of the chapel of Faversham Almshouses by Thomas Willement of 1844: note the coat of arms of the Cinque Ports in the central light below the figure of the Virgin and Child, who is flanked by St Peter (left) and St Paul (right).

Ashlar Bath stone facing was used for the chapel to set it off against the surrounding expanses of red brick, but in any case it could hardly fail to stand out. A substantial building, it was intended to seat a total of 220 people, considerably in excess of the 60 sittings to be provided for the residents. The tall, narrow proportions, the polygonal apse and the Geometrical Decorated tracery allude to the Sainte Chapelle in Paris, a popular model at the time for institutional places of worship. But instead of a tall flèche astride the roof ridge, two octagonal turrets rise from the lobbies either side where the covered walkway meets it. The internal proportions are imposing. Tall shafts supporting the roof trusses mark off each bay and the slightly overscaled ornament beloved of High Victorian Goths abounds. The chapel departs from its model in having short lean-to aisles of two bays and large areas of blank walling in the nave – inevitable, given that it is abutted here by the residential wings. The interior was initially to have been faced with ashlar, but when the tenders were opened they were in excess of the £11,000 budgeted for construction and Hooker and Wheeler, in cooperation with Ferrey, devised a number of cost-cutting measures of which one was substitution of the ashlar facing for a plastered surface. Initially the glazing was entirely plain and all the colour was concentrated in the gorgeous Minton tilework of the sanctuary, with encaustic tiling used not only for the floor, but also for the wall panelling where it forms a setting for carved roundels. No stained glass appeared until 1895, when scenes from the Life of Christ by Lavers and Westlake were introduced in the apse windows. In 1911, the former east window from the parish church of St Mary of Charity – a major work of 1844 by Thomas Willement (1786-1871), who had resided at nearby Davington Priory – was installed here in the large traceried window at the west end.

The chapel of Faversham Almshouses looking towards the liturgical west end and showing the community room created by the subdivision of the nave in 1982
Pulpit in the chapel of Faversham Almshouses

The almshouses have survived well and remain in use for the purpose for which they were built. The chapel spires were taken down in 1964 because of concerns over their safety, but reinstated in 1991, albeit slightly smaller than before. The external ironwork, which must have fallen prey to the scrap drives of World War II, was reinstated around the same time. In 1982, an extensive refurbishment was carried out, which included the subdivision of the west end of the chapel to create a community space for residents. In 1989, new accommodation blocks were added, tactfully positioned and scaled to keep them visually subservient to the main building. By the time the original construction campaign had finished, Wheeler and Hooker were no longer working together, their partnership apparently having been dissolved in c. 1863. Hooker apparently remained in architectural practice until c. 1889, despite having been declared bankrupt in 1886, following which he moved to Philadelphia where his son was already living. What he designed and where remains to be discovered.

The liturgical west end of the chapel and rear elevation of the residential wings of Faversham Almshouses
The lateral elevation of the west cross-wing of Faversham Almshouses

What Wheeler did next: the churches

The east end of the chapel at Pembury Hospital (originally Tonbridge Workhouse) in Kent by Robert Wheeler of 1863-1864

Wheeler remained active until at least the mid-1880s (when he may have added the bell tower to the church of St Paul in the Margate suburb of Cliftonville, which would make it his last known commission), practising first from Brenchley, then from Tunbridge Wells and finally from London, although he retained the appellation ‘Wheeler of Tunbridge Wells’. He was active chiefly in Kent and seems to have developed a line in ecclesiastical work. None of the restorations identified so far (St Nicholas, Otham in 1864-1865 and the tower of St George in Wrotham in 1876) is of especial interest, but some of the new churches are rather characterful. For the most part, these are relatively modest buildings. In 1863, Wheeler produced a design for the chapel of what was originally established in 1836 as Tonbridge Workhouse (subsequently Pembury Hospital). Though the site was cleared for wholesale reconstruction in 2011, the chapel survives. It is a robust piece of a design in a High Victorian idiom already more strident and vigorous than the Faversham Almshouses. Very compactly massed, the chancel (flanked by separate entrances for male and female paupers) projects only a short distance out of the main volume and the aisles are gathered in under catslide roofs. All external mouldings – dripstones, string courses, corbels and sills – are dispensed with, underscoring the effect of an indivisible mass. The east window reads as a series of foiled openings punched through the wall surface, not articulated into a unified composition by jambs, mullions and an arch – a favourite device of roguish architects of the 1860s. Internally, the nave and aisles are separated by arcades of three wide bays, the arches vividly striped and supported on stout columns of polished red granite with spreading foliate capitals, making this an unusually elaborate example of a building type whose architecture was usually every bit as austere as the ethos of the institutions they served.

The chapel-of-ease of All Saints, Horsmonden in Kent by Robert Wheeler of 1869-1870, pictured when the bell-cote was still intact – date unknown, probably 1960s (Historic England)
The west end of the nave and chancel of the chapel-of-ease of All Saints, Horsmonden in Kent when it was still in use – date unknown, probably 1960s (Historic England)

Much of this manner is also in evidence at All Saints in Horsmonden, built in 1869-1870 as a chapel-of-ease to the village church of St Margaret, which is situated a good two miles to the south of the titular population centre. Located on Maidstone Road, it served outlying hamlets and farmsteads in the northern half of the parish. It is a compactly composed mass of stock brick with red brick dressings, here with an apsidal sanctuary. The nave is slightly wider than the chancel, but essentially the building consists of a single volume. There was originally a steeply gabled bellcote over the junction of the nave and chancel, but this was blown down during the Great Hurricane of 1987 and not replaced. Made redundant as an Anglican place of worship in 1970, All Saints then served as a Catholic church until in time becoming surplus to requirements for this purpose too, following which it was converted to a house in 2020. The interior was a satisfying period piece, which demonstrated the cave-like effect beloved of High Victorian architects (often described as ‘speluncar’ in contemporary literature), achieved by fenestrating the building entirely with narrow lancets with deep reveals, those in the apse fitted with richly coloured stained glass by O’Connor and Sons installed shortly after completion. The wall surfaces of red brick with black banding set this off effectively, as they did also the marble colonettes on angel corbels supporting the chancel arch and marble-fronted pulpit, all of which were adorned by the vigorous stiff-leaf carvings typical of the style. The timber fittings were removed for the conversion, but the east end of the nave and the chancel have fortunately been left unsubdivided, allowing the patterned ceiling of the latter to be appreciated.

St Clement’s Church in Leysdown on the Isle of Sheppey by Robert Wheeler of 1874 (demolished c. 1980)
View from southwest of St John the Baptist, Swalecliffe, Kent by Robert Wheeler of 1875-1876

St Clement’s in Leysdown on the eastern tip of the Isle of Sheppey of 1874 was a typical mid-Victorian smaller rural church, which replaced an even more modest predecessor of 1753. Externally it seems to have been faced in flint or rubble-coursed Kentish rag (archive photographs are a little difficult to interpret) with brick and stone dressings. There was plate tracery to the nave windows and colonettes supported the three belfry openings. Constructed without adequate foundations, it suffered from structural problems and was eventually demolished in 1980. No images of the interior have yet come to light. St John’s in Swalecliffe of 1875 has a number of points of similarity with St Clement’s, not least a windswept, shoreside location on the outer reaches of the Thames Estuary in what was, until post-war expansion, a lonely and sparsely populated spot. It also stood on the site of an older predecessor. The most effective design feature of the exterior is the rectangular bellcote mounted on a truncated pyramid straddling the west end of the nave. Though it is a modest and simple building, there is a good deal of enjoyment to be had from the varied palette of materials and detailing, much of it quite literally the stock-in-trade of a mid-Victorian contractor, such as the varied shapes and colours of the tiles and slates. Happily, this was little eroded in the 20th century.

Artist’s impression of St John the Baptist, Swalecliffe, presumably produced around the time that construction started and based on a presentation drawing from Robert Wheeler’s office
General view looking east of the interior of St John the Baptist, Swalecliffe, Kent

As at Horsmonden, the interior is faced in red brick with black banding and, again as with that church, embellishment is reserved for the marble-faced pulpit and attached columns borne on corbels (here geometrical rather than figurative) supporting the chancel arch. The chancel roof is ceiled with panelling that has been stencilled with a repeated designs on a coloured ground. This exhausts the original decorative scheme and later enrichment has gone little beyond it. St Lawrence’s in the tiny village of the same name on the Dengie Peninsula in Essex, built in 1878, is another towerless, two-cell church. Externally, there are greater pretensions to grandeur in the use of Perpendicular Gothic tracery and dressed ragstone for the facing, while the fine octagonal bell turret is a good landmark in this flat, open country. The interior is decent and carefully detailed but plain, the only noteworthy feature being the panelling in the sanctuary incorporating Decalogue boards, an old-fashioned feature for the date.

Interior of the nave and sanctuary added to St Paul’s, Ramsgate in 1886-1887: Robert Wheeler’s original mission church of 1873-1874 is the area behind the arcade to the left. (Postcard, author’s collection)
Plan of St Paul’s, Ramsgate as it appeared following the enlargement of 1886-1887: King Street is to the right, while Sussex Street is to the top. Adjacent properties are shaded grey. (Lambeth Palace Library)

Only one urban church by Wheeler has so far been identified and that was St Paul’s in Ramsgate. It was established by curates from St George’s, the grand parish church built in the 1820s to serve the resort town that began to grow up by the harbour in the late 18th century. More churches appeared in the town during the course of the following decades, but religious life at places of worship that saw themselves as ministering to a smart watering place alienated the impoverished locale of King Street, which stayed away. A mission church was established and a site acquired in early 1873. The foundation stone was laid in November of that year and the building opened for worship the following May. Wheeler provided a modest building, 69ft (21m) in length and 30ft (9.1m) in width, faced in red brick with black banding internally and white brick with stone dressings externally. It had a south aisle, but there can have been little opportunity for architectural expression since the site was hemmed in on two sides by existing properties and only the east wall was fully exposed to view. An archive photograph suggests that this had twin two-light windows of plate tracery.

The bell tower of St Paul’s Church on Sussex Street, taken during demolition in 1959

The population of the neighbourhood grew and, with it, the congregation, making it necessary to enlarge the building. The existing nave would be retained and incorporated into a new structure, of which it would form the north aisle. Work began in July 1886 and the remodelled church was consecrated in January the following year, three months before St Paul’s became a parish in its own right. More research is needed to establish the authorship of the second phase: the ground plan in the collection of the Incorporated Church Building Society is signed by Henry Hinds (1834-1924), a local surveyor, but this may not be conclusive proof. Much of the design of the new nave and chancel had affinities with Wheeler’s work elsewhere. Then again, by the mid-1880s many of these devices were well established in the architectural vocabulary of the period and producing a passable imitation of the manner would have required no special skill. Two of the red granite columns from the old south arcade were saved and incorporated into the new baptistry. Conceivably other features, such as the south aisle windows (there were two tiers of fenestration in the south wall of the enlarged church), were salvaged and reset in order to cut costs.

The east elevation to King Street of St Paul’s in Ramsgate: the smaller, narrower section to the right of the apse corresponds to Wheeler’s original mission church of 1873-1874.

The most distinctive features of the remodelled St Paul’s were the porch tower, squeezed in between two adjacent properties on Sussex Street and linked to the north aisle by a vestibule, and the apse. The latter was a curious design, following the segment of a curve rather than a full semi-circle like a bow window, perhaps a contingency forced on the architect by the limited space available on this constricted urban site. Following the Dunkirk Evacuation in 1940, St Paul’s was closed amid fears of an imminent German invasion. Bombing raids later that same year destroyed numerous houses in the parish, including several in close proximity. The church itself was largely undamaged, however, and it was hoped that it would be able to reopen after the cessation of hostilities. But much of the congregation had now been scattered and reputedly the measure was strongly resisted by the then-rector of Holy Trinity (located a short distance away and also very Anglo-Catholic in its churchmanship), who feared that St Paul’s would lure away his own congregation. The building remained shut and eventually in 1958 the parish was subsumed back into St George’s. St Paul’s was demolished the following year.

What Wheeler did next: Harvey Grammar School

The former building of the Harvey Grammar School in Folkestone by Robert Wheeler of 1881-1882 as it appears today.

Intermittently engaging though all these churches can be, it is difficult to recognise in them – insofar as any meaningful and objective comparison is possible – an architect operating at the same level of inspiration as the Wheeler who had collaborated with Hooker on the Faversham Almshouses. Was the panache of that design entirely the contribution of his former partner? Another work of the 1880s suggests that it may not have been. Dr William Harvey (1578-1657), discoverer of the circulation of blood, bequeathed £200 to his native Folkestone ‘to be bestowed by the advice of the Mayor thereof and my Executor for the best use of the poore’. It seems that his younger brother, Eliab Harvey the Elder (1590-1661), who acted as executor, interpreted the establishment of a grammar school as a worthy use for the bequest. But nothing was done until 1671, when a site was purchased on Rendezvous Street, by which time Eliab Harvey the Younger (1635-1699) had taken charge of affairs. The foundation deed is dated March 1674. For this and all the information that follows, I am indebted to A History of the Harvey Grammar School by the Rev’d J. Howard Brown (1962).

