Sunday, 28 February 2010

Image of the Week No 7

Each week we publish a picture (of a Georgian building or structure) that has caught our attention by virtue of artistic merit or architectural/historic interest or because it shows a familiar building in a new or unusual light. We welcome contributions from home or abroad, so please get in touch  ( if you've taken a photograph you'd like to see on our blog. Include something about the building and the circumstances of the shot if possible.

The recession is certainly endless in this picture by Robert Bargery of the Piece Hall in Halifax, as diminishing perspective has the triple arcade of the east side stretching into infinity. Built in 1775 as a cloth market, the Piece Hall is one of the most dramatic Georgian setpieces in urban England and is well worth a visit, as is Halifax generally with its fine collection of nineteenth century civic buildings. Economically it has had a hard time, and indeed most of the shops in the Piece Hall are currently vacant, although a decent secondhand bookshop is among the interesting ones hanging on. The straitened circumstances have at least meant that this superb arcaded square, set around a sloping cobbled courtyard, has been spared clutter and excessive signage. The slope is such that the basement, below ground on the opposite side, is here fully exposed, creating a magnificent three-storey arcade, with rusticated piers in the middle section supporting a Doric colonnade above.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Chapel, synagogue, mosque: the varied life of a Georgian building

Georgian buildings are famously flexible, often accommodating a sequence of uses across the centuries. Mills and warehouses become apartments, houses become offices (and back again), churches become concert venues and so on. The building shown here, on the corner of Fournier Street and Brick Lane in East London, has demonstrated remarkable versatility with the added quirk of remaining in the same basic use, that of a place of worship. Built in 1743 as a French Protestant chapel, it later became a synagogue and is now a mosque, an impressive canter through the principal religions.

Designed by Thomas Stibbs in stock brick with stone dressings and a Welsh slate roof, the building initially served the Huguenot community then dominant in the Spitalfields silk-weaving industry. The later history reflects the shifting ethnic and religious character of this part of east London. In the early years of the nineteenth century, Jewish immigration to the area prompted the Society for Propagating Christianity among the Jews to lease the complex as its headquarters. In 1819 the chapel passed to the Wesleyan Methodists, but reverted to its earlier missionary use later in the century. In 1897 it was acquired by a Lithuanian Orthodox Jewish group known as the Mahzikei Hadas ('Strengtheners of the Faith'), who converted the chapel into the Spitalfields Great Synagogue. In the second half of the twentieth century, the Jewish population dispersed to the suburbs, making way for a wave of Muslim immigrants from eastern India and Bangladesh; the synagogue fell into disuse for a time before becoming a mosque, the London Jamme Masjid, in 1976.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Image of the Week No6

Each week we publish a picture (of a Georgian building or structure) that has caught our attention by virtue of artistic merit or architectural/historic interest or because it shows a familiar building in a new or unusual light. We welcome contributions from home or abroad, so please get in touch  ( if you've taken a photograph you'd like to see on our blog. Include something about the building and the circumstances of the shot if possible.  

Image No 6, taken by Robert Bargery, shows La Caumine, a simple Georgian guardhouse by the sea on Jersey's west coast. Though a minute building, too small to be regularly habitable, it has real presence owing to both its sparkling all-over whitewash, radiant in the sun, and to its prominent position in the centre of St Ouen's Bay. The solid masonry roof also gives it an impressive solidity, although this is a later design modification dating from the mid-1760s, when the guard house was rebuilt. The first version, in existence by 1665, had a thatched roof - hence the name La Caumine, which roughly means thatched cottage in the Jersiaise language and is now something of a misnomer. Nowadays, in the safekeeping of the National Trust for Jersey, it is sometimes called Le Don Hilton, recording the gift of the building to the Trust by Mrs Marie Hilton in 1975. 

The Georgian Group will be visiting La Caumine as a brief stop on our tour of private country houses on Jersey in September 2010. This visit, open to members of The Georgian Group, is highly recommended. A few places are still available.   

