Archive for the ‘Architecture’ Category

Sublime Ickworth

August 19, 2014

The rotunda at Ickworth. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The rotunda at Ickworth. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

From whichever angle you look at it, the rotunda at Ickworth is an extraordinary building. It is like a neoclassical spacecraft that has landed in the Suffolk countryside.

Looking from the rotunda across the Italianate garden towards the west wing. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Looking from the rotunda across the Italianate garden towards the west wing. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Ickworth was the brainchild of Frederick, 4th Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry (1730-1803), who was obsessed with building and collecting. It is said that the many hotels called ‘Bristol’ on the Continent were named after the Earl-Bishop, as he was constantly on the road in search of art to acquire and architecture to emulate.

The east wing at Ickworth. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The east wing at Ickworth. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The 4th Earl seems to have had a penchant for round or oval buildings, as can also be seen in the Mussenden Temple he built, romantically overlooking the sea on the Downhill demesne in County Londonderry.

View down the box avenue in the Italianate garden at Ickworth. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

View down the box avenue in the Italianate garden at Ickworth. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The much larger rotunda at Ickworth, designed by Mario Asprucci the Younger and Francis Sandys, was inspired by a picturesque circular house called Belle Isle on Lake Windermere, with colonnades based on those by Bernini at St Peter’s in Rome tacked onto the sides for added sublimity and magnificence.

The obelisk memorial to the Earl-Bishop in the park at Ickworth. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The obelisk memorial to the Earl-Bishop in the park at Ickworth. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The house was designed to hold the collection the Earl-Bishop was assembling on the Continent, but in 1798 Napoleonic troops put a spanner in the works by confiscating it. By the time the Earl-Bishop died in 1803 Ickworth was still unfinished and empty.

The lake, walled garden, summer house, church and rotunda at Ickworth. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The lake, walled garden, summer house, church and rotunda at Ickworth. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The fate of Ickworth hung in the balance. But Frederick William, 5th Earl and 1st Marquess of Bristol (1769-1859), in spite of having had a difficult relationship with his father, chose to finish and to some extent domesticate this sublime vision.

Roofscape and landscape

February 25, 2014
©National Trust/Lucy Reynolds

©National Trust/Lucy Reynolds

When you have a big roof that leaks, you have a big problem.

©National Trust/Steve Heywood

©National Trust/Steve Heywood

At Castle Drogo the roof has never really been watertight since the castle was built by Sir Edwin Lutyens for grocery magnate Julius Drewe between 1910 and 1927. But then they do say that all great architecture leaks…

©Lobster Vision

©Lobster Vision

Following intermittent repairs over the years, the National Trust has now initiated a five-year project, with major support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, to finally sort out the problems with the Drogo roof.

©National Trust

©National Trust

A huge and almost Piranesian scaffolding structure has been erected to provide access and protection for the contractors.

©National Trust/Lucy Reynolds

©National Trust/Lucy Reynolds

A two-layer membrane designed by Bauder will be introduced to cope with the extreme temperature fluctuations and heavy rainfall of the Dartmoor area. This will involve the removal and reinstatement of 2,355 separate granite blocks weighing 680 tonnes.

Channel 4 television has just broadcast a special Time Team programme about the restoration of Castle Drogo, entitled The Edwardian Grand Design.

Lutyens in the details

December 20, 2012
The Kitchen at Castle Drogo, Devon, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens. The room was provided with a Soane-style top-lit pendentive dome, echoed by the circular beechwood preparation table below. ©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert

The Kitchen at Castle Drogo, Devon, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens. The room was provided with a Soane-style top-lit pendentive dome, echoed by the circular beechwood preparation table below. ©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert

If you are looking for some winter-time reading matter you could do worse than get Elizabeth Wilhide’s book about the interiors of the great Edwardian architect Sir Edwin Lutyens.

Detail of the Lutyens-designed lift door at Castle Drogo. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Detail of the Lutyens-designed lift door at Castle Drogo. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

It zooms in on the architectural and decorative details Lutyens excelled in.

