Benjamin Dean Wyatt was the eldest son of the better known James Wyatt. His public venue of 1812 has been comprehensively restored and renewed by architecture firm Haworth Tompkins. A cool £60 million later, the Grade I Listed Building doubles as a theatre and upstairs restaurant serving afternoon tea. There’s another restaurant tucked away downstairs through an archway. Much has been written and rightly so on the rejuvenation of the theatre space itself: this article concentrates on the suite of reception areas fronting the building. A Pantheon inspired domed rotunda flanked by sweeping cantilevered staircases leading to the Grand Saloon and adjoining Ante Room overlooking the portico has all the presence of a grand country house. Combine a stair with the rotunda and you’ll come close to the showpiece of Townley Hall in County Louth.
Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber says, “I believe the Lane is now one of London’s most warm and beautiful auditoriums. It’s the most versatile historic theatrical space anywhere in the world.” His lordship has added prominent modern artworks to the period collection including a pair of Shakespearean paintings in one of the staircase halls by American artist Maria Kreyn: Lady M and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Upstairs in the Grand Saloon, afternoon tea with cakes by baker Lily Vanilli is being served.
On the eve of the 17th Sunday after Trinity, or as one entrant in the Visitors’ Book of the Pallant House Art Gallery put it, “37 days till Halloween”, we spend the day in Chichester. Pronounced “Chai-chester” if you are from Belfast (Chichester Street is one of the city’s main thoroughfares). Londoners put the hitch into “Chitch-ester”. The city is logically and legibly laid out: North, South, East and West Streets crisscross at Chichester Cross.
The laneways snaking round the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity are pure Miss Marple territory. The red brick Deanery with its façade spanning pediment gable is one of many historic residences under the shadow of the spire. The cathedral itself is an absolute medley of periods and styles with a very deliberate Romanesque vault system and simply divine medieval tracery. Recent additions include a portly stone head of The Queen, part cherub part gargoyle, looking down on commoners traipsing through the main entrance.
There are wide townhouses of Henrietta Street Dublin proportions with double pile roofs and deep returns. There are white brick terraces with paired entrance doors. It rains, it shines, we come close to missing our train (The Foundry pub is temptingly close yet mercifully next to the railway station) all full of the joys of a day well spent. And everywhere in this most civilised of cities are enough signs of the historic times to compete with a Harry Styles song.
The plinth of the statue of St Richard Bishop of Chichester,1245 to 1253, near the entrance to the cathedral: “Thanks be to Thee my Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits which Thou has given me, for all the pains and insults which Thou hast borne for me. O Most Merciful Redeemer, friend and brother, may I know Thee more clearly, love Thee more dearly and follow Thee more nearly.”
The painting Noli me Tangere by Graham Sutherland, 1960, inside the cathedral: “This painting depicts the moment when Mary Magdalene finds the tomb of Christ empty, but encounters the resurrected Christ and mistakes Him for a gardener. Sutherland presented Dean Hussey with two paintings; Hussey selected the one he felt most appropriate for the cathedral setting, which features Christ in a gardener’s straw hat. The second painting remained in Hussey’s private collection, now at the Pallant House Gallery.”
The Chagall Window in the cathedral: “This window designed by Marc Chagall and made by Charles Marq was unveiled by Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent and dedicated to the Bishop of Chichester at 12 noon on Friday, 6 October, 1978. It was commissioned by Dr Walter Hussey shortly before he retired as Dean. The theme of the window is Psalm 150: ‘O praise God in His holiness – Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord.’ The triumphal quality of this chant is expressed by the dominance in the composition of the colour red (red on white, on green, on yellow) broken up by a certain number of green, blue and yellow blobs. This is the first time that Marc Chagall has conceived a subject composed entirely of small figures: it is the people in festive mood glorifying the Lord, exalting His greatness and His creation. The musicians are playing the instruments referred to in the Psalm: horn, drum, flutes, strings and cymbals. A man juxtaposed with an animal at the right hand edge of the composition holds open a little book, indicating that the word too participates in this hymn of praise. In the centre two figures hold up the seven branched candlestick, while David, author of the Psalm, crowns the whole composition playing upon his harp.”