Attic (top), first floor (middle) and ground floor/basement plans (above) of Robert Wheeler’s building for Harvey Grammar School of 1881-1882

By the middle of the 19th century, the original building was in a poor state of repair and in 1845-1846 it was taken down and replaced by new premises on the same site. These were jerry-built and, in any case, quickly turned out to be inadequate in capacity for a town whose population was growing rapidly during a period when it had gained a rail connection and was fast developing as a bathing resort. In late 1877, the school’s trustees resolved to approach the agent of Lord Radnor, the principal local landowner, for a new site. They managed to secure one on Foord Road, a little to the north of the medieval centre of the town, on land which at that point was occupied by nursery gardens. Initially they intended to commission the design from one William King of Ashford, but in late 1880 changed their minds and instead approached Wheeler. Construction began in mid-1881 and the school opened on 31st July the following year. The plan followed the usual configuration in having teaching and residential accommodation under one roof. There was a large principal schoolroom, 50ft by 25ft (15.2m x 7.6m) in size and intended to accommodate 150 boys, with two smaller ones opening off it to the side. At the east end this was adjoined by residential accommodation for the Master and Assistant Master, although with a sick bay and dormitories for the boys in the attic.

Perspective view from south, reputedly produced in Robert Wheeler’s office, of the new building for the Harvey Grammar School: this view would be impossible to obtain today because of the neighbouring buildings.

The site was a difficult one, sloping steeply from west to east (which perhaps explains why the Earl of Radnor’s agent had been willing to make it available at well below market price), but Wheeler turned this to good effect with his deft planning and massing. The residential portion was positioned at the lower end of the site with the schoolroom behind, raised up on a basement and communicating with it at first-floor level. The building was asymmetrically composed to dramatic and picturesque effect, and over the porch to the schoolroom rose a tower with a tall hipped roof – far larger than it realistically needed to be for the single bell used to summon the boys to lessons, but an effective vertical accent that gave the school presence in the townscape. Aspects of the design of the residential portion, such as the tile-hung upper storeys and dummy half-timbering, show that Wheeler had absorbed the influence of the vernacular revival initiated by Shaw and Nesfield. But the manner of the bell tower was still patently High Victorian and the busily variegated colours and textures of the wall and roof surfaces reflected preoccupations of two decades earlier.

Robert Wheeler’s building for the Harvey Grammar School pictured soon after completion: it will soon disappear behind the houses on Copthall Gardens in the foreground, which are in the process of construction. Note in the background William Cubitt’s viaduct of 1842-1843, which carries the railway from Dover to Folkestone across Foord Valley.

The site proved to be not just inconvenient, but ultimately the building’s undoing. The town’s population continued to expand and, once again, the institution began to outgrow its premises. By the end of the 19th century, all the surrounding nursery gardens had disappeared under residential streets of semi-detached villas and the school was hemmed in on all sides with no room to expand. In 1913 it moved out to a new campus near Folkestone West station and Wheeler’s building became a clinic, remaining in medical use until it was sold for residential conversion. Despite having spent most of its life serving functions other than those for which it was designed, the fabric survives well, with little erosion of the detailing.


St Lawrence’s Church in the village of St Lawrence on the Dengie Peninsula in Essex of 1878

The aim of this blog is to retrieve from obscurity Victorian architecture which has been overlooked or forgotten. Most of what Wheeler and Hooker designed might justifiably be placed in this category. But any claims of unjust neglect need to be interrogated. Why should certain architects have such little name recognition? Why should a whole life’s work be known only to a handful of cognoscenti? In the case of practitioners such as R.J. Withers, the answer lies in the geographical distribution of their output. They built mainly in scattered or little frequented locations and it takes time, effort and mileage to build up a sufficiently full picture of their work for one to begin to draw conclusions about its quality and significance. With others, such as T.E. Knightley, ill fortune is to blame. They have been cheated of the recognition by accident, war and wanton destruction, which have robbed us of works that ought firmly to have established their reputation. But in the case of Wheeler and Hooker, we are dealing with architects who fall into a very different category. What by any standards is a notable and indeed very visible work survives to testify to real talent and ability. But that forces one to ask whether the remainder of their output equals or falls short of it in architectural quality.

The west residential wing of Faversham Almshouses

The buildings presented here can hardly represent an exhaustive survey of the either man’s life and work and thus this post raises numerous questions. What else did Hooker and Wheeler design while they were still in partnership? Which of the two was the chief source of inspiration for the design of the Faversham Almshouses? Why was the partnership so short-lived? What did Hooker go on to build after the dissolution of the partnership and was it very different? Did Wheeler design anything other than churches and schools? Are the surviving works wholly characteristic of his style, or are there buildings waiting to be discovered – including lost major works – that might change our perspective on him? Certainly the two architects deserve a comprehensive study, but I cannot help wondering how fruitful pursuing any of these lines of inquiry might be in advancing our understanding of them. Many of the buildings that we have seen are best understood as good period pieces. They are wholly characteristic of their date and, indeed, wholly characteristic of their designer, but significant in a local rather than a national context.

The church of St Paul’s, Cliftonville in Margate by R.K. Blessley of Eastbourne ( 1873-1874): Wheeler oversaw the completion of the building in the 1880s and was probably responsible for the tower.

None of this should be interpreted as a slight. The further in time we regress from our own period, sometimes the less exacting the critical standards we apply to architecture, whereas in the case of something as arresting as the Faversham Almshouses – the product of an age that is well documented and where the architectural historian is less often thrown back on conjecture and speculation – we feel entitled to judge it by more exacting standards. Yet not every Victorian building is the work of a William Burges or a Norman Shaw, just as not every Stuart building is the work of a Christopher Wren, or every Georgian building that of a Robert Adam. The histories presented in this blog are as much histories of place, personalities and circumstance as they are of construction and design. The trustees of Wreight’s legacy could have selected as winner any one of a number of entrants to the competition for the new almshouses, but they chose Hooker and Wheeler. Faversham is fortunate to be able to boast such a magnificent statement of High Victorianism, but Hooker and Wheeler were equally fortunate that an opportunity presented itself that played to their strengths and gave them a chance to show their mettle. They were the right men for the right job at the right time, and perhaps it is that, rather than any attempt to account for unrecognised genius, that ultimately is the key to understanding their legacy.  

Tiled panel in the chapel of Faversham Almshouses with a roundel bearing the symbol of St John the Evangelist

From the picturesque to the sublime: Henry Darbishire and the architecture of philanthropy

The interior of the hall at Columbia Market, pictured shortly before its demolition (Historic England)

The name of the architect may not stick in the memory; his greatest work most certainly will. Like many people, I learned about the Columbia Market in Bethnal Green and its tragic fate thanks to Hermione Hobhouse’s Lost London. Somewhere in my mid-teens, I discovered the book in the reference room of Kingston-upon-Thames public library and the grimly atmospheric black and white photographs of this enormous Gothic pile stopped me in my tracks. The image of the main hall – abandoned, forlorn and awaiting the arrival of the demolition men – is the sort of thing that stays with one for a long time. That architecture of such quality and grandeur could have been wantonly destroyed seemed incomprehensible and I mourn its loss bitterly. Had it survived, it would undoubtedly be one of the sights of London.

Holly Village in Highgate – the view from the entrance arch

But though the building was unforgettable, the name of the architect barely registered and it was many years before I began to wonder who he was, what else he had designed and whether any of it was of comparable interest. The results of my initial half-hearted stab at research were not promising. Little by Darbishire was to be found on the National Heritage List for England and, with the sole exception of Holly Village in Highgate, nothing remotely as arresting. There were no other lost masterpieces. He turned out to have designed the ubiquitous Peabody Housing complexes in central London, but it was hard to credit that the begetter of an astonishing flight of high Romantic extravagance could have been responsible for something so pedestrian. Was I to conclude that the Columbia Market had been a fluke? I forgot about him again until, thanks to a contributor to a Facebook group on lost churches of London, I came across an image of the New Gravel Pit Chapel in Hackney. This was unmistakably the work of the same architect and my interest was rekindled.

The New Gravel Pit Chapel on Paradise Place in Hackney, pictured in 1880. Its predecessor of 1809-1810 was so poorly constructed that by the mid-1850s it was deemed to be beyond economical repair. A competition was held in 1856, where Darbishire’s entry – submitted anonymously under the motto ‘Difficilia quae pulchrae’ (Difficult are the things that are beautiful) emerged as the victor. Construction began in 1857 and the chapel opened in March 1858. The spire crowned a tower housing a staircase, which gave access to a west gallery with seating for 50 children. Darbishire’s competition design included two spires to create a symmetrical façade, but the second one was omitted in execution. Total capacity was 500. By the 20th century, the church was far bigger than required by a much diminished congregation, uncomfortable and in an increasingly poor state of repair. The last service was held in 1966 and it was demolished to make way for housing in 1969. (Hackney Archives)
This cross-section of the nave of the New Gravel Pit Chapel published in Henry Laxton’s Examples of Building Construction (London, 1858) is the only representation of the interior so far to have been discovered. It is clear from this, together with a report that appeared in The Building News of 26th June 1857, that it must have had a good deal in common with that of St James’s, Moore Park Road, pictured below. Cast iron piers bore a timber arcade, which in turn supported the wall plates of the nave roof, whose trusses were braced by transverse wooden arches. The Building News also reported that the chancel was to be floored with Minton tiles and to have an arcaded reredos with a picture of The Last Supper in the centre. A report in The Builder of 27th March 1858 stated that ‘The pulpit and the organ are traceried, and very ornamental’. (Hackney Archives)

This post represents a first attempt at an overview of Darbishire’s life and work. But he remains an obscure figure and even in authoritative reference works his dates of birth and death are not given. Thanks to the data from censuses and parish registers that has been made available on-line in recent years, we can at least fill those lacunae. Henry Astley Darbishire was born on 15th May 1825 in Chorlton-on-Matlock, Lancashire, and was the son of James Darbishire (1792-1836), a native of Bolton-le-Moors in the same county. For the moment, we know nothing about his training and early career, but his professional standing was high enough for such luminaries as Charles Robert Cockerell, Thomas Leverton Donaldson and Thomas Henry Wyatt to be persuaded to act as his proposers when he applied to be a Fellow of the RIBA in December 1856. Or was he simply a clever networker and canny self-promoter? We cannot know, but more than one architectural historian has been baffled that he should have been chosen by Baroness Burdett-Coutts to give form to her philanthropic ventures. When their collaboration began, he was an obscure figure, who had yet to achieve prominence in any field. Only three buildings from the early part of his career have so far been discovered – Guardsmen’s Lodgings on Francis Street in Westminster (1853-1854, demolished 1959) the rectory at Navenby in Lincolnshire, built in 1857, and New Gravel Pit Unitarian Chapel on Chatham Place in Hackney, built the same year. Though the spidery gothic of the last of these, especially the bell turret, evidences an idiosyncratic hand, neither suggests a particular aptitude for the sort of commissions that he would go on to produce.

The east-facing entrance front of Navenby Rectory, Lincolnshire (1857): this elevation was subsequently much altered when the central section was modified to incorporate a staircase hall, in the process losing the catslide roof with the distinctive triangular dormers, and the flank elevation of the cross-wing to the left was extended. (Navenby History Group)

Darbishire and Burdett Coutts

The emergence of Angela Burdett-Coutts (1814-1906) as one of the most prominent philanthropists in Victorian England was conditioned by her background. Her father was Sir Francis Burdett, fifth baronet (1770-1844), who in the earlier part of his parliamentary career had been a radical firebrand, championing numerous reformist causes. Among other things, he had been a supporter of George Birkbeck’s London Mechanics’ Institute, founded in 1823. Her mother Sophia (1775-1844) was the youngest daughter of Thomas Coutts (1735-1822), whose father had established the banking house that survives to this day. Angela was brought up in a house on St James’s Square in Westminster, which was much frequented by politicians, scientists and writers, including Charles Dickens, with whom she struck up a lasting friendship. The first wife of Thomas Coutts died in 1815 and the same year he married the actress Harriot Mellon (?1777-1837). She was much younger than her husband, her motives were suspected and the resulting acrimony with his daughters led Coutts to make her the sole beneficiary of his fortune. Nevertheless, in due course Harriot settled upon Angela as sole heir to the residue of the estate (two houses and an annual income of £10,000 were bequeathed to her second husband, the Duke of St Albans), something which only came to light on her death.

Angela Burdett-Coutts, portrait of c. 1840 by an anonymous artist (National Portrait Gallery)

The young Burdett-Coutts showed great independence of mind and had a powerful social conscience, shaped by her father’s views and shock at the urban poverty portrayed in Dickens’ novels. It was he who drew her attention to the ragged schools for the poor, which she began to support in 1844. In 1847 the two of them founded Urania Cottage in Shepherd’s Bush as a refuge for homeless women, many of whom had been prostitutes. Around 1851 she conceived the idea of building a complex of model housing in Nova Scotia Gardens in Bethnal Green, a location deliberately chosen for being the most infamous slum in an already notorious area. It seems that she initially had in mind a model village and approached Philip Hardwick (1792-1870) for a design. This changed after she visited at Dickens’ instigation one of the complexes of model dwellings in central London designed by Henry Roberts (1803-1876) for the Society for Improving the Conditions of the Labouring Classes. Dickens was convinced that apartment blocks – at that date, a novel form of housing in England – represented a more economical use of land and would be easier to maintain and equip with proper services. His thinking seems to have been influenced by his brother-in-law Henry Austin, (?1812-1861) an architect and civil engineer who had witnessed first-hand the wretched living conditions in the East End while engaged on the construction of the Blackwall Railway for Robert Stephenson. He was convinced that better sanitation, enforced through improved legislation, was the key to improving them.

