Architects Architecture Design Developers People Town Houses

James Taylor + Georgian Islington + Greenwich London

Tailored towards Perfection

A couple of Lavender’s Blue readers who live in one of the houses in this article have undertaken thorough and academic research into the architect under examination and, wishing to remain anonymous, have agreed to share extracts of the detailed outcome of their work. This article concentrates on the architect’s residential development oeuvre in London.

Firstly, some biographical and career development detail from our worthy contributors: “To expand the sparse information available about James Taylor the architect (circa 1765 to 1846) we need to look farther into his background. According to The Taylors of Weybridge by Katie Hotine (1985) his father, also called James (1747 to 1797), was native of Little Crosby in Leicestershire, a tenant on the ancient, vast estates of Sir William Molyneux, the Catholic 7th Viscount Molyneaux (1684 to 1759), who built Croxteth Hall near Liverpool. Sir William became a Jesuit priest and was succeeded by his nephew Charles William Molyneux. James Taylor senior married Ann Harrison in 1764 and left the Sefton parish for London in 1771.”

“James Taylor senior seems to have been successful, so when his son showed youthful promise at Old Hall Green Academy near Ware in Hertfordshire, young James, aged 12, was sent to the English College in Rome. He remained there until 1783, when illness prompted his transfer to the English College of Douai, 80 miles southeast of Calais. He moved to London in 1786 and took a house in Bandyleg Walk, Southwark (now Great Guildford Street, behind the Tate Modern Gallery), where he established a small Catholic mission in 1788.”

“Unsuited for the priesthood, young James Taylor trained as a surveyor and married Ann Green by licence in 1789 at St Mary’s Church Islington. A young man with great drive, Taylor was able to purchase a desirable plot beside an old inn at Park Vista, Greenwich, and build a short terrace of three houses. The central one became the Taylor family home. It is slightly salient from the other two and has an additional fourth floor surmounted by a pediment. This carries an oval date stone inscribed ‘Park Place 1791’. Park Place faces south over Greenwich Park and its rearward view originally extended to the Thames.”

“By 1790 he had bought part of Clay Pitt Field in Islington, west of the New River from Robert Vincent. He was able to raise mortgages and arranged to have 10 modest houses built that became Charlton Place (north side). On the opposite side of the street, Taylor soon started building a further 14 houses that became Charlton Crescent.”

Next, our contributors critique these schemes, “At first glance it might be assumed that Taylor’s houses in Islington and Greenwich are typical of late Georgian architecture. Considered in their historical context, they reveal a distinctive Taylor style. This drew inspiration from features already common in the grander mid Georgian terraces of the West End of London, Bath and elsewhere but was adapted to the needs of smaller dwellings. Grand classicism was reduced to quiet simplicity, preserving mathematical proportions of windows, doors and an exactly calculated volume of room space, to create a feeling of balance and harmony on a human scale.”

“The most obvious Taylor features are symmetry expressed in the terrace façade, round headed windows at entrance level with proper Palladian glazing bars, semicircular fanlights above the doors and lightwells (colloquially termed ‘areas’ or more properly ‘airies’) in front of the basement level. These features arrive at a satisfying conjunction in New Terrace, where the regular three by three fenestration falters only in No.50, but is immediately redeemed by the double bays that complete the picture there. Taylor’s solutions were copied and adapted in various Regency and early Victorian terraces, but never with the flair apparent in his early creations.”

The researchers note that James Taylor’s first project in Islington was the three storey Charlton Place built in parts from 1790 up to 1805. Charlton Crescent opposite dates from 1791: “The crescent has a radius of seven chains (141 metres) and rises over two metres along its length. It is a possibly unique example of a bilaterally symmetrical ‘palazzo’ arrangement in a rising crescent. Door transoms mostly have a modest round fanlight style that echoes the shape of companion windows…”

“Concurrently with Charlton Crescent construction, Taylor was also developing another terrace around the corner that he called New TerraceJames Taylor retained No.7 (now 56 Duncan Terrace) for his own use from its completion in 1793 until 1803… Unusually, the original York stone pavement in front of New Terrace is raised well above street level so that the basement floors would be above the level of water in the New River. That early aqueduct, dating from 1613, ran just beyond the vaulted cellars until it was arched over in 1861. The raised pavement originally extended to steps rising directly from the street. In 1963 it was lowered by two feet opposite No.50 to improve illumination for its basement flat and steps reinstated to their present position.”