Friday, 19 February 2010

What survives of Georgian Derby? Local historian Max Craven investigates

One of Derbyshire’s earliest historians, William Woolley, wrote of Derby in the second decade of the 18th century:

“Derby…is at present a very large, populous and rich and well-frequented borough town – few inland towns in the Kingdom equalling it – yet has it many good houses, especially on all parts….of the town, mostly of brick….In it is [sic] many persons of good quality and a great number of coaches kept in it. It has a very handsome Market Place – a square with good buildings about it….”
Nor did those who followed significantly dissent from this – an anonymous ‘gentleman from London’ (1757), Boswell (1777), Pastor Moritz (1795), William Mavor (1800) and Sir Richard Phillips (1828); even grumpy old Lord Torrington admired it, albeit grudgingly, although he was scathing about the best inn.

Derby was, after Birmingham, a centre for the Lunar Society – John Whitehurst and Erasmus Darwin both lived in the town for substantial periods – a cockpit of the intellectual revolution that drove the industrial one, and an ancient county town with a particularly wealthy hinterland.

It was a centre of excellence too for a number of trades and industries catering unashamedly for the luxury end of the consumer market: wrought iron, fine clocks, barometers and philosophical instruments, china, silk, and objets de vertu of local stones and minerals. The latter included work in the incomparable Blue John, Black Marble, Alabaster, polished Peak District limestones, foreign marbles and the like, often ormolu mounted to rival anything from Boulton’s Soho with which the firm was for a time in competition.

This refinement of richness was later almost swamped by heavy engineering - iron founding, railway locomotive, rolling stock and bridge building – narrow tapes manufacture and later aero engine making, all of which left an indelible and often damaging visual mark.

Yet some cast iron foundries also made fine architectural ironwork; the aero engines grew out of what was essentially a foundry set up to produce luxury goods in the earlier tradition of the town, in this case prestige motor cars; the china making miraculously survived and even multiplied; one of the philosophical instrument making firms, John Davis, continues, now making precision industrial instruments; and a clock making firm – John Smith & Sons – also survives, as a specialist in turret clock manufacture.

Georgian Derby – photographed with limpid clarity by Richard Keene from 1853 - survived more or less intact along with the mediaeval street plan until the end of the Second World War, mainly because nearly all of it grew up on the periphery. And by a miracle, hardly any damage was done by German air raids.

In the event, all the damage to the historic core of the City (as it became in 1977) was effected by post war planning nostrums keenly promoted by officers appointed from outside, with little feel for the excellence of the past and supported to the hilt by an ignorant gerontocracy, left in power with only two minor interruptions from 1930 to 1988. Paradoxically, it was only the essential conservatism of the latter that prevented Derby from succumbing to the sort of chilling array of 1960s municipal tower blocks that meet the eye on approaching many of our larger town and cities. It took the blandishments of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, as was, finally to encourage the Council to allow a couple of tame developers to wreck the skyline.

Derby retains an extraordinary number of pre-Classical buildings, including two substantial early 17th century town houses and a decent brick burgher’s house, two timber framed pubs (along with three or four other good timber framed buildings in the suburbs) and numerous buildings, nearly all on burgage plots, refronted in Georgian or Victorian times but with much earlier timber framed rear portions, some quite impressive.

The wealth, mainly from mineral deposits, of the numerous quite modest-sized Derbyshire estates provided the impetus for a good post-Restoration building boom which never really flagged throughout the Georgian period which followed.

Derby’s impressive Artisan Mannerist Shire Hall, completed in 1660 to designs by George Eaton of Etwall in St. Mary’s Gate, was the first manifestation of the returning post Civil-War confidence and, with its attendant inn of 1798 and Judges’ Lodgings of 1809-11 by John Welch, comprises one of the finest Classical legal enclaves in the Midlands, despite the desperately dull additions inflicted on this Grade I listed building by the Lord Chancellor’s Department and the County Council in 1999-2001.

This same period saw the “Loyall” Duke of Newcastle extend the town house he inherited from his grandmother, Bess of Hardwick, in the Market Place, to include a 60-foot saloon with a ceiling much in the style of Edward Goudge. Lesser men were also building classical houses, usually utilising pairs of adjacent burgage plots, and a group of four architecturally related houses survive, three in a line from Iron Gate to Corn Market and one – Mundy House – in The Wardwick, all datable to the period 1693-1699. We do not know who designed them; the only man in the town then calling himself an architect was one George Morledge, to whom not a single building can certainly be attributed.