The exterior to Streatham and Dyott Streets of Parnell House

In her biography of Burdett-Coutts, Lady Unknown, Edna Healey suggests that Dickens, unimpressed by Hardwick’s dilatoriness, dismissed him from the project, but how the introduction to Darbishire came about is currently unknown. Perhaps it was the very lack of an established client base and full order book that made him well placed to collaborate with Burdett-Coutts on her own terms, but this for the moment is speculation. However, it needs to be stressed that she was no ingénue where architectural matters were concerned. A generous and enthusiastic patron of the Established Church, she founded several new parishes and commissioned a number of important church buildings from prominent architects: the Puginian St Stephen’s, Rochester Row in Westminster (1847-1850) by Benjamin Ferrey (1810-1880) and the muscular Gothic St John’s in Limehouse, east London (1853, demolished after war damage) by Henry Clutton (1819-1893) deserve special mention. Hardwick’s St John’s in Deptford (1854) was less adventurous, being a typical middle-pointed suburban church.

The inner courtyard of Streatham Street Buildings in Bloomsbury (now known as Parnell House) by Henry Roberts, built in 1849 for the Society for Improving the Condition of the Labouring Classes: note the external walkways giving access to the dwellings on each floor. (Historic England)

Darbishire in the service of Burdett-Coutts

Columbia Square, the model housing complex for Bethnal Green, went up on a site located a short distance to the northeast of Shoreditch High Street on a thoroughfare then known as Crab Tree Row (later renamed Columbia Road). It took the form of four elongated five-storey blocks arranged around a central courtyard. The first to be completed was the east block, which opened in April 1859, followed by the west block in July 1860, the north block in 1861 and the south block in early 1862. They provided a total of 183 dwellings – mostly two-room sets consisting of a living room with a boiler, range and oven, and a bedroom, although single rooms and three-room sets were also available. Each floor was based on a corridor plan, while vertical access was afforded by staircases whose wells and landings were open to the outside. At a time when disease was still widely believed to be spread by miasmas, allowing as much fresh air and sunlight as possible to penetrate to the core of the building was regarded as essential.

A view of one of the accommodation blocks at Columbia Square pictured in The Illustrated London News of 8th March 1862

The blocks were equipped with gas and water and there were dust chutes for disposing of refuse. The top floor was occupied by a laundry and drying space, and there was also a reading room, where, The Illustrated London News reported in its issue of 8th March 1862, divine service was held on Sundays. This is a little surprising in view of the proximity of the church of St Thomas, which adjoined the site immediately to the north. It predated Columbia Square, having been founded as part of an ambitious building programme in the 1840s by the then-Bishop of London Charles Blomfield (1786-1857), an early charitable initiative in the East End aimed at expanding the mission of the Established Church. There were resident porters and a superintendent, who saw to it that the residents took turns to clean the communal spaces, collected rent on a weekly basis and enforced good behaviour. ‘Drunken or disorderly tenants receive immediate notice to quit’, The Illustrated London News informed its readers, noting that ‘all the sets of rooms are at present occupied and… fifty applications are on the books’.

The clock tower at Columbia Square as illustrated in The Builder of 3rd January 1863
Columbia Square, as sketched by Geoffrey Fletcher for The London Nobody Knows, first published in 1962. By this date Columbia Market had already been demolished and Columbia Square would soon follow it into oblivion. ‘Columbia Square must have been depressing when new; today it is of appallingly melancholy aspect’, wrote Fletcher. ‘In this huge open space, the sun seems to burn up the yellowing grass and ragwort. The sun’s rays are reflected back from the innumerable pieces of broken glass, and the square is deserted and silent apart from a few dead-end kids and the chimes of the choc-ice man. The tenements are now almost empty. Window are gaping and sightless and the wooden Gothic pinnacles of the attic story are decaying and broken…’ Note the stump to which the clock tower had been reduced by this point. Fletcher records that it bore the inscription, ‘As every thread of Gold is valuable So is every minute of Time’.

The buildings were constructed of brick and essentially classical in their composition, with symmetrical front and rear elevations, a cornice to mark off the attic storey and even rustication to the ground floor. But much of the fenestration had pointed arches, as did the four storey-high recess in the centre of each of the inward-facing facades, and this was complemented on the top floor by a multitude of steeply pitched dormer windows and gables, as well as sparingly deployed Gothic tracery, to give the blocks a vivid skyline. At least one of them seems to have had a centrally-placed flèche. This did not save the inner courtyard from dourness and to relieve it, as a finishing touch a clock tower was put up in the centre, handled in Decorated Gothic forms that seem to have taken their cue from the Eleanor Crosses. It was as abundant in its ornamentation as the elevations that overlooked it were parsimonious. Rising to 35ft (10.7m) in height, it was built of Aubigny stone.

The Victoria Park fountain of 1862
The Victoria Park fountain: the vaulting of the octagonal arcade, showing also one of the inlaid monograms of Burdett-Coutts and the scalloped head of one of the figure niches

That same year, Darbishire was commissioned to design another ornate Gothic centrepiece when Burdett-Coutts gifted a drinking fountain to nearby Victoria Park. At a time when many supplies of drinking water to the surrounding area were dangerously polluted, this was far more than an amenity for pleasure-seekers, and indeed the whole park had been conceived with a serious purpose in mind. It was first mooted in 1839 when the disastrous consequences of the overpopulation of the East End were already becoming far too clear. It was hoped that the space and fresh air would serve as an antidote to the surrounding squalor and help to bring down the soaring mortality rate. A petition to Queen Victoria in 1840 brought about an Act of Parliament the following year, and a plan was drawn up by James Pennethorne (1801-1871), with planting by Samuel Curtis (1779-1860). The park was formally opened in 1845 and achieved instant popularity, being well frequented even before construction works were completed.

The Victoria Park fountain: detail of the plinth and of the sculptures from which water was formerly dispensed
Door to the inner service space of the Victoria Park fountain inscribed with the first verse of Psalm 24, ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and all that therein is’, and bearing a much eroded representation of the coat of arms of Angela Burdett-Coutts on the tympanum.

The site chosen for the fountain was a prominent location more or less in the centre of the park, intercepting a route running across it from the Gunmaker’s Gate on the Bow side to the Royal Gate West in South Hackney. It was a lavish commission, which cost over £7,000, and Darbishire’s design made a show of the benefactor’s munificence. Rising to slightly over 58ft (17.7m) in height, it was designed as an octagonal pavilion, with a central pillar encircled by an arcade, each bay of which has a quadripartite rib vault. Polished red granite was used for the piers of the arcade and the shafts from which the vaults spring on the inner side. There is much inlaid decoration, including an inscription recording Burdett-Coutts’ gift and her monogram in several places.

Columbia Market from southwest: the timber-built single-storey building fronting Columbia Road in the foreground and adjacent gate piers are the only things visible in this picture to have survived to the 21st century (Historic England)
Columbia Square and Columbia Market on the 1:1,056 scale Ordnance Survey map of 1875-1876 – note that Columbia Street is still labelled Crab Tree Row. The church of St Thomas predated the grand building programme of Burdett-Coutts, having been constructed in 1849-1850 to a design in an Early English style by Lewis Vulliamy (1791-1871). It was also the first part of the quarter to be lost: following war damage, it was demolished in 1954.

Stylistically, the fountain is hard to pin down. The chunky proportions and profiles of the arcade unmistakably embody High Victorian ‘vigour and go’, but the richly ornamental Decorated Gothic detailing of the central pillar is almost fey, while the flattened hairbell profile of the dome is thoroughly baroque. The last incorporates dormers in the form of ornamental cartouches, alternately glazed and filled with clock faces, decidedly under-proportioned for their purpose and relative to the structure as a whole. Baroque also are the scalloped niches on alternate faces of the central pillar and the marble figures of putti with porpoises that they contain. Darbishire reputedly designed other structures for Victoria Park, but what and where they were is not currently known.

Columbia Market – the main entrance with the superintendent’s accommodation and office above the roadway: note the arcades either side, which were formerly intended for covered stalls, but bricked up in the 20th century. (Historic England)

Two years later, Burdett-Coutts embarked on an even more ambitious scheme of urban improvement. Conditions in many of the food markets of the East End were thoroughly unhygienic and the situation was made worse by the extortionate rents changed for pitches by the owners, who took advantage of their monopoly, and police regulations aimed at driving costermongers off the streets. She resolved to establish a covered market where traders could ply their wares in properly organised, sanitary conditions for fair overheads. The early history of the venture is not quite clear, since although 1864 is usually given as the date of inception, it was not until 1866 that the necessary Act of Parliament was passed. However, in its issue of 27th October that same year, The Builder could report that ‘The market is now growing into shape’, which suggests that construction had begun a good deal earlier.

The outward-facing elevation of one of the blocks enclosing the main quadrangle to east and west as illustrated in The Builder of 27th October 1866
Georgina Gardens on the east side of the main quadrangle (Historic England)
The interior of the market hall as pictured in The Builder of 20th February 1869

Columbia Market, as the project was named, was an ambitious undertaking in every respect. The site chosen for it was located on Columbia Road, which was to be widened to cater for the increased traffic, and it adjoined Columbia Square on its eastern side. The complex took the form of a huge quadrangle, 285ft (86.9m) wide and 255ft (77.7m) deep, which was axially planned. The main entrance was on Columbia Road through a huge gatehouse placed centrally and positioned right on the streetline, which housed offices and living accommodation for the superintendent above the vehicle entrance. Either side of it were colonnades for covered stalls. Aligned with the gatehouse was the main market hall, 104ft (31.7m) long and 50ft (15.2m) wide, with a tall clock tower rising above its main entrance. The imposing internal space rose to 56ft (17m) and was covered by a wooden vault resting on clustered piers of polished grey and red granite. It housed 24 butchers’ stalls on the ground floor with galleries above in the ‘aisles’ for the sale of flowers, fruit and vegetables. Beyond it to the north, a strip fronting Baroness Road equal in area roughly to a quarter of the site was laid out as a yard where deliveries could be unloaded.

The elevation to the main quadrangle and clock tower of the market hall at Columbia Market (Historic England)
The north side of the market hall and yard for delivery vehicles as pictured in the illustration accompanying the report on the ceremonial opening of Columbia Market in The Builder of 1st May 1869

To the west and east, the market square was enclosed by blocks named Angela Gardens and Georgina Gardens respectively. These housed shops on the ground floor facing into the market square, all linked by a covered walkway, and provided residential accommodation on the floors above which The Builder reported was intended for ‘clerks and others employed in the city’. It was appointed to a standard above that in Columbia Square. The two residential blocks were symmetrically composed about central gateways rising to towers above that housed water tanks. Three-storey ranges extended out from either side, terminating in four-storey pavilions. The central market square was to be planted out with trees and in the centre was an ornamental fountain.

The entrance block at Holly Village facing the junction of Swains Lane with Chester Road: sculptures above the main arch (one of them hidden here by a tree) depict Angela Burdett-Coutts and her former governess and companion Hannah Brown.
Satellite view of Holly Village from Google Earth: north is to the left

The brickwork incorporated constructional polychromy and was tricked out in stone and terracotta dressings. Contemporary reports describe the style as ‘Domestic Gothic’, but Darbishire’s treatment of the Middle-Pointed idiom was not uniform. The interior of the main market hall had clearly been informed by careful study of English Geometrical Decorated Gothic of the late 13th century and had a distinctly ecclesiastical air. But elsewhere Darbishire’s Gothic was of a wilful, decidedly roguish bent, such as the extraordinary forms of the first-floor windows above the main vehicle entrance. Though much of the complex was essentially classical architecture in fancy dress, Darbishire’s powerful imagination lent it maximum visual interest by moulding the forms into keeps, gatehouses, turrets and cloister arms, with each elevation articulated into an endless series of advancing and receding planes. This reached its apogee in the thrilling skyline of gables, dormers, pinnacles, cupolas and spires. From a distance, the complex resembled a small city and within, the market square had the air of a Flemish Grand Place with its own belfry and cloth hall. ‘No verbal description could convey the strangeness and unlikelihood of it all’, wrote Geoffrey Fletcher of Columbia Market in The London Nobody Knows.

The east side of Holly Village, viewed from within the central courtyard
The north side of Holly Village, showing the inward-facing elevation of the entrance block illustrated above

The market was ceremonially opened amid much pomp on 28th April 1869, having cost over £200,000 to build. But it was disastrously misconceived in several different regards and Burdett-Coutts’ good intentions misfired. Local businessmen opposed the scheme and prevented wholesalers from supplying the market. In the interests of religious propriety, Sunday trading was prohibited; in fact, this was one of the mainstays of the local economy. The venture quickly failed and by the end of 1869, Burdett-Coutts had been forced to concede defeat. In February 1870 Columbia reopened as a fish market, but it could not hold its own against Billingsgate and again failed. The following year, the site was handed over to the Corporation of London, but as far as that body was concerned it was a white elephant and the complex was returned to Burdett-Coutts in December 1874. Undeterred, she reopened it the following year under an arrangement with three of the largest railway companies, but opposition, notably from Billingsgate fish market, was again too strong. After an unsuccessful attempt at a Columbia Meat Market in 1879, a more ambitious attempt at reinventing the enterprise, this time as the London Fish Market and National Fishery Company, was begun in 1881, which involved obtaining an Act of Parliament to connect the site to the railway network. The scheme foundered and went into liquidation in 1884. The following year, Columbia Market ceased trading for good. In 1915 the site was purchased by the London County Council, which rented it out as warehouse space and accommodation for light industry. No new use which might have brought the complex into its own ever emerged, and between 1958 and 1966 both the market and Columbia Square were cleared for the construction of a new housing complex.