“These nine houses have an aura of restrained astylar elegance, following a ‘palazzo’ rhythm of one-three-one-three-one in its façade elements. This pattern is accented by the discreetly salient central house, with its shallow central pediment. The tympanum has an underlining string course and an oval date stone. Its level moulding extends along the terrace as a parapet capped with simple coping that hides low valley roofs, some converted to roof terraces late in the 20th century. The salient terminal houses at either end are accented with a cornice moulding of the coping and an additional string course. The central and terminal houses were further distinguished by small balconies embracing all first floor façade windows. The other houses had simple balconettes fronting individual windows as a precaution for child play. These ironwork embellishments were removed before the 1930s and replaced with neat and appropriate horizontal rails.”

“On each house, the double sash windows in the façade form a regular three by three fenestration grid. All houses have two round headed windows with Palladian astragals at ground level, where the third element is formed by a fan lit Georgian door. Each door has six raised and fielded panels, central brass knob and knocker, and post 1840 letterboxes. The leaded tracery fanlights are surmounted by attractive Coade stone ‘macaron’ keystones that follow three designs. No.50 has the cheerful bearded face of an old man. Nos.51 and 53 have a young female head with coronet. No.52 and Nos.54 to 58 all have young male heads with pomade and helmet. The fanlights are braced by moulded Coade stone impost blocks joined by a frieze across the door. Each block has three anthemions on the fascia and one on the return. At No.50 they have two rosettes on the fascia and one on the return.”

“No.50 is distinguished by projecting full height rounded bays on either side of the lateral front door. These have sympathetically curved window frames fronting an oval staircase on the left and an oval plan sitting room on the right. The two blank enclosures over the front door were due to a then prevailing Window Tax. To the northern end of No.58 its side wall is also carefully detailed. It has three round headed blind windows at ground level, three rectangular blind windows at first and second floor levels and at basement level there is even a blind doorway between two blind windows.”

Heading south of the River Thames, our contributors report, “As work progressed on New Terrace, building began on Taylor’s home in Park Vista, Greenwich. Park Place forms a group of three similar houses built on a confined site beside an old inn. The ground floor is raised above street level so that the doors are reached on a half flight of stairs, while basements received extra daylight from the south because of their shallower lightwells. All three houses have round headed sash windows on the ground floor and rectangular sash windows elsewhere on the entrance front. Stringcourse and coping are carried across the three houses but Coade stone embellishments are absent. Ground floor fenestration is offset from that of the upper floors and residual symmetry fails because of the central door dilemma. These houses are more akin to Charlton Place compromise than to New Terrace elegance and mark a milestone on Taylor’s learning process as he progressed from simple to rather grander houses.”

“The central house in Park Place achieves prominence by having wider frontage and by supporting a rather inharmonious extra floor level with pediment and plaque. It also is slightly salient and has a wider and more elaborate front door with fanlight, narrow pilasters and sidelights. This, and the matching wider ground floor window are overarched by external embrasures above its piano nobile windows – an interesting and commendable design solution.”

Back north of the Thames again, “In 1793 Taylor bought more of Clay Pitt Field in Islington. He extended the line of New Terrace onto the east side of Charlton Crescent with four rather larger houses (590 square feet footprint)… Originally this group was 10 to 13 New Terrace, numbered from the Charlton Place end, opposite No.1. From 1806 it became 10 to 13 Colebrooke Terrace until it was renumbered 46 to 49 Duncan Terrace in 1891. They also face the New River across a raised pavement.”

“These Colebrook Terrace houses form a graceful, coherent composition that pays careful attention to symmetry. On the main terrace façade, like No.50, both end houses have just two lights at each level. The elements that terminate this façade each form a full height salient bay with windows arranged vertically in arched recesses, cleverly disguising the change in window spacing. These projections are emphasised by rusticated stucco at ground level and by a cornice and stringcourse at roof level. They have round headed façade windows inset within additional external embrasures. The rearward aspect too was carefully considered, as it would be visible from Charlton Place. It has large sash windows braced by narrow sash sidelights on the three principal levels. The two central houses form a rearward salient that reflects the fascia salient on the end houses. The two central houses form a rearward projection that reflects the fascia salient on the end houses. Some of these features demonstrated by James Taylor were adopted in later built parts of Duncan Terrace and became commonplace in Regency developments elsewhere.”