Brass taps mounted on a teak sink, next to a granite window surround, in the Butler's Pantry at Castle Drogo. ©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert

Brass taps mounted on a teak sink, next to a granite window surround, in the Butler’s Pantry at Castle Drogo. ©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert

As with the buildings of Sir John Soane, you get a palpable sense of Lutyens’s enjoyment in solving the puzzles of volume, light and flow. The visual puns, references and juxtapositions draw you into the architectural game and invite you into Lutyens’s mind.

The Butler's Pantry at Castle Drogo, with its Lutyens-designed fittings. ©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert

The Butler’s Pantry at Castle Drogo, with its Lutyens-designed fittings. ©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert

Some elements of his buildings are just plain beautiful, as when he foregrounds interesting materials and contrasts.

Detail of a granite door frame on the Main Stairs at Castle Drogo. ©National Trust

Detail of a granite door frame on the Main Stairs at Castle Drogo. ©National Trust

In the introduction to the book Candia Lutyens, the architect’s granddaughter, mentions how unpopular Lutyens was in the middle of the twentieth century, as his eclectic and referential style was out of synch with the purity of high modernism.

The main stairs at Castle Drogo. ©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert

The main stairs at Castle Drogo. ©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert

I can still remember having a slightly dubious reaction to Lutyens’s work when first encountering it, being then an earnest young devotee of modern art. His work seemed almost too beautiful, too harmonious.

One of the shallow domes in the ceiling of the Main Staircase at Castle Drogo. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

One of the shallow domes in the ceiling of the Main Staircase at Castle Drogo. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

But now that modernism is increasingly recognised as being just another historical style rather than the end of history we are in a better position to appreciate Lutyens’s intelligent historicism.

And I have just learned that, by complete coincidence, Adrian Colston has also just featured the interiors and exteriors of Lutyens-designed Castle Drogo on his Dartmoor blog, with his own fascinating photographs.

Inn side story

March 13, 2012

The Corinthian Arch at Stowe. ©National Trust/John Millar

The eighteenth- century gardens of Stowe in Buckinghamshire were effectively one of the Britain’s first public theme parks. Visitors flocked from near and far (and even from abroad) to see the temples, monuments and scenery created by Baron Cobham and his successor Earl Temple.

A view of the New Inn by Jean-Claude Nattes, 1809, in Buckinghamshire County Museum

Such were the visitor numbers that Lord Cobham built an inn at the main Bell Gate entrance to the park, called the New Inn, to provide accomodation for some of them.

The New Inn following its restoration. ©National Trust/Brian Cleckner

The building later became a farm and had recently fallen into decay. It was bought by the National Trust in 2005 and has now been restored and turned into a visitor centre.

Eighteenth-century graffiti at the New Inn. ©National Trust/John Millar

The 75-strong building team and over 250 volunteers restored as much of the original building as possible, studying  historic documents and images and using materials and construction methods of the period. Appropriate period furniture was introduced whenever possible.

The Parlour, with a draught-excluding settle next to the fireplace. ©National Trust/Brian Cleckner

The National Trust has created additional visitor facilities on the footprint of the farm and stable block, including a cafe, shop and conference centre, using larch wood sourced from the nearby Ashridge estate.

The Tap Room. ©National Trust/Brian Cleckner

The Heritage Lottery Fund provided a £1.5 million grant towards the £9 million cost of the project, which was also supported by other fundraising initiatives and donations.

The courtyard seen from above, showing the layout of a traditional inn. ©National Trust/John Millar

The reinstatement of the New Inn as the entrance to Stowe also means that visitors can now begin their walk around the gardens from the same spot as their eighteenth-century predecessors did, which should help to make the experience more authentic and enjoyable.  

Introducing Tredegar

December 8, 2011

The north-west front of Tredegar House. ©NTPL/Chris Lacey

It has just been annouced that the National Trust has signed an agreement with Newport City Council to manage Tredegar House and 90 acres of gardens and park on a 50-year lease.

The wrought iron gates and screen between the Middle Court and the Stable Court. made by William and Simon Edney between 1714 and 1718.

Newport Council and the Friends of Tredegar House have cared for this remarkable country house since 1974 and the National Trust plans to build on that excelent work. Although many of the contents were sold earlier in the twentieth century, some items were bought back with the help of the Art Fund and the V&A Purchase Grant Fund.