Villa on the east side of Holly Village

But though Columbia Market proved to be ill-starred, the working relationship of Burdett-Coutts with Darbishire flourished and she commissioned another complex of model housing from him, this time aimed at a very different demographic. In 1849 she had taken up residence at Holly Lodge, the house on the southern edge of Highgate Village in then-rural Middlesex that Thomas Coutts had bought for Harriot Mellon back in 1808. Its extensive grounds occupied all of the area between West Hill and Swain’s Lane, where they bordered Highgate Cemetery, one of the Magnificent Seven. Around 1865, Burdett-Coutts embarked on a project to put up a model village on a triangular site at the junction of Swains Lane and Chester Road, just beyond the southern tip of the east cemetery. Whether this was a philanthropic or commercial venture is not entirely clear: reputedly the housing was originally intended for workers on the Holly Lodge Estate and clerks of Coutts Bank, but the rents charged on the properties were such that they were effectively excluded from the outset. After Burdett-Coutts died, her husband sought to dispose of the estate and in 1921, just before it was finally sold off for residential redevelopment, Holly Village was purchased by its tenants.

The exterior of St James, Moore Park Road in Fulham (Historic England)

Holy Village is a planned settlement of cottages ornés and, as such, stands in a line of development that begins with John Nash’s Blaise Hamlet (originally in Gloucestershire, now on the outskirts of Bristol). Much about it is Georgian rather than Victorian in spirit, and it has been suggested that it was conceived, like so much 18th and early 19th century estate architecture, as an eye-catcher to enhance views from Holly Lodge. The houses, a mixture of villas and semi-detached cottages, are disposed around a central green in a more or less symmetrical layout. The axial nature of the plan is most apparent at the entrance to the site, but thereafter, the architecture fights hard against the regularity, which can only be appreciated in maps or from the air – at no point can the entire complex be taken in with a single glance. The interrelations of the buildings change constantly as one walks around the site and in almost every view wilful asymmetry predominates. The architecture is a curious mix of Georgian Gothick in all its winsomeness with the hardness and vigour of High Victorianism. The finicky detailing is familiar from Columbia Market and plays odd games with scale – some elements, such as the pinnacles and spires, look like monumental devices that have been drastically shrunk, yet in photographs the effect can be to lead the viewer to imagine that the buildings are far more grandly scaled than is the case in real life. Many of the elements are part of the currency of Georgian Gothick – offset towers, overscaled eaves and bargeboards, fiddly and very clearly dummy half-timbering, and judiciously irregular massing.

The interior looking east towards Ewan Christian’s later apse of St James, Moore Park Road in Fulham (Historic England)

The church-building activity of Burdett-Coutts has been mentioned above. Though apparently discerning in her tastes, she worked with a range of architects and no distinct preferences emerge. In 1867, she finally decided to approach Darbishire, who was engaged to design St James’s on Moore Park Road in Fulham, at that point a rapidly growing new suburb. The foundation stone was laid on 20th June 1867 and work proceeded quickly – the church was consecrated in December of the same year. Darbishire appears to have had little interest in ecclesiastical architecture and it is perhaps this that accounts for the unusual and original design. Only the outer walls were built of brick. The piers of the arcade seem to have been of stone, but instead of supporting a masonry superstructure, they bore enormous collar-beam trusses. The roof structure was strengthened laterally by arched braces and longitudinally by a timber arcade, rising to a purlin which was met by the less steeply pitched lean-to roofs of the arcades. The form of the building, which suggests a more than passing acquaintance with medieval timber barns, was a resourceful way of economising on the amount of wet construction. The original configuration of the church is not entirely clear: the apsidal chancel was a later addition of 1874 by Ewan Christian, while the dormers – essential given the low aisle walls and consequently small windows – were evidently unequal to the task as designed and had to be enlarged in 1906. The church was badly damaged by fire in 1970 and subsequently demolished, but the former vicarage survives, albeit much altered.

The Regent’s Park fountain, as illustrated in The Builder of 20th May 1871

Darbishire’s last known commission for Burdett-Coutts was another drinking fountain, this time in Regent’s Park on the north side of the Outer Circle opposite what was at that point the main entrance to London Zoo. It was illustrated and described at some length in The Builder of 20th May 1871. Its four basins of polished red Aberdeen granite formed a quatrefoil in plan and were supported by (no doubt purely cosmetic) dwarf columns, also of red granite but with capitals of Sicilian marble. The plinth incorporated dog troughs of gun metal and there were also standpipes for watering horses – a reminder that animal welfare was among the many causes that Burdett-Coutts supported. As at Victoria Park, the drinking water was dispensed from the mouths of porpoises and from water jars carried by small boys, all carved in marble. A tabernacle-like structure in the centre supported a tall cast-iron lamp standard, with a large central lantern rising to a height of 24ft (7.3m) surrounded by eight smaller ones. ‘The workmanship throughout is remarkably good’, reported The Builder. ‘The metal work is fine and cleanly cast, and richly gilt; and the granite and marble work is some of the best which has been executed in London’. The fountain disappears from Ordnance Survey maps in the 1950s and not a trace remains today on the site, which is now a car park and has been absorbed into London Zoo.

Darbishire in the service of Peabody

George Peabody, daguerreotype by Southworth and Hawes of c. 1850 (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

The success of Columbia Square seems to have brought Darbishire to the attention of another prominent philanthropist with a particular interest in improving housing conditions. George Peabody (1795-1869) was a native of Massachusetts who built up a successful business based in Baltimore, New York and Philadelphia importing dry goods from Britain. In 1837, following a series of business trips to England, he settled permanently in London, making it the centre of his operations and building up a flourishing trading house. In due course he concentrated his activity on financing his own and then others’ trade, and eventually gave up altogether his interests in commodities to focus on banking and securities. Austere and disciplined in his personal habits, he gave away most of his wealth in philanthropic ventures, resolving latterly to bequeath some kind of charitable institution as a token of gratitude to his adoptive city. Various options, including hospitals and almshouses, were considered before in 1859 the philanthropist and social reformer Lord Shaftesbury (1801-1885) recruited him to the cause of model housing for the working classes.

The Peabody complex at Nos. 135-153 Commercial Street in Spitalfields, London

A trust was formed and in March 1862, The Times announced that Peabody had gifted a sum of £150,000 to benefit ‘the poor and needy of this great city, and to promote their comfort and happiness’. He stipulated three conditions: first, the donation was to benefit Londoners ‘by birth or residence’; second, no religious or political agenda should influence the administration of the gift; and third, beneficiaries should display ‘moral character, and good conduct as a member of society’. The last of these conditions is key to understanding the nature of the venture. The attitudes and thinking that underpinned it are discussed at length in ‘The Depth of the Street’, a superb study of Peabody housing by Irina Davidovici, which was published in the AA Files in 2015. I am indebted to Davidovici for much of the information presented here and refer to her article anyone interested in a detailed account of the subject, so will do no more here than summarise the salient points. In brief, this was housing aimed emphatically at the deserving and industrious poor, who practised a trade, could show themselves capable of holding down a job and earning a steady income. They might be temporarily embarrassed, but a paternalistic helping hand would allow them to recommence their ascent of the social ladder and achieve respectability. But by the same token, those viewed as the indolent poor – in fact, the sick and incapacitated who were the most vulnerable members of society – were excluded from the outset.

The south end of the frontage to Commercial Street of the Spitalfields Peabody complex

A start was not made until 1863, when a site was purchased on the west side of Commercial Street in Spitalfields. Construction was completed in 1864, the same year that Peabody withdrew from business, taking most of his capital with him. The five-storey block went up on an acutely-pointed triangular site at the junction of Commercial and Folgate (formerly White Lion) Streets, and the project was described at some length in The Builder of 1st August 1863. The Commercial Street wing was to incorporate nine shops with attendant dwellings and store-rooms occupying the basement, ground and first floors. This measure, which took advantage of that wing’s location fronting the busier of the two thoroughfares, was intended to provide income to ensure that the rents for the beneficiaries of the Peabody Trust were kept low. The dwellings for the poor were located above the shops on the second and third floors, and were served by a separate entrance – effectively a ‘poor door’ in modern parlance. The Folgate Street wing was entirely occupied by dwellings for the poor. As at Columbia Square, the layout was based on a corridor plan and the topmost floor housed laundries with a drying area, a children’s playground and other communal facilities. The accommodation was reported to comprise three single rooms, 47 two-room sets and 17 three-room sets. The living rooms were 13ft by 10ft (4m by 3m) in size, and equipped with a range, oven, boiler and hot plate, while the bedrooms were 13ft by 8ft (4m by 2.4m). Toilets were shared, one to each pair of families. There were dust shafts for the disposal of rubbish that ran down to dustbins in the basement, a porter’s lodge and a cooperative store.

The frontage to Folgate Street of the Spitalfields Peabody complex

But a little over five months later, when the block was reported to be ‘rapidly approaching completion’ and just two weeks away from receiving its first tenants, the same publication sounded a warning note with an article that appeared under the nom de plume ‘One Who Knows’ in the issue of 23rd January 1864. Though the initiative was sufficiently attractive to be heavily over-subscribed, ‘after a careful inspection, we are forced, somewhat unwillingly, to say that this building will not meet the demands of the poor’. Several shortcomings in the internal layout were singled out for criticism. The long corridors would be inherently draughty and the absence of vestibules, as well as of fireplaces in the bedrooms of the two- and three-room sets, would cause the tenants discomfort and threaten their health. The interiors had been left bare brick and this would render them unattractive to residents, who would struggle to make their accommodation homely – it is worth noting that the terms of the tenancy agreement forbade to personalise their apartments by hanging pictures on the walls. Most seriously, the writer believed the business model of the complex to be fundamentally flawed. While the combination of commercial with residential lets was praised as worth imitating elsewhere, there were evidently doubts that this would achieve the desired aim. The 1863 report had stated that rents ‘will in all cases be lower than those now paid for the over-crowded hovels in the neighbourhood’. But ‘One Who Knows’ feared that letting two-room sets for 4 shillings per week and three-room sets for 5 shillings would frustrate Peabody’s intentions by pricing out the people who needed such accommodation the most, since they could afford no more than 2-3 shillings per week.

View from southwest of the main quadrangle of the Islington Peabody complex
Satellite view from Google Earth of the Islington Peabody complex: north is to the top.

Unsurprisingly, the external treatment of the building reflected a certain cost-consciousness, being constructed almost entirely of stock brick with a sparing use of dressings in red brick and stucco to pick out the window heads. As at Columbia Square, the ground- and first-floor elevations had thoroughly classical channelled masonry, and cut and rubbed brick was used for the doorcase in the ‘prow’. Gothic detailing, however, was almost entirely dispensed with, apart from a scattering of pointed arches on the Folgate Street elevation. This, combined with the classicising touches and Dutch gables of the Commercial Street elevation, gave the building an odd, stylistically indeterminate character. The most distinctive feature was the strips of narrow, closely-spaced windows at fourth-floor level, which presumably ventilated the laundry and airing space. The Spitalfields block marked the start of an ambitious programme of construction. Peabody was sufficiently pleased with the initial results of his venture to augment his bequest. He more than tripled his donation over the following years, so that after his death the total capital reached £500,000. It was managed thriftily, the trustees insisting on a 3 percent return on all their investments.

View into the main quadrangle of the Islington Peabody complex: the inner elevation of the east block is shown in the featured photograph at the top of this page.
Elevation to Dibden Street of the southernmost block of the Islington Peabody complex

Whether all of the misgivings voiced by ‘One Who Knows’ were borne out in practice is for the moment unclear, but lessons were evidently learned from the Spitalfields block, which incorporates several features that were never repeated. Principally, all the complexes that followed were conceived on a much larger scale and they were generally planned as large, oblong blocks arranged around a central quadrangle. This was a deliberate ploy aimed at avoiding awkward layouts – Darbishire believed that orthogonally planned accommodation was easier to keep clean and cheaper to furnish. But on a site that was irregularly shaped, such as many of those in central locations by their nature were, a neatly set out quadrangle could only be achieved by positioning the main blocks deep within it. This often excluded the possibility of including a street frontage – and, indeed, of the blocks making any contribution to the surrounding cityscape other than through their sheer bulk – which may be why the inclusion of shop units tried at Spitalfields was never repeated.

View of the Shadwell Peabody complex published in The Illustrated London News of 22nd February, 1867: considerable artistic licence was allowed in omitting completely one of the end blocks in order to show better the inner quadrangle.
View from Glamis Place of the Shadwell Peabody complex: note the change in the fenestration in the street front of the block placed side-on where the formerly open staircase has been enclosed.

What became the ‘house style’ of the Peabody Trust was established with its next project on Greenman Street in Islington, completed in 1865. As with Columbia Square, a site was deliberately chosen in a notorious slum area, in this instance a rookery called Ward’s Place, to advertise the programme of social improvement. Four five-storey blocks were positioned around a square courtyard with a much longer fifth block set at an angle to the main quadrangle fronting Dibden Street, which forms the southern boundary of the site. A shorter sixth block occupies part of the gap between the two, thereby enclosing a second, wedge-shaped courtyard. All this gives the complex a fortress-like aspect, which is perhaps not entirely coincidental. Davidovici notes than it was gated and shut at night – Peabody’s industrious poor were to be segregated from the less deserving indolent poor who still inhabited the neighbouring slums. In a paper read at the Architectural Association entitled On the Construction of Dwellings for the Poor, Darbishire stated explicitly that it was not envisaged that the improved living conditions of inhabitants of the Peabody housing would have a salutary effect on the wider populace, claiming that all experiments aimed at achieving such a result had failed. Indeed, it was even feared that the disparity in living standards might breed resentment.