“No.49 has an elaborate round headed light at ground level, supported by slim Doric columns and matching rectangular pilasters. It also retains a horizontal ‘tethering’ rail to the right of its ‘mounting’ steps with another shorter handrail to the left. This house originally had three rectangular blank windows above a round headed blank in each of the salient bays that flank the front door. Both these round headed blanks were opened up and had windows installed in the 1960s. The uppermost blanks establish that the attic floor was an original feature in these houses, although attics were never intended in the earlier part of New Terrace.”

“No.46 closes the view from the City Road end of Duncan Terrace. It has an original three storey side extension, making it significantly larger than the other houses. Initially the entrance on this extension had a grand fanlight with sidelights in its setback porch façade. This fanlight was removed at a much later date and was installed as a decorative feature inside the house, to be replaced by a plain rectangular door casing with heavy lintel. Above this door are two blanks and the extension is illuminated by a lateral round head window with two windows above. On the gable end of the main terrace, at a right angle to the entrance door of No.46, there is a single blank window on each of the four floors. This house also had the largest garden, which originally extended behind five houses in Charlton Crescent. Its first occupant was William Taylor, probably a close relative of the architect.”

“The two central houses have a three by three fenestration on the façade but lack Coade stone embellishments of brickwork around their doors. The front railings are plain. They originally had the same elaborate lamp holders seen in the earlier part of New Terrace but these were removed at some stage. Except for No.49, the graceful wrought iron bow balconies at first floor level still survive.”

After that thorough analysis of James Taylor’s lasting work in Islington and Greenwich, what’s our experience of the houses on the ground? First to Islington: Charlton Place and Charlton Crescent lead straight off Camden Passage, a popular pedestrianised street packed with cafés and antique stalls. The two terraces are relatively plain but well proportioned and finely detailed. A mid terrace house was demolished in Charlton Place to plunge an entrance through to later housing to the rear. The truncated gable elevations on either side of this gap are essays in incidental brutalism. The bow windows and blind windows of the side elevations of the two sections of New Terrace frame the far end of Charlton Place. New Terrace is on a significantly grander scale and style. The elevated pavement and wooded grass banks create a desirable enclave.

Secondly, we’re off to Park Vista on Park Place, which is a discreet mainly residential road well named for its views over Greenwich Park. The upper floors of Park Vista in particular have long reaching views across the open space. James Taylor’s contribution to the streetscape is short – a mere six bays – although it is still the tallest at a maximum five storeys. The height of Park Vista dwarfs the two and a half storey Plume of Feathers pub next door. Heavy planting at piano nobile level blurs any asymmetrical anomalies. The round headed piano nobile window of the middle house looks like it would have lit the architect’s own office. The first floor windows of the left hand house plus the first and second floor windows of the right hand house have been reduced from three panes wide to two panes at some stage. James Taylor’s legacy is one of truly sustainable residential development. How many of today’s houses will age so well?

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Dorinda The Honourable Lady Dunleath Baroness Mulholland + Killyvolgan House Ballywalter Down

Life and Times

Dorinda loved discussing the many Irish country houses she knew well. “I could write a book about my experiences in country houses. Maybe you should for me!” One of her earliest memories was visiting her uncle and aunt, Major Charlie and Sylvia Alexander, at the now demolished Pomeroy House in County Tyrone. Dorinda also enjoyed visiting Springhill in County Londonderry (now owned by The National Trust) – she was married from there in 1959. There was a painting of Springhill in the sitting room of Killyvolgan House. It was her Great Aunt Mina’s home. Mina Lenox-Conyngham was the last owner of Springhill. “Staying at her house was always enormous fun.”

