Monday, 20 May 2013

Arts & Crafts On Sea. - George, Peto and Lutyens?

East Court - Victoria Parade, Ramsgate (© Ellen Leslie)
The English seaside never ceases to surprise me when it comes to architecture. But it shouldn't really as people have gravitated to the coast for health, recreation and inspiration since at least the 18th century!  The variety of architecture in English seaside towns reflects the evolution of a place and none more so than in Ramsgate on the east Kent coast.

Of course, Ramsgate is most famous for The Grange, the home of Augustus Pugin, one of our most celebrated 19th century architects. The town also has an amazing collection of 18th and 19th century townhouses in their typical seaside distressed elegance and if you look closely, there are small tucked away cottages of an earlier century. However, this weekend I wasn't prepared for East Court up on Victoria Parade, north of the town.

The house shouts Arts and Crafts (my architectural weakness) sitting in among more prosaic Victorian terraced houses and streamlined 1930s buildings.  The main block stands over two floors with an additional attic level. The long window range on this latter level facing the sea is particularly striking as are the other jettied windows. What cannot be ignored are the green (Westmoreland) slates in a fish scale setting on the exterior walls and roofs which contrast beautifully with the red brickwork on the ground floor and chimney stacks. This immense house also boasts its own matching stable block. It also stands out with the intriguing initials "WHW" stamped on the rainwater hopper on the front of the house. Obviously the initials of the person who commissioned the house.  

However, what was particularly exciting was that I had seen many of the specific architectural features before. I recalled a Lutyens house I researched many years ago, near Godalming.  That house was one of Lutyen’s earliest commissions, dating to 1891. So I gingerly put a similar date on this seafront construction.  There was the same “bottle-bottom” glazed front door, the heavily studded oak side door and the timbered verandah overlooking the sunken garden; all very familiar. But it didn't feel completely Lutyens. Early Lutyens was more Tudorbethan. This was far more sophisticated. What also puzzled me were the ground floor Venetian windows, which I would date as slightly older than works by Lutyens. The last time I saw this specific design of fenestration was in Cadogan Square in the centre of London, which was built in the 1870s and 1880s. But I knew Lutyens is not necessarily associated with its Queen Anne style or Flemish architecture.  But, what I found out would make perfect sense.

The bottle-bottom glazed front door reminiscent of early Lutyens designs (© Ellen Leslie)

(© Ellen Leslie)
This Grade II house was designed by the architects Sir Ernest George and Harold Ainsworth Peto for William Henry Wills (1st Lord Winterstock) in 1889/90. In later years it went on to be a nursery and a school. The George and Peto partnership was one of the most prolific and successful architectural practices in London in the 1880s (although they also worked all over the country). The Cadogan Square link held true as George and Peto were responsible for several  buildings in that square and nearby streets. But East Court is certainly a departure from the “Pont Street Dutch” of Cadogan Square and the “Tudorbethan” style they favoured for their country clients. In fact I'd say East Court has ingredients of both those styles but heavily coated with the burgeoning popularity of Arts and Crafts.  And what of Lutyens? The young architect had been a paying apprentice at the George and Peto practice just one year before East Court was built. So the question is does East Court carry Lutyens contributions or was the house I researched in Godalming an homage to George and Peto. Maybe we will never know. 

Original Drawing of East Court ((© RIBA Library)

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