Looking northeast into the main quadrangle of the Southwark Peabody complex
Satellite view from Google Earth of the Southwark Peabody complex: north is to the right and Blackfriars Road runs along the bottom of the image: note the red brick blocks of the London County Council’s Webber Road estate of 1905-1906 in the upper half.

The Islington complex embodied a distinctive aesthetic, which marked a departure from what had been tried at Spitalfields. All lingering traces of Gothic were purged from the design of the exteriors. The elevations were symmetrically arranged with central entrance doorways and the fenestration was organised on a repetitive grid. It consisted throughout of segmental-headed openings – mostly glazed with three-over-three sash windows, although those lighting the laundry area on the top floor were fitted with casements and those in the narrower bays at each end of the block housing the shared toilets and lavatories were glazed with single-light sashes. Stock brick was used for the walling with dressings and banding of white Suffolks, and the slate roof was set at a shallow pitch with unbroken eaves and ridge lines. One might speak of astylar classicism and certainly the sparing ornamental and decorative touches drew on the architectural language of antiquity – witness the doorcases breaking forward from the wall surface, the modillion eaves cornice and the more closely spaced banding at ground and first floor level paraphrasing rustication. As Davidovici points out, while one branch of the architectural genealogy of this type can be traced back to the Renaissance palazzo (and indeed she records that there was surprise and even anxiety among contemporary commentators that housing for the poor should be palatial in scale, if not in opulence), the rest stem from a very different source – what came to be dubbed ‘The Functional Tradition’ by post-war architectural journalists.

Representative floor plan of one of the blocks at the Southwark Peabody complex, as published in The Builder of 13th January 1872
The entrance from the quadrangle to one of the staircases at the Southwark Peabody complex

‘Since the second half of the eighteenth century, classicist features had increasingly been deployed on industrial mill and dock buildings, their ordered, rational aspect a suitable representation of newly rationalised production processes’, writes Davidovici. ‘Housing working-class families in factory-like buildings seems too literal an interpretation, but as both were products of parallel processes of capital concentration and centralisation, the connection might have been practical rather than symbolic’. Indeed, in a paper that appeared in Vol. 14 of the RIBA Transactions in 1865, Darbishire explicitly cites as inspiration an unnamed building that Davidovici has identified as Gidlow Mill in Wigan, built in 1863-1865 for Manchester cotton magnate and philanthropist John Rylands (1801-1888). The architect was George Woodhouse (1829-1883), who was active chiefly in Lancashire and designed a number of other textile mills. Darbishire praised the effectiveness of the structural polychromy deployed at Gidlow Mill in giving dignity and visual interest to an immense industrial structure whose scale and repetitive fenestration would otherwise have made it forbiddingly stark. The secret of its success was to accentuate the building’s best qualities on their own terms.

The main quadrangle of the Southwark Peabody complex, showing the inward-facing elevations of the blocks fronting Blackfriars Road
Gidlow Mill in Wigan, Greater Manchester by George Woodhouse of 1863-1865 (

As Davidovici comments, it is very much the aesthetic of what Edmund Burke called the sublime. But it was also a product of entirely practical considerations. The construction costs and rental returns were all set in advance and this necessitated a uniform architectural language. It was a modular form of construction which could in theory be extended outwards and upwards infinitely, and in numerous respects it prefigures the innovations of modernists of the 1930s, who recognised that standardised types were key to mass housing programmes. At the complex on Brodlove Lane in Shadwell, built in 1866, the blocks were raised to six storeys in height. A contemporary view accompanying a report in The Illustrated London News shows cupolas with Darbishire’s characteristic fussy detailing (their function is unclear, but they perhaps provided additional ventilation for the top-floor laundry space) straddling the ridge in the centre of the roof of each block, contrasting with the repetitive nature of the elevations below and providing a visual focus that the design otherwise lacked. These are no longer extant and indeed may have been artistic licence.

The former Rochester Buildings on Old Pye Street in Westminster, originally built in 1863 for William Gibbs and subsequently incorporated into a Peabody complex
Dummy doorcase on the Old Pye Street elevation of the former Rochester Buildings

Lessons were still being learned and the Southwark complex, built in 1870-1871, represented a change of direction in several respects. A large site running from Blackfriars Road to Waterloo Road allowed for the density of the housing to be dropped and the whole estate to be given a less institutional air. Arranged around two quadrangles set at roughly 45 degrees to one another, the 16 blocks rose to just four storeys in height and the laundries were housed in separate facilities rather than occupying the top floors. ‘The buildings are plainer, and less imposing in appearance, than their predecessors; their cost is materially less, and they are more popular with the tenants. As we said in the account we gave when they were first opened, they are more homelike and agreeable than other establishments erected by the Trustees’, reported The Builder of 13th January 1871. Darbishire dispensed with the corridor plan, which, he recounted in On the Construction of Dwellings for the Poor, had come ‘to be regarded as too plain and unhomelike’, as well as with open staircases. The latter had been a standard feature of the earlier complexes and were regarded as essential to counter a supposed natural partiality for poorly ventilated, stuffy accommodation on the part of the demographic from which the Peabody Trust’s tenants were drawn. ‘If there is anything in the world that a poor man hates, or a poor man’s children are educated to hate, with cordial, sincere and unquenchable hatred, it is fresh air’, Darbishire had claimed in On the Construction of Dwellings for the Poor. But the tenants resented the discomfort imposed on them and indeed many of the open staircases elsewhere were subsequently enclosed.

Peabody Avenue, the inner ‘street’ of the Pimlico complex, looking south towards the extension to the complex added by Haworth Tompkins around 10 years ago.
The terracotta-clad blocks at the southern end of the Pimlico complex

The Southwark complex followed the pattern established at Columbia Square and Spitalfields by providing a mixture of single rooms and two-room and three-room sets, making up a total of 384 dwellings. In the sets, the living rooms were 13ft by 11ft (4m by 3.4m) and the bedrooms 13ft by 9ft (4m by 2.7m) in size. The aim was not simply to cater to a range of budgets, but also to provide for growing families, who would be able to move to more extensive accommodation as they expanded and thus remain in a place where they had put down roots and built up support networks. Though its architectural treatment was essentially that of the earlier complexes discussed here, the Southwark complex is unusual in being considered in relation to the surrounding cityscape. It presents a grand, spreading frontage to Blackfriars Road. The elevations of the blocks enclosing the courtyard are symmetrical about an imposing and handsomely rusticated vehicle entrance with a barrel vault, and the centre of each one of them is adorned with curious gables made up of straight and curved lines adorned with stone roundels bearing a ‘P’. The elevations are articulated with central sections that break forward, and constructional polychromy is used more liberally throughout the complex, with diapered panels to give visual interest to blank sections of walling.

Satellite view from Google Earth of the Peabody housing in Westminster: north is to the top and the Old Pye Street complex is lower left, while the Abbey Orchard Street complex is upper right.
The ‘island’ block at the Old Pye Street Peabody complex: note the 20th century curtain walling infilling the formerly open staircases of the perimeter blocks in the background.

The advantage of the system devised by Darbishire was that it could be adapted to make efficient use of even the most awkward sites. That which became available for the Pimlico Estate, built in 1874-1876, was a long, narrow strip adjacent to sidings on the approach to Victoria Station. Here, the blocks were placed end to end to create an internal street running down towards Grosvenor Road. The free-standing blocks at the southern end were finished in terracotta, which was used for the rustication of the lower storeys, the quoins and the dressings. A lack of suitable sites meant that the construction of new Peabody housing complexes almost ground to a halt while the Pimlico Estate was building, but it was given a fillip by the Artisans’ and Labourers’ Dwellings Improvement Act of 1875, which empowered the Metropolitan Board of Works to undertake the compulsory purchase and clearance of existing slums. This made available to the Trust sites in central London that would have been prohibitively expensive if purchased directly from the freeholder and thus meant that its activities were effectively being subsidised by public money. Eight new estates were constructed between 1881 and 1885, but the strain that this put on the Trust’s resources and the need to make as economical as possible use of the land meant that the architecture became more spartan and the density of accommodation had to be increased. Thus, at Great Wild Street in Covent Garden (1880-1881) and Abbey Orchard Street in Westminster (1881-1884) the blocks once again were raised to six storeys, although not without concerns that this risked creating exactly the overcrowded, unhealthy conditions that the Peabody Trust had been established to eliminate.

The blocks on the southern side of the Old Pye Street Peabody complex fronting Great Peter Street
Entrance to one of the staircases of the Old Pye Street Peabody complex

At Old Pye Street in Westminster (1879-1882), the Peabody complex adjoined the earlier Rochester Buildings of 1862, which Darbishire had originally designed as model housing for William Gibbs (1790-1875) in an area then notorious for its slums. A wealthy merchant who had made his fortune selling guano imported from Peru as an agricultural fertiliser, Gibbs was Anglo-Catholic in his religious sympathies and a close interest in the Gothic Revival went hand-in-hand with philanthropic concerns. He paid for the construction of the monumentally scaled chapel and hall of William Butterfield’s Keble College in Oxford and commissioned Bristol architect John Norton (1823-1904) to remodel on an equally ambitious scale his country residence of Tyntesfield in Somerset. The history of Gibbs’ venture into model working-class housing awaits proper investigation, but evidently competing with a successful and much larger organisation working in the same field came to make little sense and Rochester Buildings were sold to the Peabody Trust in 1877.

The block of the Abbey Orchard Street complex on the corner of Old Pye Street and Perkin’s Rents: note the polygonal bay windows, which originally marked the locations of the laundries on each floor.
Peabody-scape: the courtyard of the Old Pye Street complex

A comparison of the two phases is instructive. The earlier phase fronting Old Pye Street is clearly identifiable by the Dutch-style gables (disposed irregularly in a manner that appears to be unrelated to the composition of the façade) and the doorcases, which, viewed in isolation, might almost pass for genuine early 18th century work. The central courtyard is partly taken up with a seven-storey block, rising to six storeys in the middle, to squeeze as much as possible out of the site. The block enclosing the courtyard to the south is doubled with another running parallel to it fronting Great Peter Street. At the extensive Abbey Orchard Estate, located immediately to the east, Darbishire repeated an innovation first tried at Pimlico, by substituting a laundry on each floor for the smallest flat, removing the need for top-floor washrooms shared by all the inhabitants of the block, which often caused friction between tenants. Externally, the laundry rooms are expressed as bay windows, relieving the otherwise monotonous elevations.

Other works

The former orphanage of the Guardsmen’s Home of 1865 on Francis Street in Westminster: the statue of St Francis of 1961 by Arthur Fleischmann dates from when the building housed a Franciscan religious community.

Darbishire’s commissions for Burdett-Coutts and for the Peabody Trust form the two main strands of his career. The remainder constitutes a rather disparate body of works in which it is hard to discern any strongly personal style or marked professional interests, not least because of their wide geographical dispersal. When designing larger buildings, Darbishire seems to have fallen back on Italianate. For the orphanage added in 1865 to his earlier Guardsmen’s Home on Francis Street in Westminster, he deftly reinterpreted a Florentine palazzo. The proportions are elegant and the restrained detailing, more Rundbogenstil than quattrocentro, very effective. The bloated mass of what was originally built in c. 1867 as the Guardsmen’s Institute only a stone’s throw away on Carlisle Place is less successful. Though there are some pretty touches to the detailing, this serves only to emphasise the fact that what would have worked well in a more austere vein as, say, a warehouse or waterworks, is trying to masquerade as a piece of urban grand design without any articulation to give its bulk presence other than through sheer mass. The building served its original function only for a short period before becoming the Archbishop of Westminster’s palace in 1873. It was the residence of Archbishop (later Cardinal-Archbishop) Manning, who died there on 14th January 1892, hence its current name of Manning House. It subsequently became offices and was remodelled by Rolfe Judd in the 1989, when it acquired a slate mansard.

The main elevation to Carlisle Place of Manning House (originally the Guardsmen’s Institute) of c. 1867

Darbishire used Italianate once again for the Working Men’s Institute on Abbey Road in Barrow-in-Furness of 1870-1871. The cost of £3,450 was largely borne by Henry William Schneider (1817-1887), a local ironmaster who at that point was an alderman, later became mayor and was benefactor to many charitable causes in the town. The site was given by the Furness Railway Company, with which he was closely involved. The outline of the building with its tall roof and elaborate cupola on a truncated pyramid was effective; the composition of the street elevation with its rather underscaled central bays and portico over the main entrance less so. The adjacent bath house, in the design of which historical precedents seem to have weighed less heavily on the architect, was rather more successful. That survives, but the Institute, which had latterly housed the Lord’s Tavern pub, was damaged beyond repair in January 2017 when it was gutted by fire and partly collapsed. Darbishire perhaps retained from his upbringing connections with Lancashire, of which Barrow then formed a part, and had established a reputation as an architect of philanthropic schemes, but other than that it is difficult to see why he should have been approached for the commission.

The Working Men’s Institute and baths on Abbey Road in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, as pictured in The Illustrated London News of 25th May 1872

Clock Cottages in the centre of Eastleach Turville in Gloucestershire of 1875 is a charming group of almshouses commissioned by Sir Thomas Bazley (1797-1885), a Lancashire cotton master, philanthropist and social reformer, who not long prior to that had acquired the Hatherop Estate, where he settled in his final years. A self-consciously picturesque composition that pays homage to the Cotswolds vernacular, the delightful clock tower with its uppermost stage and spire twisted round by 45 degrees forms a very effective accent in the middle of the village. Grundisburgh Rectory in east Suffolk of 1882 is less successful – an ill-composed mish-mash of High Victorian Gothic with various cod-vernacular features (none of them indigenous to the area) such as tile-hanging and dummy half-timbering. It is a cut above the rectories usually supplied by cost-conscious Diocesan authorities and suggests that the client, the Rev’d Henry Turnor, may have invested private means. But by the standards of the progressive domestic architecture emerging at the time, it must have appeared rather ponderous and gauche, and again it is unclear why Darbishire should have approached. How long Darbishire remained in practice after the big Peabody building campaign of the mid-1880s is currently a mystery, like all the other details of his later years. He died in Sevenoaks in Kent – whether this was a chance circumstances or he had settled there is unknown.