The door in the north-west front, dating from the nineteenth century but modelled on a seventeenth-century original. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

Tredegar House was the seat of the Morgan family, later Lords Tredegar. The first record of a Morgan associated with the site is dated 1402, when Llewellyn ap Morgan’s estates were confiscated as punishment for supporting Owain Glyndwr’s rebellion.

The Orangery, built in the early 1700s. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

But the Morgans bounced back and subsequently became a wealthy gentry family. Between 1664 and 1672 parts of the house were completely rebuilt for Thomas Morgan and his son William.

Detail of the entrance to the stables. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

Although the building has the hallmarks of fashionable Restoration architecture it is not known who designed it – it may have been a talented but otherwise unkown master mason or carpenter.

The Cedar Garden. The stone obelisk was erected to the memory of Sir Briggs, the horse that carried Godfrey Morgan at the charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War in 1854. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

I hope soon to be able to do another post with more about the interiors at Tredegar.

A Victorian library at Dunster Castle

August 18, 2011

The Library at Dunster Castle. ©NTPL/Bill Batten

Mark Purcell, the National Trust’s Libraries Curator, runs a thriving open Facebook group called National Trust Libraries. There he shares fascinating facts, discoveries and images to do with the books and library rooms in the care of the National Trust.

Wallpaper imitating Spanish leather hangings, installed in the Library as part of the Salvin remodeling of Dunster. ©NTPL/Bill Batten

He just posted the above image of the Library at Dunster Castle, Somerset, which he says is not a particularly important with regard to its books, but is definitely an evocative example of a Victorian library sitting room.

George Fownes Luttrell, by Cyrus Johnson. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The room was created in 1870-1 by the architect Anthony Salvin for the owner of Dunster, George Fownes Luttrell and his wife Anne Elizabeth.

Anne Elizabeth Hood, wife of George Fownes Luttrell, by Cyrus Johnson. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Salvin was known for his work remodelling ancient castles such as Alnwick in Northumberland. The Luttrells similarly wanted to bring their own castle into line with Victorian levels of comfort and efficiency, but at the same time to preserve and enhance the medieval and Jacobean elements of the building.

Dunster Castle seen from the Lawns. ©NTPL/Arnhel de Serra

Although the £25,000 budget at Dunster was only about a tenth of that at Alnwick, Salvin made various changes both inside and out which were meant to look as if they had been gradually added over the centuries. At the same time that did not prevent him from installing gas lighting, central heating, running hot water and the latest kitchen equipment.

Dunster Castle in its landscape. ©NTPL/Magnus Rew

Another example of Salvin’s picturesque work can be found at Scotney Castle in Kent. And Mark Purcell, as many of you will know, has recently published a book about historic Irish libraries.

Standen: The house in its setting

June 13, 2011

The south front of Standen. ©NTPL/Rupert Truman

My previous post about the textiles at Standen gave me the idea to show some images of the architecture of the house, which is equally subtle and textured.

Weatherboarding and hanging tiles on the garden front front of the house. ©NTPL/Rupert Truman

The architect, Philip Webb, loved fine craftsmanship and humble but interesting materials.

The Dining Room windows on the east front, with Webb's favourite round-headed frames. The window sills and the corbel are of Portland stone, the other stonework is local sandstone. ©NTPL/Rupert Truman

At Standen he carefully incorporated some exisiting buildings into the design.

The summer house at the far end of the south front, adjoining the conservatory. ©NTPL/John Miller

He used sandstone quarried from the site and locally made red bricks. Webb also deliberately made use of traditional vernacular materials such as hanging tiles, weatherboarding and render.

Grassy path flanked by cow parsley leading up to the gazebo. ©NTPL/Rupert Truman

He managed to create a house that combined great sophistication with a down-to-earth practicality. You could call it the English equivalent of the Japanese aesthetic ideal of wabi, or humble beauty.

Spanish art in North Somerset

March 30, 2011

Tyntesfield in its park. ©NTPL/Steve Stephens

The scaffolding that swathed Tyntesfield, in North Somerset, has now disappeared, as another phase in the conservation programme is completed. You can see a time-lapse image here – if you look closely you can also see the spire being put back on by a huge crane.