Another 20th century insertion into the cathedral: “The High Altar and Piper Tapestry 1966. Considered the spiritual heart of a church, the High Altar represents the ‘holy table’, a sacred place for gifts and prayers to be offered to God. The tapestry, set behind the High Altar, was commissioned by Dean Hussey from the British artist John Piper and was installed in 1966. It consists of seven panels, each one metre wide and five metres high. Using bold colours and striking imagery the central subject is the Holy Trinity, to which the cathedral is dedicated.”
The most famous memorial in the cathedral: “The Arundel Tomb circa 1375. This tomb monument is widely identified as being that of Richard Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel (died 1376) and his second wife Eleanor of Lancaster (circa 1372). It was first erected at Lewes Priory and was moved to Chichester following the priory’s dissolution in 1537. The hand joining pose of the figures is rare and was restored in 1843 after much research. The tomb is best known today through Philip Larkin’s poem ‘An Arundel Tomb’ (1955).
One of our best architectural finds in Chichester: “Welcome to St John’s Chapel. This Grade I Listed Building is no longer used for regular worship but is one of over 330 churches in the care of The Churches Conservation Trust. Despite its nonconformist appearance St John’s Chapel is in fact Anglican. It was opened in 1813 to overcome the shortage of accommodation provided by the city’s seven tiny parish churches. It was not a parish church but a proprietary chapel which, although firmly part of the Church of England, was built and run as a commercial venture. Its Trustees, in addition to paying the Minister’s and organist’s salaries and keeping the building in repair, had to pay dividends to the shareholders and keeping the ‘business’ afloat was a constant struggle.”
“With no income from a parish or financial support from the Diocese the Trustees’ income had to come from sale and rent of pews and the generosity of the congregation. Worshipping at a proprietary chapel was an expensive alternative to a parish church! St John’s was designed by the London architect James Elmes (1782 to 1862) who carried out a body of work in and around Chichester between 1811 and 1814 when he was also surveyor to Chichester Cathedral. The wealthy bought or rented spacious box pews situated in and beneath the gallery. These pews were only accessible from the side porches. However the 1812 Act of Parliament authorising the chapel required at least 250 free seats to be provided for the use of the poor. These were open backed benches in the centre of the chapel and as they could only be reached from the front door the classes were kept strictly separated.”
“A three decker pulpit was a most essential attribute of a Georgian church or chapel and was used for the services of Morning and Evening Prayer. The lower desk was occupied by the Parish Clerk who had the job of leading the congregation in the responses and Psalms. The Minister would occupy the middle desk from which he would read the service but after the third collection and the prayers he would ascend the stairs to the pulpit to preach his sermon. From this vantage point he would have a good view of those in the gallery as well as those sitting below and could also watch the clock set in the west end gallery in order to time his sermon. The pulpit of St John’s is made of American black birch and was originally laid out on the more usual east west axis. At some time it was realigned north south and examination of the lower desk reveals the fact that there was originally a door on the north side.”
A jolly plaque over the front door of the Council House and Assembly Room, “Licensed in pursuance of Act of Parliament for music and dancing.” This building is one of the most architecturally important in Chichester: “The Council House was erected in 1731 by public subscription at a cost of £1,189. It was designed by Roger Morris (1695 to 1749), the architectural associate of the Earl of Pembroke, who, with the 3rd Earl of Burlington, was the leader of the Palladian movement which set the standards for nearly all English architecture in the second half of the 18th century. The Assembly Room was added to the east of the Council House from the designs of James Wyatt (1746 to 1813). It is approached from the landing of the Council House, through an anteroom, formerly a civic apartment. It is a spacious room of three bays lit by three windows. There are niches over the original fireplace.” And finally, a race down the ages of the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity.
2025: To mark the 950th anniversary of the cathedral’s move from Selsey to its forever home, there will be a festival of music and art.