The former Working Men’s Institute in Barrow-in-Furness, pictured before its destruction by fire in January 2017 (Bill Wakefield)


The aim of this blog, as reflected in its title, is to revive the reputations of 19th century architects who have fallen into obscurity. There are few more deserving candidates for that than Henry Darbishire. But his lack of recognition is not the result of limited opportunities to build or poor survival of an output that have bedevilled some of the architects featured here: he built prolifically, and much of his work was conceived on a grand scale. Grievous though the loss of Columbia Market was, it was at least well recorded before its demise. In short, it is not difficult to get a sense of what Darbishire was about. His obscurity is less the result of ill fortune than an occupational hazard for an architect who spent most of his career in the service of philanthropy. Success in business, great wealth, high-minded ideals, largesse and noble endeavours at social reform are the stuff of which page-turners of biographies are made. Architects hired to embody philanthropic aims, unless their stock was high to begin with, seldom warrant more than a footnote.

Clock Cottages in Eastleach Turville, Gloucestershire of 1875 (Bob Radlinski)

Changing notions of philanthropy have further eroded Darbishire’s reputation. The positive contrast between his model housing and the dire poverty of the slums that it was intended to supersede can no longer be readily appreciated. Worthy though Peabody’s initiative might have been, the construction campaign that furthered it was viewed as little more than the means to an end. The tenor of much 20th century critical assessment was that the architecture of the Peabody Trust was almost a necessary evil, the utilitarian fulfilment of a brief rather than building as art. Sir Nikolaus Pevsner decried the ‘uncharitable look of the charitable architecture of 1860-1880’, excoriating the Islington Estate as ‘crushingly unattractive’ and later complexes as ‘gloomy and barrack-like’. At worst, the architecture was redolent of puritanical, joyless and paternalistic Victorian charity. At its best, it was so drab as to be quite simply unmemorable: the victim of its own familiarity and ubiquity, it retreats into the cityscape of London almost unnoticed.

The former rectory in Grundisburgh, Suffolk of 1882

Making sense of Darbishire’s legacy becomes even more difficult when one considers the disparity between the stern practicality of the Peabody dwellings and the extravagant whimsicality of his work for Burdett-Coutts, with apparently hardly any middle ground between the two. Was this an architect who was only able to show his mettle when designing for a client for whom money was no object? And, by the same token, when every penny counted, was he unable to make a virtue out of a necessity? Yet paradoxically, I think the sense of a slightly amorphous architectural personality is the key to understanding Darbishire. It is hard to imagine a Street or a Butterfield taking on a project such as Columbia Square, which required specialist knowledge of a particular housing type, on the face of it provided little opportunity for individual architectural expression and involved working for a client who was headstrong and may well have been prescriptive in her aesthetic tastes. It is even harder to imagine any of the numerous Victorian architects seeking to establish their reputations with major public buildings settling for as unprestigious a line of work as designing for the Peabody Trust, welcome though the security of the post would have been.

The north block of the Shadwell Peabody complex

History has no conditional mood and we cannot know how Darbishire might have fared had more opportunities presented themselves to rear Gothic piles on the scale of Columbia Market. Goodhart-Rendel’s incomprehension (supposedly voiced when threats to demolish it first emerged) that Burdett-Coutts ‘should have entrusted the realisation of her noble dream to a practically unknown architect, who seems to have been incapable of producing a decent building of any kind’ was unfair. All the same, there was limited mileage in Darbishire’s brand Gothic. It was architecture in which emotional impact was all, one of Caspar David Friedrich’s or Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s capriccios made flesh. In this respect, it was curiously old-fashioned for its date, more in the spirit of the 1820s-1830s, and, like architecture of that period, did not always stand up well to close scrutiny. Strip off the ornamental trimmings that Darbishire piled on, and you are left with big boxes. It was an approach that might have palled had it persisted, and it is difficult to imagine Darbishire evolving with the Gothic Revival as the century wore on.

The Victoria Park fountain: detail of the dome, showing the clock faces and pointer of the weathervane in the form of a mermaid holding a chalice

But in the work for the Peabody Trust, no such easy get-outs were possible and hard-headed practicality was the watchword. It is architecture that has outlived its critics and proved its worth. Though adapting buildings with communal facilities to suit the very different living standards of the 20th and 21st centuries must have posed some intractable conundra in conservation philosophy, this is housing that, thanks to the ongoing work of the Peabody Trust (and also, it must be said, to the high quality of the work by Darbishire’s usual contractor, William Cubitt and Co), remains an attractive, fulfilling place to live. It represents a noble attempt to grapple with the challenge of providing housing for a mass society, which continues to tax architects to this day. And when one views it in this light, one begins to discern a common thread in Darbishire’s work. It is architecture that formed a setting for daily life in the Victorian metropolis – bringing up a family, fetching clean water, buying groceries, plying a trade. Walking into the cathedral-like space of the main hall at Columbia Market for the first time must have been an exhilarating experience. But it is every bit as uplifting to step through the main gateway of the Southwark Peabody Estate and leave behind busy Blackfriars Road for the unpretentious, reassuring dignity of its two quadrangles. This is architecture that nourishes, enhances and ultimately ennobles the quotidian. For that, Darbishire’s reputation deserves to stand as high as that of any of his more celebrated peers.

The vehicle entrance from Blackfriars Road of the Southwark Peabody complex

One good turn deserves another: into the RIBA Journal thanks to Arthur Beresford Pite

In the days before so much human interaction took place virtually, the circumstances in which one struck up a lasting acquaintance tended to stick in one’s mind. When it begins on-line, they can be a lot harder to pinpoint. I think – although I can’t now be entirely sure – that I got to know Hugh Pearman thanks to the excellent ‘Classicism in Modernity’ Facebook group, which I enthusiastically recommend to anyone interested in the numerous ways in which the architectural language of antiquity has been kept vital and relevant since the late 19th century. But I can recall very clearly when we first came face-to-face.

The base of the corner oriel and railings around the area of No. 37 Harley Street, a block of chambers of flats built in 1899: this is the building depicted in the featured photograph at the top of this page.
Pite’s entrance front on the north side of Piccadilly to the Burlington Arcade: he was initially commissioned in 1911 to add an extra storey to the original structure of 1818-1819 by Samuel Ware (1781-1860), whose balustrade was reused, split to make space for the arms of the 4th Lord Chesham, owner of the Arcade at that time. For this he adopted a Renaissance manner, a little like Scott’s Victorian interpretation of it at the Foreign Office, although with imaginative touches such as the basket weave finish to the baskets of the capitals replacing the usual tiers of acanthus leaves – a pleasant architectural witticism. In 1931 Pite was brought back to create a new, broader entrance, and this time produced a design in a Michelangelesque vein with a single, broad segmental arch, enormous consoles (the upper ones morphing into pilasters), a great swooping split pediment and much figure sculpture by Benjamin Clemens (1875–1957).

It happened on a grey and chilly spring evening almost exactly four years ago, when he, Tim Brittain-Catlin, Adam Furman and I went on a tour of buildings in Fitzrovia by Arthur Beresford Pite (1861-1934), prompted by a series of posts in the group which had generated a good deal of discussion. At that point I was working in an office on Great Titchfield Street and would see Pite’s buildings on a daily basis. He was very active in Fitzrovia from the late 1890s onwards when he was employed by a firm of speculative builders called Matthews, Rogers and Company that did a lot of work on the Horward de Walden Estate, which covers most of the area. His own office was always located in Marylebone and he was an active member of the congregation of All Souls, Langham Place, the church next to Broadcasting House which was once a close neighbour of T.E. Knightley’s Queen’s Hall. For this he executed several commissions, including the school on Foley Street featured in the post on H.S. Goodhart-Rendel, who was a great admirer of Pite.

Pite’s City War Memorial of 1921 on the Buttermarket in Canterbury – the sculpture is again the work of Benjamin Clemens (1875-1957).
The view from the window of my former office of Ames House of 1903-1905 at Nos. 42-44 Mortimer Street: the building is named after Alfred Ames, a philanthropist who provided the funds to put up four storeys of dormitories for the YWCA with shops on the ground floor to provide an income.

Until last year, Hugh was editor of the RIBA Journal. He has paid me the huge compliment of writing for the latest issue of his old magazine a piece about this blog. Here, posted in gratitude, is a small selection of images of the buildings in the West End by the architect who first brought us into contact. In due course, there will be a longer post to do this wonderful legacy proper justice. But I think that even a brief glimpse cannot fail to whet the appetite. Though commuting into central London on a daily basis could often be exhausting and aggravating, Pite’s architecture never failed, in a memorable phrase of Ian Nairn, to give a kick to the ammeter, no matter how tired or disaffected I was feeling. I clocked out of the office on Great Tichfield Street for the last time on 31st October 2017, but Pite followed me to my new job: his is the excellent war memorial on the Butter Market in Canterbury, which until COVID struck I would see every day on the way into my new workplace in the Precincts.

Detail of the sculpture loosely based on Michelangelo’s figures on the Medici tombs in Florence adorning at second-floor level the front of No. 82 Mortimer Street, a former doctor’s house and surgery of 1896

H.S. Goodhart-Rendel and the 20th century Victorians

Harry Stuart Goodhart-Rendel (1887-1959) is someone who has loomed very large in this blog. I’m aware that I’ve quoted him extensively without fully explaining who he was and why he matters so much to any student of Victorian architecture. It is now time to bring him centre-stage, even if that means straying outside the chronological bounds of this blog. True, Goodhart-Rendel’s birthdate means that he formally qualifies as a Victorian. But he belonged to the same generation as Le Corbusier (also born in 1887), Mies van der Rohe (born 1886) and Walter Gropius (born 1883) – all figures who struck out against and sought to overturn a great deal of what the 19th century had stood for in architecture. The work from which I have quoted most extensively is Goodhart-Rendel’s lecture of 1947, Rogue Architects of the Victorian Era. It is relevant to three architects profiled in previous posts whom Goodhart-Rendel saw as taking the language of High Victorianism to highly idiosyncratic and ultimately inimitable extremes – E. Bassett Keeling, R.L. Roumieu and Joseph Peacock. The lecture yielded a term which has proved to be a very convenient shorthand for the wildest emanations of the 1860s – ‘Rogue Gothic’.

The post-war pointed arch: view looking to the liturgical west of Our Lady of the Rosary RC Church, Old Marylebone Road, London. The building was designed by Goodhart-Rendel in c. 1956, but construction did not start until 1961, by which point he was dead. Work was overseen by the successor practice, including his former colleague H. Lewis Curtis.

A celebrated scholar and an underappreciated architect

Like so many other terms in art history, ‘roguery’ has turned out to have currency well beyond the scope envisaged by its progenitor. And also like so many other terms in art history, it has remained serviceable, despite the liberties that have sometimes been taken, because applying the necessary qualifications each time it is used would render it hopelessly cumbersome. Nevertheless, it needs to be regularly interrogated and re-examined in the context of the lecture for which it was coined. Goodhart-Rendel’s aim was to show that Victorian architectural history was full of figures who not only defied easy categorisation, but in some cases also confounded the assumptions on which established narratives were founded. Thus, John Shaw the Younger (1803-1870), for example, had pioneered the ‘Wrenaissance’ strand of the Queen Anne style with his (now former) Royal Naval College in Deptford of 1843-1844 a good 40 years or so before buildings that represent a locus classicus for it, such as Norman Shaw’s Bryanston in Dorset of 1889-1894. Alexander Thomson (1817-1875), following excursions early on in his career into the cottage orné and Scottish Baronial manners, had gone assertively neo-Greek right at a time when the Greek Revival appeared to be irrevocably on the wane. With his pamphlet of 1860 Victorian Architecture, in which he argued the need for a style that was an authentic expression of his own time, Thomas Harris (1829/30-1900) had done nothing less than devise a term to describe a whole era, yet in all other respects his venture had been a damp squib.

Portrait bust of Harry Goodhart-Rendel by Dora Gordine (1895-1991) in the headquarters of the RIBA at No. 66 Portland Place
No. 1 Dean Trench Street, Westminster, by Harry Goodhart-Rendel of 1951-1955 for Sir Michael Adeane (1910-1984), courtier and Principal Private Secretary to Queen Elizabeth II from 1954 to 1972. It replaced a predecessor of 1912 on the same site, which had been commissioned from Goodhart-Rendel by Adeane’s father and was destroyed by bombing. The style is Neo-Georgian, but of a most unusual type – based on the careful study of historical prototypes, yet as much informed by its designer’s love of Arts and Crafts architecture as by domestic buildings of the opening decades of the 18th century.