“I remember aged six being taken against my will to dancing lessons at Lissan House. It was absolutely freezing! I lay on the ground screaming and kicking my feet in the air. Such a dull house, don’t you think?” She was great pals with Diana Pollock of Mountainstown House in County Meath and recalled good times there with Diana and her sisters. “I could never love Mount Stewart. Dundarave has an interesting vast hall but the reception rooms are plain. I remember the auction of Mount Panther’s contents. Everyone was standing in the entrance hall and up the stairs when the staircase started coming away from the wall! Cousin Captain Bush lived in Drumhalla House near Rathmullan in Donegal. He’d a parrot and wore a wig. I remember my cousin threw his wig off when he went swimming in the cove end of the garden. I was absolutely terrified to jump in after him!”

One of Dorinda’s most memorable stories combines several of her loves: country houses, fashion and parties. “It was the Sixties and I had just bought a rather fashionable tin foil dress from a catalogue. I thought it would be perfect for Lady Mairi Bury’s party at Mount Stewart. It was so tight and I was scared of ripping it so I lay down on our bedroom floor, arms stretched out in front of me, and Henry slid me into it.” She gave a demonstration, laughing. “Unfortunately I stood too near one of the open fires and my dress got hotter and hotter. So that was the first and last time I wore it!” Dorinda always managed to look stylish, whether casual or formal. Her suits were the envy of fellow Trustees of the Board of Historic Buildings Trust. Her ‘off duty’ uniform of polo neck, sports jacket, jeans and boyish shoes was effortlessly chic.

When it came to finding her own country house after her tenure at Ballywalter Park ended, things proved challenging. “I searched for two years for a suitable property. There’s a country house for sale in Keady. Nobody lives there! I’d be driving up and down to Belfast non stop!” Eventually Dorinda would build her own house on a site just beyond the walled estate of Ballywalter Park. At first, she wanted to rebuild the double pile gable ended two storey three bay house occupying the site called McKee’s Farm but when the structure proved unstable, a new house was conceived. Despite being known as a modernist, Belfast architect Joe Fitzgerald was selected to design a replacement house of similar massing to McKee’s Farm, adding single storey wings in Palladian style. Like its owner, Killyvolgan House is understated, elegant and charming. She was pleased when the council planners described Killyvolgan as the ideal new house in the countryside. It displays a distinguished handling of proportion and lightness of touch.

“I bought the Georgian grandfather clock in the entrance hall from Dublin. I’m always slightly concerned at how fragile my papier mâché chairs are for ‘larger guests’ in the drawing room. I guess the chairs were really meant for a bedroom? I’ve painted all the walls in the house white as the shadows on them help me see around.” And then there was the urn in the courtyard. “The Coade stone urn I found in the 19th century barn was much too grand. So instead I bought this cast iron urn on the King’s Road in Belfast. Fine, I will leave the Marston and Langinger pot you have brought me in the urn so that I remember that colour. Oh, Farrow and Ball are very smart! They’re very clever at their marketing.” In the end, the much debated urn would remain unpainted. “Henry wouldn’t deal with snobs. That’s why I liked him. Henry took everything he got involved in very seriously. Henry was the only Alliance Party member in the House of Lords. He strongly promoted the Education (Northern Ireland) Act 1974 which provided greater parity across the sectarian divide.” Later, “Oh how exciting, is it full of good restaurants and bars? Great! I’ll be an authority now on Ballyhackamore.”

She recalled an early drama at The Park. It was a tranquil Sunday morning in 1973 and unusually Dorinda was at home rather than at Holy Trinity Church Ballywalter. “Henry was singing the 23rd Psalm at Eucharist when he heard six fire brigades go by. Poor people, he pitied. I’d warned our butler not to interfere with the gas cylinders of the boiler, but he did, and the whole thing exploded, lifting off the dome of the staircase hall like a pressure cooker. The billiard room disappeared under a billow of smoke and flames. I rang the fire brigade and said, ‘Come quickly! There’s a fire at Ballywalter Park!’ The operator replied, ‘Yes, madam, but what number in Ballywalter Park?’” The estate of course doesn’t have a number – although it does have its own postcode.

“A spare room full of china collections fell through the roof. Well, I guess I’d always wanted to do an archaeological dig! It was so sad, really. As well as the six fire brigades, 300 people gathered from the village and around to help lift furniture onto the lawn. Fortunately the dome didn’t crack. Isn’t life stranger than fiction? The Powerscourt fire happened just one year later. Henry was philosophical and said we can build a replacement house in the walled garden.” In the end the couple would be responsible for restoring the house to its lasting glory. Ballywalter Park is a mid 19th century architectural marvel designed by Sir Charles Lanyon.