Vitruvius’ desirable virtues of “firmness, commodity and delight” spring to mind. “There are so many moments of true quality within and outside this villa,” believes heritage architect John O’Connell. “An inspection of the exterior would suggest that there were once small wings. This is such a clever and compact plan. The vaulted lobby on the first floor is so accomplished and structurally brave. The first floor central room with its closets has a bed alcove.” Lee Manor House and its remaining three hectares of grounds form one of the thrills of southeast London. The house has been repurposed as a crèche, a library and a doctors’ surgery with reception rooms for hire. The garden is open to the public.
Architectural historian Dr Roderick O’Donnell summarises, “Stylistically the Manor House is quite conservative – Taylorian rather than Chambersian.” Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner’s entry in their Buildings of England South London, 1983, reads: “The Manor House (Lee Public Library), probably built for Thomas Lucas in 1771 to 1772, by Richard Jupp, is an elegant five by three bay structure of brick on a rusticated stone basement, and with a stone entablature. Projecting taller three bay centre. Four column one storey porch, now glazed; a full height bow in the centre of the garden side. Inside, the original staircase was removed circa 1932, but the large staircase hall still has a screen of columns to the left, and on the landing above a smaller screen carrying groin vaults. Medallions with putti. Pretty plasterwork in other rooms, especially a ceiling of Adamish design in the ground floor room with the bow window.”
At the end of the 18th century the house and estate were sold to Francis Baring, director of the East India Company and founder of Baring’s Bank. The better known architect Sir Robert Taylor designed villas for several of the East India Company directors. “Lee Manor House is extremely well handled,” John remarks, “and exhibits a lovely, almost James Gandon, flow. Moving around, it has at least three lovely elevations. The brickwork is very accomplished but the basement rustication has been crudely handled of late. The original high execution elsewhere displays the architect’s ability to bring a design forward to fruition.”
Marcus Binney provides this summary in Sir Robert Taylor From Rococo to Neoclassicism, 1984, “Taylor’s major contribution to English architecture is his ingenious and original development of the Palladian villa. The first generation of Palladian villas in Britain – Chiswick, Mereworth and Stourhead are three leading examples – had all been based purposely very closely on Palladio’s designs. They were square or rectangular in plan with pedimented porticoes, and a one-three-one arrangement of windows on the principal elevations. Taylor broke with this format. First of all his villas (like his townhouses) were astylar: classical in proportion but without an order; that is, without columns or pilasters and with a simple cornice instead of a full entablature.” Lee Manor House does have Taylorian features such as the semi elliptical full height bay on the garden front but is missing others such as his trademark Venetian window. In that sense, Richard Jupp is even more conservative than Sir Robert Taylor.
In the battle of the summer festivals, Goodwood and Glasto go neck and neck. Both attract 140,000 visitors each year although we prefer the Kinrara hospitality pavilion to mud. Sorry Dolly. Great view of the house track. A black and white racing check covers the triglyph and plain friezes over the Doric and Ionic columns respectively of the double height portico. Behind the highness of the first floor balustrade stand racing royalty: the Earl of March and Kinrara chatting to Lewis Hamilton.
Goodwood House is the glorious backdrop to the frenetic collision of noise, dust, smell and fast moving visuals that are the Festival of Speed. The principal front has a nine bay centre with five bay wings on either side angled back by 135 degrees. Perhaps three-eighths of a grand hollow octagon five-eighths unexecuted? Joins and ends are punctuated by cylindrical towers with copper domed hats. Provincial facing flint softens James Wyatt’s neoclassical urbaneness. It’s a ‘fur coat’ façade clothing a long skinny building. Stripped of pretension, the rear is an unselfconscious jaunty jumble of Diocletians, Serlianas and Wyatts.