The transcript of the lecture manifests Goodhart-Rendel’s exceptional skill as a communicator – eloquent, witty, erudite and thought-provoking – and eye-witness accounts of those who were present when he spoke in public confirm the high expectations that it engenders of his delivery. It is a great pity that the text neither of this nor of his other lectures are, as far as I know, commercially available, meaning that they must be sought in major university or institutional libraries, something which at the time of writing makes them very difficult to consult. But without any such reservations I can direct anyone wishing to sample his writing to English Architecture since the Regency – an Interpretation of 1953, one of the best and most readable introductions to 19th century architecture that there is, based in part on lectures that he gave in the capacity of Slade Professor of Fine Art at the University of Oxford, a post he occupied from 1933 to 1936. I came across a copy during my first week or so as a Victorian Society caseworker in an Oxfam bookshop near the office, and although it is hardly a rarity (the National Trust reprinted the book in 1989 so fortunately there are plenty of second-hand copies in circulation which can be picked up for a very reasonable price) the discovery struck me at the time as nothing short of providential. Do indulge – it is a work I cannot recommend highly enough. Goodhart-Rendel possessed in ample quantity the most important skill of any good teacher of architecture – the ability to instil a desire to go and see for oneself the buildings that he describes.

‘It is still to me like St Paul’s Epistles: you can find more in it every time you turn back to it’. (John Betjeman)
Westminster Technical (now Kingsway) College on Vincent Square in Westminster, a tour de force of coloured, patterned and textured brickwork, which is the product of two building campaigns of 1951-1953 and 1955-1957. It incorporates the steel frame of a project begun in the late 1930s and abandoned at the outbreak of World War II.

All this is a remarkable achievement by any standards, and in the context of the time it is a very surprising one, since regarding Victorian architecture as worthy of serious study in the mid-20th century smacked decidedly of contrarianism. As I have discussed in a number of previous posts, perceptions of it have changed considerably in the course of the last 100 years or so, and it was not until well into the 1980s that the aesthetic and historical significance of 19th and early 20th century architectural heritage was sufficiently firmly established for it to be able to gain unassailable statutory protection. The battle was hard fought. That it was won at all was due to the efforts of pressure groups such as The Victorian Society, of which Goodhart-Rendel was a founding member, and the galvanising effect of major losses such as (in London alone) the Euston Arch, the Coal Exchange and the Birkbeck Bank. But all that is to anticipate, since at the time when Goodhart-Rendel was writing and lecturing, Victorian architecture in general and High Victorian Gothic in particular were viewed with profound distaste. Though Gothic died hard in the 20th century and the style remained current for ecclesiastical buildings until well into the 1950s, the work of the 1850s-1870s was strong meat for palettes of the inter-war period. The degree of revulsion can be gauged by the numerous examples of ‘de-Victorianisation’ such as the remodelling beyond all recognition of Aldwark Manor in North Yorkshire, featured in the post on E.B. Lamb’s country houses. Such examples are legion.

One of the windows by Margaret Thompson in the baptistry at St John the Evangelist in St Leonards-on-Sea
Detail of the main entrance at Most Holy Trinity, Dockhead in Bermondsey

Even more remarkable than Goodhart-Rendel’s legacy as an author and lecturer is the fact that the architecture of the Victorian age closely informed his own work, for as well as being a scholar he was an architect in his own right. Yet though he occupied several influential professional posts – he was President of the Architectural Association in 1924–1925, President of the RIBA in 1937–1939, then Director of the Architectural Association School of Architecture in 1936-1938 – within his own lifetime it attracted little attention and indeed sometimes met with incomprehension. It was prone to being overshadowed by his scholarship and when in 1955 he was appointed C.B.E., the citation read that it had been awarded ‘for services to architectural criticism’.

St Elizabeth of Portugal, Richmond upon Thames: Joseph Ledger’s frieze depicting the Stations of the Cross added in 1951 as part of Goodhart-Rendel’s redecoration of this church originally built in 1824 by Thomas Hardwick (1752-1829) and extended in 1903 by F.A. Walters (1849-1931). (Malcolm Woods)
Holy Spirit, Ewloe, Flintshire: this church was the gift of Lady Gladstone of nearby Hawarden, who was Goodhart-Rendel’s aunt, and built in 1937-1938 as a memorial to her husband. The dome with its central lantern, which paraphrases a form encountered in several Romanesque churches of Aquitaine, marks the location of the chancel, but otherwise the composition is almost bafflingly wilful and the logic of the planning becomes apparent only within.

But he has been lucky to have an important advocate in architectural historian Alan Powers, who both edited and contributed to a collection of articles entitled simply H.S. Goodhart-Rendel, 1887-1959, published by the Architectural Association on the occasion of the centenary of his birth. It is still the nearest thing to a comprehensive monograph and an excellent source of information, not least because for several of Powers’ collaborators – such as John Summerson, who wrote the foreword – Goodhart-Rendel still existed in living memory. The illustrated catalogue of his works is particularly useful. But as is so often the case with books on architectural history, it had a small print run and unfortunately is now rare and correspondingly expensive on the second-hand market. More recently, Goodhart-Rendel has been well served by England’s Post-War Listed Buildings by Elain Harwood, a gazetteer handsomely illustrated with photographs by James O. Davies published in 2015. That any of the architect’s later work qualified for inclusion is a measure of how his stature has grown since 1971, when the first of his buildings – St Olaf’s House in Southwark, of which more anon – was listed.

Holy Spirit, Ewloe, Flintshire: general view of the interior looking east towards the top-lit chancel. The vaults are constructed of reinforced concrete, allowing for mural decoration at a later date, but this was never realised.

Formative influences

The saddleback west tower of Butterfield’s church of St Alban’s, Holborn in central London – the only part of the original building of 1861-1862 to have been retained when it was reconstructed following severe bomb damage.

Something now needs to be said about Goodhart-Rendel’s background and training. Born into a privileged and educated family – his father was a fellow in classics at Trinity College, Cambridge – he showed a keen interest in architecture from an early age. But his interest in music was equally strong and that was what he chose to study when he went up to Cambridge in 1905. He quickly attracted the attention of Lytton Strachey (to whose best known work the name of this blog alludes) and was briefly inducted into the Cambridge Apostles, although dropped when it became apparent that his interest in Christianity was no affectation. His degree was followed by a period of post-graduate study with the composer and musicologist Donald Tovey (1875-1940). It was not a success owing their antagonistic tastes: Goodhart-Rendel admired the French composer André Messager (1853-1929), famed chiefly for his light operettas and ballets, while Tovey revered the high seriousness of Johannes Brahms. Nevertheless, the friendship that they struck up survived unaffected, and when Goodhart-Rendel entered architectural practice after graduating in 1909, one of his first works was a house for Tovey’s former teacher and patron, Sophie Weiss (1852-1945) – The Pantiles, at Englefield Green in Surrey, built in 1911. Goodhart-Rendel never lost his interest in music and was reputedly an accomplished pianist who also composed a small amount, some of it published. In 1934 he became a governor of Sadler’s Wells and in 1953 vice-president of the Royal Academy of Music, which five years later made him an honorary fellow.

The interior of Arthur Beresford Pite’s Christ Church, Brixton of 1896-1902

Yet Goodhart-Rendel’s architectural formation is rather more difficult to pin down. In 1909 he studied briefly with Sir Charles Nicholson (1867-1949), a prolific ecclesiastical architect who produced schemes (neither executed in full) for enlarging the old parish churches of Sheffield and Portsmouth after they were raised to cathedral status in 1914 and 1927 respectively. He also designed a large number of churches for new suburban areas and carried out numerous restorations, enlargements and reorderings of ancient buildings. Nicholson’s own training had been with John Dando Sedding (1838-1891) and he seems to have imbued his teacher’s belief that Gothic should be ‘living architecture for living men’, treating the style with such freedom that in later works it even absorbs thoroughly classical elements. All that postdates Goodhart-Rendel’s time in his office, however, and in fact with this one exception, the younger man was self-taught, which perhaps accounts more than anything else for his undogmatic approach. Lodestars included the great master of the English baroque Nicholas Hawksmoor (c. 1662-1736), on whom he published a study in 1924, and Arthur Beresford Pite (1861-1934), both figures who had stood outside the mainstream and produced no direct successors.

The entrance front to Foley Street of Arthur Beresford Pite’s school for All Souls, Langham Place (1907-1908)

Muscular Gothic for the Roaring Twenties

Goodhart-Rendel’s early designs, for the most part domestic architecture, are handled in an elegantly spare astylar classical manner, sometimes reminiscent of Lutyens, sometimes – the result of devices such as fenestration arranged in bands and deep cornices – slightly of the early work of Frank Lloyd Wright. But the interest in Victorian architecture, though at that point dormant, was evidently there and it soom came to the fore in the work that he carried out at St Mary’s, Bourne Street in Belgravia, which I mentioned in passing in my post on R.J. Withers. St Mary’s had been established as a daughter church of St Paul’s, Wilton Place in Knightsbridge, and initially was a chapel-of-ease, ministering to a poor area on the boundaries of Pimlico and Belgravia with a population mainly employed in domestic service. It seems that the commission went to Withers on the strength of his work at the mother church, where in 1870 he had reordered what was essentially a late Georgian Gothick preaching box of 1840-1843 by Thomas Cundy Jr (1790-1867) to make it a more fitting setting for ritualist worship. It was a fortuitous choice: it put the project in the hands of an architect with an ability, so well demonstrated in his rural churches, to produce imaginative design on a limited budget.

The presbytery, remodelled by Goodhart-Rendel in 1922 from a former pub, and church of St Mary, Bourne Street viewed from the junction of Bourne Street and Graham Terrace.

St Mary’s became a stronghold of Anglo-Catholicism, but by the early 20th century this no longer implied sympathy for Gothic, instrumental though the movement had been in its development throughout the preceding century. High Churchmen began to turn their back on the style and instead embraced Italianate and Iberian High Baroque, a measure not only of changing tastes, but also of increased freedom which now allowed devotion of a kind that, only a short while earlier, would have invited charges of crypto-papism. As early as 1908, Sydney Gambier Parry had designed for Fr Howell, the then-incumbent, a reredos and an organ loft in an exuberant brand of loosely English Baroque. In 1916 Fr Humphrey Whitby became parish priest. He engaged to continue the work of refurnishing the building Martin Travers (1886-1948), who had previously carried out work for him at St Columba’s, Kingsland Road in Haggerston (one of James Brooks’s mission churches to the East End), where Whitby had been a deacon prior to his appointment. Travers was kept busy with commissions for St Mary’s into the early 1920s, providing a number of flamboyant gilt fittings that worked well as an ensemble in their own right, but were profoundly at odds with Withers’ architecture. It was at any rate a mercy that Travers did not whitewash the interior, as he did at Butterfield’s church of St Augustine, Queen’s Gate to set off better the equally extravagant fittings that he designed for that building.

The interior of the Chapel of the Seven Sorrows at St Mary’s, Bourne Street, added by Goodhart-Rendel in 1924-1925

Whitby was independently wealthy and willing to put his means at the service of the parish. His plans for the building went a long way beyond refurnishing and embellishment, and here he ran up against Travers’ great disadvantage for ambitious clients such as he – a lack of any formal architectural training. Goodhart-Rendel’s own churchmanship at this date was Anglo-Catholic and this, as likely as not, explains why he was brought in when, around 1922, Whitby decided to remodel ‘The Pineapple’, a pub on the corner of Bourne Street and Graham Terrace, as a presbytery. Goodhart-Rendel rose to the occasion with a spirited piece of Arts and Crafts, slate-hung in the vernacular tradition of Devon and Cornwall, and from some angles upstaging Withers’ church in the streetscape. This seems to have stood him in good stead when a competition was held in 1924 to find a design for the enlargement of the church into a vacant strip of land that adjoined it to the (liturgical) north. He added an outer north aisle to serve as a Lady Chapel, with an altar dedicated to the Seven Sorrows of Mary.

Goodhart-Rendel’s unexecuted scheme for the addition of a west tower to St Mary’s, Bourne Street

Though liturgically subservient to the main worship space, spatially it is not so since it forms part of a new access route to the interior. It is elongated to the liturgical west with a narthex linking it to an ingeniously contrived two-storey heptagonal porch. This is approached down a narrow passage running between the presbytery and neighbouring residential property, opened up by the demolition of a house that had previously occupied the site. Whereas Travers had shown complete disregard for Withers’ architecture, Goodhart-Rendel responded with great sensitivity: his undemonstrative but subtly detailed Gothic with beautifully executed brickwork is perfectly consonant with it, and the visitor’s progress from the street outside to the interior instils both mystery and drama as a succession of spaces unfolds, all varying in width, height and the level of lighting. The final stage of the journey from the Chapel to the nave though a north aisle with vistas opening up in two directions is a real masterstroke. The architecture is equally carefully conceived in relation to the fittings designed for it – a reredos painted by Colin Gill (1892-1940), altar rails by Betty Joel (1894-1985) and stained glass by Veronica Whall (1887-1967). In 1929, Goodhart-Rendel added a servers’ sacristy on the south side of the apse, but a powerful design for a west tower with a saddleback roof unfortunately remained on paper. This is the first instance of a device that became one of the architect’s trademarks. It had been favoured by William Butterfield (1814-1900), and it says much that in English Architecture since the Regency the author reproduced an engraving by Beresford Pite of that architect’s church of St Alban’s, Holborn, where it had been employed, which depicted the tower rising dramatically out of a squalid and devastated urban setting.

Two-storey porch serving the new entrance from Bourne Street to St Mary’s church, added by Goodhart-Rendel in 1924-1925

An excursion into modernism

The river front of St Olaf’s House, viewed from the north bank of the Thames: note Frank Dobson’s faience panels depicting ‘The Chain of Commerce’.