“I arrived over from London as a young wife and suddenly had to manage 12 servants. I used to tiptoe around so as not to disturb them. There was a crazy crew in the kitchen. Mrs Clarke was the cook. Billy Clarke, the scatty elderly butler, mostly sat smoking. Mrs Clarke couldn’t cook unless he was there. I was too shy to say anything!” Dorinda once briefly dated Tony Armstrong-Jones who would become the society photographer Lord Snowdon. “We met at pony club. He got me to model sitting next to a pond at our house in Widford, Hertfordshire.” One book described Dorinda as being “very pretty”. When questioned, she replied, “Well, quite pretty!” She was more interested in her time bookbinding for The Red Cross. In those days The Bunch of Grapes in Knightsbridge was Dorinda’s local. “Browns Hotel and The Goring were ‘safe’ for debutantes. After we got married we went to the State Opening of Parliament. We stayed in Henry’s club and I haled a taxi wearing a tiara and evening dress. Harrods was once full of people one would know. We would know people there. ‘Do you live near Harrods?’ people would ask. I’ve heard everyone now lives southwest down the river, near the boat races. You need some luck and then you’ve just got to make your own way having fun in London.”

As ever with Dorinda there were always more great stories to relate. “I bought the two paintings from the School of Van Dyke in my dining room for £40. I knew they are rather good landscapes so I decided to talk to Anthony Blunt about them. We arranged to meet in The Courtauld for lunch. Halfway though our meal he disappeared for a phone call. He was probably waiting for a message, ‘Go to the second tree on the left!’ He never reappeared. Next thing I heard he was a spy and had gone missing! I think he turned up in Moscow. I’ll remember other interesting things when you’re gone.” Occasionally colloquialisms would slip into her polite conversation. “The funeral was bunged! That was completely mustard!” One of Dorinda’s catchphrases, always expressed with glee, was, “That’s rather wild!”

“I called up to The Park. It was so funny: for the first time in history there were three Lady Dunleaths including me all sitting chatting on a sofa! One lives in The Park; the other, King’s Road and I don’t mean Belfast!” Dorinda made steeple chasing sound so exciting. A dedicated rider and breeder, she was Chairman of the Half Bred Horse Breeders Society. The Baroness’s contribution to Northern Irish culture and society is unsurpassed. She was Patron of the Northern Ireland Chest Stroke and Heart Association and the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education, as well as being a Committee Member of the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society. Dorinda was a Director of the Ulster Orchestra and a founding member of The National Trust in Northern Ireland and the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society. Along with Sir Charles Brett she laboriously carried out and published early ‘Listings’ of buildings in places such as Downpatrick, Dungannon and Lisburn. The Baroness’s legacy lives on in the Dorinda Lady Dunleath Charitable Trust. This charity was started by her late husband but after he died it was changed into Dorinda’s name and she added to it every year thereafter. It supports education; healthcare and medical research; the arts, culture, heritage and science; the environment; alleviating poverty; and advancement of the Christian faith. The Dorinda Lady Dunleath Charitable Trust continues to donate to charities that she would have liked, with a focus on Northern Ireland.

One of the last heritage projects Dorinda supported was the restoration and rejuvenation of Portaferry Presbyterian Church, not far from Ballywalter. It’s one of the best Greek Revival buildings in the United Kingdom. “Prince Charles came to the reopening. I curtsied so low I could barely stand up again! Afterwards, a few of us had a very grand supper at Ikea to celebrate!” She voiced concern about the future of the organ at Down Cathedral. Music in May at Ballywalter Park was an annual festival of organ music started by the newlyweds. The Dunleath Organ Scholarship Trust was set up by her late husband and she continued to support it for the rest of her life, attending its concerts each year.

“It’s so exciting… I can’t say how exciting it is you’re here! Tell me, who is this David Bowie everyone’s talking about? I feel like I’m about 100! It’s like when my father asked me, ‘Who is this Bing Crosby?’ The House of Lords used to be full of country specialists like experts in bees or men who loved linen. They used to give the most marvellous speeches. Each generation must do something. It would be great to write this down.” Later, “Gardens should have vistas, don’t you think? They need focal points; you need to walk for an hour to a place of discovery. Capability Brown and Repton knew how to do it.”