The end of the 17th century also produced a fine new church, St. Werburgh’s, the fine chancel of which was suffered to survive a total rebuild by Sir Arthur Blomfield, but only one really good early 18th century house (of about six) survives in the City centre, Allsopp’s House (now The Wardwick Tavern) in The Wardwick of c. 1708, which sports a very subtle brick fa├žade; another. The Homestead, is an ornament of the suburb of Spondon.

Church building continued with Gibbs’s All Saints’ (now Derby’s Cathedral), constructed 1723-25 under the supervision of Francis Smith of Warwick and actually built by Derby man William Trimmer, whose brother Thomas undertook all the superb joinery inside. Indeed, the craftsmen available for building this church all belonged to enduring dynasties like the Mansfields and the Needhams and displayed skills of the highest metropolitan quality, not least Robert Bakewell, England’s greatest native-born wrought ironsmith.

Most of these craftsmen worked elsewhere with the Smiths and also in Derby on the 1731 Guildhall – long demolished – which was designed by Richard Jackson of Armitage, Staffordshire, who was almost certainly responsible for The Friary (1731) in Friar Gate, a fine and substantial Baroque town house which survives, despite numerous extensions, from 1760 onwards. There are other fine houses of similar date in the same street (pictured), as well as in St. Mary’s Gate (both these streets, with The Wardwick, are the three finest Georgian thoroughfares in the City) and in Iron Gate.

Derby reached its apogee of elegance with the succession of Improvement Commissions which oversaw the development of the City from 1768 to 1835. The first provided building land on Friar Gate as far as Ashbourne Road and led to a whole new street, all built within the decade 1768 to 1778, several to the designs of Joseph Pickford (1734-1782), including his own house, No. 41 Friar Gate (1769-70), now a Museum.

Pickford himself came to Derby in 1763 to build the Assembly Rooms for 5th Earl Ferrers F.R.S.; the Neo-Classical interior was by Robert Adam, 1774, but it was all swept away, along with the Duke of Newcastle’s town house in 1971, to build Sir Hugh Casson’s overbearing and hideous replacement. Pickford’s other surviving works in the City include the former Tiger Inn, Cornmarket (1764), the Orangery at demolished Markeaton Hall and his chef d’oeuvre, long-neglected St. Helen’s House (1766-67), probably the finest purpose-built Palladian town house outside London and now being restored by Richard Blunt.

The Second Improvement Commission had Thomas Harrison of Chester design handsome St. Mary’s Bridge, now rather upstaged by a motorway bridge of enduring awfulness right beside it, with Derby’s 15th century bridge chapel sandwiched in between – and the third built Georgian Bridge Street, whilst opening up the western part of the town to industry. It also oversaw the building of the first Infirmary (1810, replaced in 1891), encouraged the canal (opened 1796 and now under restoration) and laid out Vernon Street, a sort of triumphal avenue lined with stuccoed villas leading to Francis Goodwin’s County Gaol (1826), of which the curtain wall and massively Doric portico survive.

Regency improvements, mainly driven by William Strutt FRS, an amateur architect himself and for almost 40 years Commission chairman, included a double terrace of 16 ashlar Neo-Grecian houses called North Parade, whilst the suburb of Darley Abbey saw the erection of a large and impressive cotton mill complex from 1782, probably the most intact in the whole Derwent Valley World Heritage Site and recently re-listed Grade I accordingly. The Regency model village here is one of the finest set pieces of this type in the United Kingdom.

Also at this time, the gentry were relinquishing their town houses for elegant suburban villas, many built by one of their number - another amateur, Richard Leaper (1759-1838). Very few are listed, however, and two succumbed to “re-development” as recently as 2006, one an 1814 attempt at producing a miniature version of Belsay Hall, almost certainly under the influence of locally-born antiquary Sir William Gell. Another, Allestree Hall, survives – albeit as a building at risk – in its landscaped park, designed in 1802 by James Wyatt and finished by another hand in 1805-6.

Two other major country houses, Markeaton Hall (James Denstone of Derby for Wrightson Mundy, 1755) and Darley Hall (1723 for William Woolley, attributed to Francis Smith with additions by Joseph Pickford 1778 for Robert Holden) were demolished by the Council in the 1960s, but their parks, both by William Emes, remain.