It is important to stress that Goodhart-Rendel was not a niche pasticheur, and no building demonstrates that quite so cogently as what is perhaps his most celebrated work, St Olaf’s House on Tooley Street in Southwark. It was built in 1930-1932 as the headquarters of Hay’s Wharf, a company originally set up by Alexander Hay in the 17th century. At one time this owned all the warehouses on the south side of the Thames between London Bridge and Tower Bridge, which were used for storing freight arriving at the Pool of London, and it also operated related and equally lucrative businesses, such as shipping and distribution services. Though the current name of this building is relatively recent (it dates from when Hay’s Wharf vacated the premises in 1986), it reflects the long history of the site, which was formerly occupied by the church of St Olave’s, Tooley Street, a medieval foundation rebuilt to the designs of Henry Flitcroft in 1738-1739 and demolished in 1926-1928.

Figure of St Olave on the Tooley Street side of St Olaf’s House by Frank Dobson

Nothing in the architect’s output from before that date quite prepares one for St Olaf’s House, and indeed the design did not emerge from Goodhart-Rendel’s head fully formed, instead evolving through a series of concept sketches which were initially neo-classical. The building defies easy categorisation and represents a very different response to the gauntlet thrown down by the European avant-garde to what a slightly younger generation of architects, such as the Connell, Ward and Lucas firm, was doing around this date. Of all the stylistic labels attached to it, the only one that describes it adequately is ‘Moderne’. Like Art Deco and unlike Functionalism, it is able to incorporate applied art and ornament, but with greater seriousness of purpose than the Jazz-age decorative trimmings to be found in the former. There is even a touch of the expressionist Amsterdam School in the angularity of some of the modelling. The oriel windows overlooking the river that light the common room and double-height board room are adorned by gilded faience panels mounted on polished back granite entitled ‘The Chain of Commerce’. These were the work of Frank Dobson (1886–1963), who was also responsible for the outline figure of St Olave in black and gold mosaic on the landward side.

St Olaf’s House is roughly ‘T’-shaped in plan – this is the east side of the central stroke of the ‘T’, extending back to Tooley Street from the rear of the main block on the river front shown above.

While there are other buildings of this date with superficially modernist trappings such as strip windows, metal-framed glazing and smooth Portland stone cladding, here a powerful intelligence has grasped something much deeper than just a set of mannerisms. Goodhart-Rendel was keen to rise to the intellectual challenge of the Modern Movement, but also to engage with it on his own terms. The stanchions on which St Olaf’s House is supported have as much to do with a requirement in the brief for vehicular access to the waterfront and a covered area for cars to drop off passengers by the entrance as they do with the notion in Le Corbusier’s ‘Five Points’ of liberating a building from the ground by raising it up on pilotis. The angular modelling of the forms is no stylistic affectation, but dictated by the need to maximise the amount of light that could be brought into the drawing offices on the sixth floor. The load-bearing steel frame is clearly expressed in the elevation to the river, yet the source of Goodhart-Rendel’s theories of structural rationalism was Viollet-le-Duc, who in turn claimed to have derived them from his study of the architecture of the 12th-13th centuries. The architect was therefore not being wholly flippant when he replied, having been asked to describe the style, that it was ‘early French Gothic’.

The main entrance to St Olaf House
The landward elevation to Tooley Street of St Olaf House

In 1924 Goodhart-Rendel converted to Catholicism, and the churches that he built for his faith are among his most important and characteristic works. But what would have been the greatest of them all was fated to remain on paper. Prinknash Abbey was founded in 1928 by a community of Benedictine monks which had previously been based on Caldey Island off the Pembrokeshire coast near Tenby, and which had converted from Anglicanism to Catholicism in 1913. They took up residence in a stately home southeast of Gloucester that until the Dissolution of the Monasteries had been a grange of St Peter’s Abbey, the establishment that Henry VIII turned into Gloucester Cathedral. This was the bequest of another fervent Catholic convert, yet it was only a temporary expediency and around 10 years later, Goodhart-Rendel was engaged to produce designs for a purpose-built complex. It was to be a major statement of Catholic triumphalism – the immense abbey church would have stretched to 300ft (91.4m) in length. Its very construction was to be an act of devotion, since it was intended that the church would be built by the monks and thus the walls were to be solid masonry, finished in honey-coloured local stone. The vaults and domes were to be mass concrete, clad externally in copper.

The exterior of the unexecuted abbey church at Prinknash from liturgical north (actual south, since the canonical orientation of the building was to be reversed to suit the fall of the land), artist’s impression by H. Lewis Curtis of c. 1946

The transverse barrel vaults of the choir were inspired by those of the Romanesque church of St Philibert at Tournus in Burgundy, yet used not for aesthetic effect but to avoid the need for external buttressing. Gothic was abandoned altogether in favour of a highly personal stylisation of Byzantine architecture. This harks back to Westminster Cathedral by J.F. Bentley (1839-1902), a figure deeply admired by Goodhart-Rendel, and perhaps also to the equally sophisticated reinterpretation of the style by Beresford Pite at Christ Church, Brixton. The design went through several revisions and the final version did not appear until 1953. Ground was broken that year, but it quickly became obvious that completion in line with the architect’s full intentions was unrealistic. The lower crypt chapel, where Goodhart-Rendel was buried, was fitted up as a temporary abbey church, then in the 1960s a much scaled-down scheme housing the entire monastery was built on what had been completed of the foundations.

The interior of the unexecuted abbey church at Prinknash looking from the monks’ choir into the nave and showing the baldacchino marking the high altar beneath the crossing, artist’s impression by Joseph Pike of 1939

Rebuilding Victorian Britain

Southern elevation to Pevensey Road of St John the Evangelist in St Leonards-on-Sea: the spire crowning Blomfield’s octagonal tower was not reinstated following its destruction in 1943.

In fact the most exciting opportunities for building new churches came not from the Catholic revival but post-war reconstruction, when Goodhart-Rendel’s ability to respond sensitively to Victorian fabric properly came into its own. One such instance was St John the Evangelist, Maze Hill in St Leonards-on-Sea, one of a number of large town churches built in the latter part of the 19th century as this then-prosperous East Sussex resort underwent rapid expansion. The architect was the prolific Sir A.W. Blomfield (1829-1899), who handled a large number of such commissions and supplied what seems to have been a fairly typical product of his office, which was completed in 1884. Its most distinctive feature was the slender octagonal tower. In February 1943 a high explosive bomb destroyed everything apart from that and the adjoining west wall and baptistery. Reconstruction began in 1950. The nave was finished in 1952, followed by the chancel in 1957, when the building was re-hallowed, although work on some of the ancillary features continued into the 1960s.

General view of the nave of St John the Evangelist as seen from the flying arch spanning the junction with the chancel: note the triple arches in the west wall at ground level leading into the narthex and baptistry salvaged from Blomfield’s church.
Joseph Ledger’s glass in one of the nave windows of St John the Evangelist, St Leonards-on-Sea

The church is unusual in Goodhart-Rendel’s output for being explicitly Gothic. Though usually inclined not to use pointed arches, which he disliked, nevertheless he was keen to harmonise with what had been retained of the original fabric. Essentially, the building is a large single vessel of broad, lofty nave, with low passage aisles, and only slightly lower and narrower chancel. But great drama and interest are introduced at the junction of these two volumes. A flying arch originally intended to carry the organ and seating for the choir spans the chancel arch about half way up. To either side are unusual openings of one and a half bays into transept-like spaces, which in turn lead through to the side chapels flanking the chancel. Above them are short stretches of clerestory-like fenestration providing lighting from the side and above. The baptistry and font of the Blomfield church were retained and incorporated into the new building, with vividly coloured stained glass by Margaret Thompson (1909-2007) to replace what had been lost. Elsewhere the glass is the work of Joseph Ledger (1926-2010) who supplied unusual designs that are largely monochrome with sparingly, although very effectively deployed spots of colour. Externally the church is powerfully modelled and clad in superb quality brickwork with plum-coloured banding. The almost vernacular treatment of some of the roofing, which incorporates gambrels and catslides, belies the grand scale of the building and maintains visual subservience to Blomfield’s tower.

The ‘one-and-a-half’ arches at the east end of the nave of St John the Evangelist, St Leonards-on-Sea
The interior of the Guards’ Chapel at Wellington Barracks as remodelled by G.E. Street in 1876-1879, prior to destruction in World War II (Historic England)

Fortunately, the destruction of St John’s did not claim any human life. The same was not true of the direct hit by a V1 rocket bomb of the Guards’ Chapel at Wellington Barracks in Westminster. When it occurred on 18th June 1944, a service was in progress and 120 people were killed. The commission to rebuild the chapel must have had special resonances for Goodhart-Rendel, who had been an officer in the Grenadier Guards and confided to James Lees-Milne in 1942 that his devotion to the army came second only to that to the Roman Catholic church. The scheme was drawn up quickly and published in The Builder of 12th December 1947. Though Goodhart-Rendel’s response to the character of place was usually exceptionally perceptive, it is difficult not to get the sense that this job caused him a certain amount of difficulty. This was perhaps the result of the unusual circumstances, since the old chapel had been a not entirely happy amalgam of wildly contrasting styles. Built in 1838, possibly to the designs of Sir Frederick Smith of the Royal Engineers in consultation with Philip Hardwick (1792-1870), it was a temple-form building with a Greek Doric portico. As built, the interior was reportedly very plain and in 1876 a committee was formed to beautify it, to which end it engaged G.E. Street (1824-1881).

Artist’s impression of Goodhart-Rendel’s scheme for the reconstruction of the Guards’ Chapel, as published in The Builder of 12th December 1947
External elevations of Goodhart-Rendel’s scheme for the reconstruction of the Guards’ Chapel, as published in The Builder of 12th December 1947
Interior of the vestibule and memorial cloister (left) and ground plan (right) of Goodhart-Rendel’s scheme for the reconstruction of the Guards’ Chapel, as published in The Builder of 12th December 1947

The scheme, completed in 1879, involved the insertion of round-arched arcades and addition of an apsidal chancel in the Italianate Romanesque manner that enjoyed great popularity for military places of worship. The interior was vaulted with alternating ribs of Bath stone and Roman red brick and it was richly decorated. Much of this was the work of Clayton and Bell, who supplied the stained glass and designed the sumptuous mosaics in the sanctuary, which were executed by Salviati. Though the effect of the explosion was devastating, it had left the apse largely intact (reputedly candles lit during the service were still burning when the dust had settled) and it was desired to retain this. Goodhart-Rendel’s design was based on reusing the existing foundations and followed the forms of the pre-war building fairly closely, although it supplanted Street’s neo-Romanesque detailing with overtly classical devices, such as Composite order pilasters and guilloche mouldings to the soffits of the arches. The Doric portico was omitted in favour of a cloister arm extending out at a right angle to a new entrance on Birdcage Walk. This was to be wholly classical in manner, consisting of a series of vaulted chambers with space for monuments to the regiments of the Foot Guards and Household Cavalry, and it was to culminate in a grand narthex enclosing the main entrance to the chapel proper. In the event, only the cloister arm was completed and that not until 1956. The architect’s death seems to have brought the project to a halt and when work recommenced, an uncompromisingly modernist design by Bruce George was substituted, which was eventually completed in 1963.

The interior of St John the Divine, Kennington looking west, as viewed from Goodhart-Rendel’s altar dais
The former convent of the Community of St Mary the Virgin and lodge (the latter forward and to the left) at Nos. 92 and 96 Vassall Road that Goodhart-Rendel designed as part of his restoration scheme for St John the Divine, Kennington. The rose window marks what was designed as the chapel of the convent, converted into a library after its premises became the vicarage.

More successful was Goodhart-Rendel’s restoration of another major work by G.E. Street, the church of St John the Divine in Kennington, south London. That architect’s largest church in the capital, capable of seating a congregation of 1,000, it was built in stages in 1871-1874. The building consists of a broad and lofty nave and aisles with no clerestory and the easternmost bays of the arcades are canted inwards where this huge volume narrows at its junction with the chancel. At the west end is a tower and spire soaring in height to 212ft (64.6m), completed posthumously in 1887-1888 under the guidance of the architect’s son, A.E. Street. An incendiary bomb which hit St John’s in 1941 caused severe damage and the building was entirely gutted, as recorded in a photograph in the RIBA collection. In his reconstruction of 1955-1958, Goodhart-Rendel skilfully reinstated the roof on the basis of Street’s drawings, omitting the later, unsympathetic decorative scheme that had been added in the 1890s by G.F. Bodley (1827-1907). He brought forward the altar from the apse, introducing a dais at the west end of the nave, which was flanked with wrought iron screens emulating Street’s own superb work in the medium. Goodhart-Rendel showed equally sure command of the Victorian master’s idiom in his design for the neighbouring complex at Nos. 92 and 96 Vassall Road, originally built in 1952-1954 as a convent and lodge for the Community of St Mary and now used as a vicarage and caretaker’s house.

The main entrance front to the west of Most Holy Trinity, Dockhead
South side of Most Holy Trinity, Dockhead in the summer sun

War damage produced yet another major ecclesiastical commission – the reconstruction of the church of Most Holy Trinity, Dockhead on Jamaica Road in Bermondsey. The parish traced its origins to a mission established in 1773, whose chapel was destroyed in the Gordon riots of 1780. This was rebuilt but quickly outgrown, and so was replaced in 1837-1838 by Sampson Kempthorne (1809-1873), who provided a large aisled and galleried brick building in a rather bald lancet style. In March 1945, a flying bomb destroyed both this and the adjoining convent of 1838 by A.W.N. Pugin, his first such commission. In 1957, work began on the replacement church with its attached presbytery, which was not completed until 1960. In contrast to the works described above, Goodhart-Rendel responded to the commission in a manner that marked a complete departure from the character of the original church, which in any case had stood on a completely different site that was largely obliterated by post-war traffic improvements.

Detail of the constructional polychromy and decorative window leading to the south elevation of Most Holy Trinity, Dockhead