Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Simply Red House

One of my enduring passions is the architecture and designs of the English Arts and Crafts Movement. Feeding this fascination, I visited Red House last week. This is one of the finest examples of Arts and Crafts homes in Britain and certainly one of the oldest.

Built between 1858 and 1860 by Phillip Webb for the celebrated artist and designer William Morris it emerged during the height of the popularity for Pugin/Gothic that was the prevailing architectural style of the time.

The house is in Bexleyheath in Kent and is today surrounded on all sides by 20th century suburbia but the gardens of the house are still substantial and the plan and plantings are little altered since Morris, his wife Jane and his friends Dante-Gabriel Rossetti, Elizabeth Siddal and Edward Burne-Jones frequented the house. It was Burne-Jones who described the house as “the beautifullest place on earth”.

The house is an outstanding example of Arts & Crafts. Although currently sparsely furnished (it does not have examples of Morris’s famous fabric and wallpaper designs) it is the architectural detail, the decorated elements; the ceilings, murals, handcrafted stairs, stained glass and doors that make this building so special. There is an air of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’s decorative style too and the ubiquitous hand-crafted “one off”, not mass-produced detail.

The design by Phillip Webb tries to show a house older than it is – that has been altered and extended over time, to have organically grown, while in reality it is one construction.

The house recently came under the care of the National Trust but on a day to day basis cared for by the Friends of Red House. These people are all highly knowledgeable about Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement. If you visit, any question you may have about the house will be answered with a depth of knowledge only possible from true enthusiasts.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Strawberry Hill Forever

I received an email yesterday from my old building conservation tutor at the Architectural Association. It was a call to students present and past to come to the aid of one of this country's finest houses, Strawberry Hill.

The restoration of Strawberry Hill in Twickenham, the beautiful neo-gothic mid-18th century castle built by Horace Walpole, is nearly finished. It opens again to the public on Walpole's birthday 24th September. But before then there is still a lot to do to get the place ready in time.

I checked it out a little more and I found this link for the Friends of Strawberry Hill  http://www.friendsofstrawberryhill.org/ who are coordinating voluntary help. So, want to get your hands dirty? Want to help out with one of the most deserving and important restoration projects this side of the decade? Give them a call.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Update After A Long Gap

Apologies for not blogging for so long. The research into the C15th house in West Sussex went so well, I have been asked to write an article about it for Listed Heritage magazine. I will post a link to it when it comes out. All under wraps until then!

In the mean time, my work has taken me far and wide across the country researching a C17th barn in Hertfordshire, an Edwardian fire station in Manchester, a high Victorian 20,000 sq ft pile in Hampstead – complete with its own art gallery wing and a Brigadier General’s house on Woolwich Common dating to the late C18th. The image is of the house in Woolwich, taken in 1863.

My current “hot” assignments are both in London and also both in Westminster. Two mid-Victorian stucco town houses with complicated planning and alteration histories that need unravelling, before the conservation architects can start work. It isn’t the most exciting end of my work – but it is the bread and butter of what I do. I have worked on more houses of this type than any other. 

More anon.