The final late Georgian set pieces are the Royal Hotel, Athaneum and bank, Victoria Street/corn Market (Robert Wallace, 1837-39) and the Arboretum of 1840 ( J. C. Loudon). This last, paid for by William Strutt’s brother Joseph, was finished in 1840, with lodges and other buildings by E. B. Lamb. An adjoining unlisted villa would appear to be Strutt’s “summer retreat”, built before 1811 and rebuilt to match Lamb’s Jacobethan lodges thirty years later.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Recycled Architecture - your examples wanted

Parts of Robert Adam’s Bowood House are at Lloyd’s in the City of London, relics of Carlton House are in Windsor Great Park and a William Kent archway (shown here) from Northumberland House is improbably located down a side street in East London, yards from where fragments of the Euston Arch were recovered last year (and even less distance from the Blackwall Tunnel Northern Approach and its thundering traffic).

The Georgian Group is compiling a database of recycled architecture. Do you know of building material, or fixtures and fittings such as joinery, that has been moved at any time from a Georgian building (for these purposes 1660-1840) and erected or incorporated elsewhere? If so please let us know, preferably with documentary references or other evidence. All suppliers of information that is used will be credited in the database, which we intend in due course to make available online.  Contact Michael Bidnell, 6 Fitzroy Square, London W1T 5DX,, tel 020 7529 8928.

Image of the Week No5

Each week we publish a picture (of a Georgian building or structure) that has caught our attention by virtue of artistic merit or architectural/historic interest or because it shows a familiar building in a new or unusual light. We welcome contributions from home or abroad, so please get in touch  ( if you've taken a photograph you'd like to see on our blog. Include something about the building and the circumstances of the shot if possible.  

Image No 5, taken by Robert Bargery, shows The Cobb, the late eighteenth century sea defence wall and breakwater at Lyme Regis in Dorset, on the south coast of England. The stone rubble wall is serpentine in plan and slightly battered, or sloping inwards, in section, as the photograph shows.

A harbour wall was here well before the Georgian period: a rudimentary structure existed from the fourteenth century and an account from 1685 records it as 'an immense mass of stone, of a shape of a demi-lune, with a bar in the middle of the concave: no one stone that lies there was ever touched with a tool or bedded in any sort of cement, but all the pebbles of the see [sic] are piled up, and held by their bearings only, and the surge plays in and out through the interstices of the stone in a wonderful manner'. Mortar was used for the first time in the 1790s, after a particularly destructive storm, and indeed the Georgian wall is altogether a more engineered structure: robust, solid and massive, reflective of the importance of Lyme Regis as a port that built its wealth on trade with France. Shipbuilding was a significant industry here, with around a hundred ships launched in the seventy years from 1780, when Lyme Regis was still larger than Liverpool. The Cobb, by providing an artificial harbour, was a key factor in the town's wealth; a measure of its real and symbolic power is its appearance in Jane Austen's Persuasion in 1818, two years before it was again largely rebuilt, this time using Portland Admiralty Roach, a type of Portland stone.

From being in the right place for economic activity in the Georgian period, Lyme Regis found itself bypassed as imperial trade favoured London and ports on the west coast. Rather like Weymouth and Rye, it was thus spared significant later growth and retains a particularly seductive charm as a largely Georgian seaside resort.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Lights out in Fitzroy Square

A major improvement to the streetscape in Fitzroy Square in central London, where the Georgian Group is based, has just taken place with the removal of three dual carriageway-issue streetlamps along the northern side and their replacement with lights more suitable, in design and scale, for a conservation area. The columns of the new lamps, awaiting lanterns, are shown here in the upper picture alongside the 'swan-neck' lights they replaced. The lower picture, looking in the other direction along the same terrace, shows the new lamps fully-installed. The works are the culmination of an improvement scheme for the Square sponsored by English Heritage and the London Borough of Camden.

The overall result is that the Square is looking better now than at any time since the War, when the railings round the central gardens were removed and replaced with rough wooden stakes strung together with wire. In the fifties, the Square was regularly full of car transporters, a spillover from the second hand car trade in neighbouring Warren Street, and most of the houses were split up into cheap lodging rooms. In the sixties, the garden was dug up to allow for tunnelling work for the London Underground Victoria Line and the garden almost became home to a permanent extractor vent. Since then, the tide has turned and a series of incremental improvements has taken place, including replacement of the railings and, within the past two years, the relaying of York stone pavements and the resurfacing of the carriageway in bound gravel. Increasingly - both a cause and effect of the streetscape improvements - the houses are being returned to single residences, with owners often keen to reinstate missing architectural features such as fanlights.    