Studio of Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, The Mater Dolorosa. ©Christie's

Another recent development is the installation of a painting from the studio of Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1618-1682), entitled The Mater Dolorosa, or ‘mother of sorrows’. It depicts the Virgin Mary mourning the death of her son, painted with such realism that it could almost be an ordinary Spanish woman at prayer.

The Mater Dolorosa newly installed in the Hall at Tyntesfield. ©National Trust/Sally Williams

The picture was bought at auction at Christie’s in New York in 2009. It may be the picture that William Gibbs, the rebuilder of Tyntesfield, bought in Seville in 1853. His nephew Henry Hucks Gibbs said of it at the time that ‘the expression of the countenance I think I have never seen surpassed.’

The Hall at Tyntesfield. Since this photograph was taken it has been rearranged to reflect its Edwardian use as a sitting room. Visitors can now sit down here to savour the ambiance. ©NTPL/Steve Stephens

We are not sure whether this newly acquired picture is the exact same one that Gibbs bought (and which was later sold from the house), but even if it isn’t, it is likely to be almost identical. It was common practice for artists and their studios to make several versions of their paintings.

Portrait of William Gibbs by Sir William Boxall, RA, 1859. ©NTPL/John Hammond

William Gibbs (1790-1875) was born in Spain, where his father was engaged in trade. This, and his profoundly religious nature, explains his predilection for seventeenth-century Spanish painting.

William himself also became a merchant, and eventually made a huge fortune exporting guano, which was increasingly being used as agricultural fertiliser, from South America. This enabled him to rebuild Tyntesfield as a large, high-Victorian Gothic country house in the 1860s.

Soane lives on

March 2, 2011

Toby Worthington's library. ©Toby Worthington

The idiosyncratic Regency architect Sir John Soane continues to inspire. Toby Worthington, who has occasionally contributed comments to this blog, has allowed me to show these images of his own library. He created it out of an enclosed porch at his mid-nineteenth-century Gothick cottage in upstate New York.

The Book Room at Wimpole Hall. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Toby has combined various Soane motifs in this small space, some from Soane’s own house in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, some from Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire.

©Toby Worthington

The elliptical arch is an echo of the arches in the Wimpole Book Room.

The chimneypiece, also by Soane, in the Book Room at Wimpole. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Pompeian red and the use of convex mirrors are further Soane touches, much in evidence in the Lincoln’s Inn Fields house.  

©Toby Worthington

Toby achieved the typically Soaneian bead mouldings by using small wooden balls which were individually glued into place.

Plunge bath at Wimpole designed by Soane. ©NTPL

Now as for Toby’s next project, how about a version of Soane’s smart and compact Wimpole plunge bath?

The larger view at Croome

February 25, 2011

The south front of Croome Court. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

There is a lot going on at Croome Court, in Worcestershire, at the moment, and some of this will be featured on BBC1’s Countryfile on Sunday 27 February.

Amy Forster, Croome Visitor Services Manager (left) with Countryfile's Julia Bradbury (right). ©National Trust/ Amy Forster

The programme will feature the replanting of 5,000 trees by staff and volunteers in the Old Wood to the east of Croome.

View from Croome towards the Malvern Hills, showing some of the arable fields that replaced parts of the park in the twentieth century. ©NTPL/David Noton

This is to replace woodland that was lost in the twentieth century because of the construction of an RAF airfield in the 1940s and the expansion of arable farming in the area. It will also improve the views from the house.

Croome Property Manager Michael Smith. ©NTPL/Layton Thompson

Countryfile also interviewed Property Manager Michael Smith about the restoration of the Rotunda at Croome.

The Rotunda. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

This garden pavilion, designed by Capability Brown, has needed extensive work to its exterior and interior surfaces. It is hoped that the Rotunda can be opened to the public later this year.

Interior of the Rotunda before the restoration work began. ©NTPL/Layton Thompson

Apart from just being good news, these projects also show how estates like Croome are an integrated whole, where nature, art and history all have to work together.


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