In latter years, there were memorable times to be had at The Wildfowler Inn, Greyabbey. Those long, languid lunches. “Portavogie scampi? I’ll have the same as you. And a glass of white wine please. We can have sticky toffee pudding after.” Dorinda would don her yellow high viz jacket, pulling the look off with considerable aplomb. Her eyesight failing, she would claim, “It helps people see me in Tesco in Newtownards!” Much later, balmy summer afternoons in the sheltered courtyard of Killyvolgan House would stretch long into the evening. There was Darjeeling and more laughter. Those were the days. Halcyon days by the shore. Days that will linger forever. On that last evening at Killyvolgan, Dorinda pondered, “Who’s left who cares about architectural heritage?”

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The Evelyns + Wotton House Hotel Wotton Surrey

Very Grand Tour

It’s an absolute hamlet of a house: sprawling’s the word. Every century since the 17th, the Evelyn family enlarged and embellished Wotton House. Following a late 20th century stint as a school for firefighters, it has been a country house hotel of considerable renown and taste. John Evelyn, landscape architect and diarist, created the first Italian Renaissance garden in Britain. It still remains, along with a – what’s the collective noun? – let’s say a feast of streams and bridges and temples and grottoes and griffons. A river runs through it (the Tillingbourne). Although the Evelyns’ kangaroo paddock has gone. Incredibly this is all just an hour’s limo ride from London.

The three storey collegiate looking brick elevations around the entrance forecourt are topped by Dutch Billy gables. The garden front is lower rise in nature, punctuated by chamfered bay windows, and stretching the full length of the terrace. Overlooking the Italian Renaissance garden is The 1877 restaurant and bar. This double space combines a mirrored and frescoed reception room and an adjoining orangery. A plaque over the external door confirms: “Built about AD 1670 by George Evelyn Esquire. Enlarged and restored AD 1877 by W J Evelyn Esquire.” InterContinental Hotels Group has aptly named the bedrooms and meeting rooms after a botanical theme: Geranium; Heather; Hosta; Ivy; Japonica; Magnolia; Marigold; Poppy; Primula; Rose; Tulip; Thistle; Viola; and Wisteria.

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Span Homes + Cator Estate Blackheath London

Rising on the Wings of the Dawn

It’s one of the least well known and best architectural juxtapositions in London. A lesson in harmony over conflict. A sylvan setting softens any jarring of design. The Cator Estate in Blackheath is where the 18th century meets the 20th century. In the 1780s, businessman John Cator acquired 100 hectares of parkland on the southeast corner of the heath and gradually developed it for low density housing. Little did he realise many moons later the postwar residential developer Span would continue the work. Span Developments was formed in 1957 by architects Geoffrey Townsend and Eric Lyons in the late 1950s as a property development company. They set out to bring modern architecture to leafy environments.

Graham Morrison of Allies and Morrison Architects relates, “The two of them were masters of the value of systematic repetition. They knew the value of a well planted landscape and were unafraid of bringing buildings and landscape together in deliberately picturesque compositions to the benefit of both.” There are 73 Span developments totalling over 2,000 dwellings in England. Minimising car dominance, shared landscaped areas, standard house types and open plan internal layouts are just some of the characteristics that current housebuilders take on with varying degrees of success. Art and sculpture are another one. ‘Eric Lyons and Span’ (2006) edited by Barbara Simms is the seminal work on Span, collating key voices from the industry.

Alan Powers, “The vast majority of the houses built in Britain, other than those erected by local and national government during the middle six decades of the 20th century, have never been the work of architects. The process of speculative building by which they were developed was not wholly ignorant of architecture, but generally managed quite well at the bottom of the food chain… Span was exceptional in breaking this pattern – its architects did not just design individual houses, but also the layout and landscaping of their setting.”

Jan Woodstrau: “The layout of Span developments used a number of standard house types, rather, than specific ones designed for each site, which had distinct marketing advantages. The standard types were mostly designed so that they enabled some flexibility with regard to the orientation, or with a number of types arranged so that they could all face a central communal space. The lack of front gardens in the later schemes enable the central lawn to be extended up to the building blocks, whilst in other places shrub and tree planting was used to break up the monotony of repetitive housing. Planting provided its own rhythm and created places in conjunction with the buildings… in Span schemes the dominance of the car was challenged not by dictating the layout in favour of the car.”