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Hamlet Court should be saved, says leading Nash scholar

A leading academic and Nash scholar has argued strongly that the threat of demolition hanging over Hamlet Court, in Cowes on the Isle of Wight, should be lifted. Dr Geoffrey Tyack, FSA, FR Hist Soc, Fellow of Kellogg College, University of Oxford, said that any proposal to demolish Hamlet Court, or to threaten its immediate surroundings by inappropriate new building, 'should be strongly resisted, on two grounds: the need to preserve the scale and character of the Cowes waterfront, which has already been grievously damaged; and the possibility that the house may be part of the ‘new building’ for Lord Belfast designed by the architect John Nash and referred to in his Diary on 21 January and 14 February 1832.

'The threat to the scale of the waterfront is', he said, 'obvious to even the most superficial observer. The shoreline to the west of the old Castle and the Royal Yacht Squadron has, ever since the 1820s and 30s, been the site of small-scale villas, the first of which were built by wealthy gentlemen and noblemen who used them as occasional residences during the yachting season. Behind was and is Holy Trinity church, built in 1832, and then higher up, situated among trees, Northwood House, originally home of the Ward family, for whom Nash did designs (although it is not clear how much, if any, of the present building is by him). Nash also rebuilt St Mary’s church, near the house, and his tower – one of his most adventurous designs - still survives. The group value of these buildings, especially as seen from the Solent, is of the highest importance, not only on scenic grounds but also as a record of the town in one of its most prosperous periods. Several of the nineteenth-century villas have gone, and this makes the retention of those that remain, such as Hamlet Court, doubly essential if Cowes is to preserve its links with the past and its unique architectural identity.

'Hamlet Court, though still an attractive building, at least externally, has been greatly altered but has retained its relaxed, intimate scale, so typical of the villas that once lined the waterfront. If it could be established that it is indeed ‘Lord Belfast’s new building’, referred to by Nash in his diary, it would merit retention on those grounds alone, as one of the last buildings by one of England’s major architects: the man responsible for the Brighton Pavilion, Regent’s Park and its terraces, the layout of Regent Street, and for most of Buckingham Palace as it exists today. By 1832 Nash had retired from regular practice in London to East Cowes Castle (now sadly demolished), and had only three more years to live. But he continued to carry out small commissions for friends on the Isle of Wight, and the house for Lord Belfast (later third Marquess of Donegal) seems to have been the last of these. He had already in 1825 designed a Gothic villa for Sir John Coxe-Hippisley which still  seems to survive, though much altered, next to the Royal Yacht Squadron, and Hamlet Court appears to have been a similar commission. Barber’s Picturesque Illustrations of the Isle of Wight (1845) refers to the villas of Lord Belfast and Lord Grantham on the west cliff, towards Egypt, and it would be worth finding out the exact location of these houses. But even if Hamlet Court cannot be proved to be by Nash it is still an important part of the history and visual identity of Cowes, and merits preservation, with its surroundings, on those grounds alone'.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Image of the Week No 4

Each week we publish a picture (of a Georgian building) that's caught our attention by virtue of artistic merit or architectural/historic interest or because it shows a familiar building in a new or unusual light. We welcome contributions from home or abroad, so please get in touch  ( if you've taken a photograph you'd like to see on our blog. Include something about the building and the circumstances of the shot if possible.  

Image No 4, taken by Josephine Brown, shows the tower and iron support columns of George Ledwell Taylor's 1820s Dockyard Church at the old Royal Naval Dockyard in Sheerness, Kent. Roofless, decaying and severely at risk, the church urgently needs basic repairs and, ultimately, a sympathetic new use. A number of unsuitable proposals have been put forward but the ideal solution, promoted by The Spitalfields Trust, would be conversion of the aisle space to flats, with part of the nave perhaps used to house a fine model of the dockyard by Rennie that is currently in the care of English Heritage. The Georgian Group has been actively involved in finding a long-term solution and supported the recent successful attempts to add the surviving historic dockyard, including the church, to the World Monuments Fund watch list of heritage in danger.