Elain Harwood: “Span set out to show, in Townsend’s words, that ‘architect designed houses and flats can be produced to sell at competitive prices, and to show the developer the necessary margin of profit’. The choice of sites was critical. Around London they chose desirable, leafy areas already popular with commuters, beginning in Richmond and Twickenham, and later advancing to Weybridge and Byfleet. Outside London they built in Cambridge, Hove, Oxford and Taplow; schemes in Bristol and Cheltenham were only partly realised due to lack of demand.”

Madeleine Adams and Charlie MacKeith: “The core ingredients of Span are simple, even modest: an indivisible boundary between landscape and building design; the provision of attractive shared spaces; architectural design that allows the homeowner to be part of the shared space or separate from it; and management structures that sustain the immediate community over many years. The architecture provides the important elements of housing (a series of comfortable interior spaces with a view) with wit and attention to detail. Span is a homegrown response to providing in English suburbs that has been tested over 50 years… Recent appraisals of Eric Lyons’s and Span’s work come from many directions. The historic importance of the estates has been recognised by English Heritage and local authority conservation officers.”

Elain Harwood: “Span’s attention had turned to the Cator Estate in Blackheath, a charming preserve of late 18th century terraces and villas, most notably Michael Searles’s The Paragon, a terrace of linked pairs dating from 1794 to 1805 which had been carefully restored after war damage by Bernard Brown with Leslie Bilsby as his builder. The area’s history was stoutly defended by the Blackheath Society, founded in 1937, and Blackheath Park – the core of the Cator Estate – was becoming admired for its Regency character. But many of the houses had been damaged beyond repair, and the long gardens and backland nurseries of Blackheath Park and the roads immediately to its north and south were ripe for speculative development. Leslie Bilsby was on hand to do just that.”

Builder Leslie Bilsby lived in The Paragon and would become joint Managing Director of Span alongside Geoffrey Townsend. Objectors continue to be the bane of housebuilders lives: they’re usually people with houses who don’t want other people to have houses. The most extreme example is when objectors living in the earlier phases of a development object to later phases. Housebuilders construct homes for everyone, even objectors. “Since housing has become a political question much abuse and nonsense has been spoken and written about the housebuilder and his misdeeds in the past.” That was Sir Harry Selley, President of the National Federation of Housebuilders, introducing Manning Robertson’s publication Everyday Architecture, 99 years ago.

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Kimpton Clocktower Hotel Manchester + Alfred Waterhouse

It is Good to be Here

Superlux brand Kimpton has four hotels on mainland Britain. North of the border, the two hotels are neoclassical: Charlotte Square, Edinburgh, and Blythswood Square, Glasgow. The two south of the border are High Victorian: Russell Square, London, and Oxford Street, Manchester. The late afternoon winter sunlight streaming down makes the terracotta all clear: Kimpton Clockhouse Hotel in Manchester is a panoply of barley twist columns and stylised ionic capitals and naturalistic floral patterns sculpted out of the red stuff, all towering up from the sweet flow of the River Medlock. The brick walls are aglow, on fire, red on red. The trio of buildings which form the hotel are the last bloom of High Victoriana; in fact they’re an overflow of this most dramatic of styles, for the iconic 66 metre tall clocktower was only completed in 1912.

The Refuge Assurance Building was built in 1895 to the design of master of the age Alfred Waterhouse. Architect Paul Waterhouse extended his father’s design and Stanley Birkett completed the vast urban block. Across the city near the Town Hall designed by Alfred Waterhouse is Friends’ Meeting House. It wins the award for most blind windows: just two of the window positions out of 10 on the west facing Southmill Street elevation are glazed. Jean and John Bradburn write in their 2018 Central Manchester History Tour, “This fine building was designed in 1828 by Richard Lane, a Quaker architect – one of his pupils was Alfred Waterhouse. The cost of the building – £7,600 – was raised by subscription from local Quakers, one of whom was John Dalton, the famous chemist and discoverer of atomic theory who worshipped here for years.”