The shadows were closing in. On a dark night in 1922, while heavy clouds curled and unfurled over the Comeragh Mountains, four IRA men crawled up the four mile driveway of Curraghmore. The fourth of four castles owned by the de la Poer family, who’d come to these islands during the French Catholic Norman Invasion, was about to become ruins. But St Hubert would save the night. As the terrorists approached, a flicker of moonlight silhouetted the crucifix surmounting a stag over the entrance tower: of St Hubert atop the balustrade. Illiterately, the terrorists assumed the family inside must still be Catholic. They fled and burned down the crucifix-free Woodstown House nearby. The de la Poer motto is Nil Nisi Cruce: “Nothing without the cross.”
We’re in the James Wyatt designed staircase hall of Curraghmore. It’s a Sunday morning and John Beresford, 8th Marquess of Waterford, has graced us with his presence. Inspecting our old postcard of Curraghmore, he remarks, “Look, the fountain in the lake is clearly visible. It was the tallest fountain in Europe before my grandfather took it down.” The estate boasts the tallest tree in Ireland, a Sitka spruce. At 47.5 metres tall, its full height is not immediately apparent as it grows out of a dell. The Marquess is less than impressed by wind turbines visible from the neighbouring farm which mar the otherwise Arcadian setting.
“That dashing red haired gentleman,” says the Marquess pointing to a portrait on the landing, “is Henry the 3rd Marquess. He was hot tempered and one day got into such a fierce argument with his father he charged up the staircase on his black stallion. That’s how the middle step got cracked. The portrait of his wife Louisa the 3rd Marchioness, herself an artist, is rather lovely. The 3rd Marquess was killed while fox hunting. My brother Patrick is a great soldier. He was awarded the Sword of Honour at Sandhurst.” The current Marquess was a talented polo player and is a friend of the Duke of Edinburgh. “I’m lucky to have three sons and five grandsons. Richard, my eldest grandson, is 6’8” and a professional polo player.” Sport’s in their (blue) blood. The 3rd Marquess enjoyed partying as much as sport. He was one of several wild sportsmen who sprayed the tollgate and houses of Melton Mowbray with red paint. The phrase “painting the town red” was born.
“That’s Aunt Clodagh,” the Marquess grins gesturing to another portrait. “Do you know what the Irish name Clodagh means? Muddy water. Lady Muddy Water Beresford.” Over six kilometres of the Clodagh River run through the estate. “Curraghmore has always been a working farm.” Even more than that, it was once a self contained community. In contrast to the format of wings elongating the façade, at Curraghmore the ancillary quarters stretch forward from the entrance doors to form the mother-of-all-forecourts. More Seaton Delaval than Russborough. As well as the stables for 60 horses, this parallel pair of wings at one time housed the accountant, bookkeeper, butler, doctor, estate manager, gamekeeper, headmaster and woodcutter and headmaster. An estate school lay behind the gatelodge. Basil Croeser, the retired butler, still lives in one of the Gibbsian detailed houses lining the forecourt. A new butler, aged 23, has just started. He’s yet to be fitted for his uniform. Later, he will serve the Marquess lunch, a silver tureen on a silver tray concealing produce from the estate. Game soup’s a favourite. There are 25 estate staff, including a cleaning lady for every floor. There may be four poster beds but bathrooms are on the corridor. No en suites. This is an Irish country house, not a hotel. Chamber pots at the ready.
The dining room retains its original skin tone coloured walls and the nine metre linen tablecloth dating from 1876 is still in use. Standards are high at dinner parties. The Marquess and Marchioness sit at opposite ends of the table, 17 privileged guests on either side. Men wear bow ties; ladies, long dresses and jewellery. Candles perched in three silver candelabra provide the only lighting. Dinner is served on 10 dozen floral Feuillet plates. Upstairs, far flung corners of the house are piled high with boxes of English, French and Chinese china. After dinner, at a nod from the Marquess, the ladies withdraw to another room. A larger than usual party was recently held when the Marquess celebrated his 80th birthday with 80 guests.
There’s so much else to write about Curraghmore. The stuffed lioness and her cubs lurking in a glass box. Elephant trunk and feet umbrella stands. The quatrefoil shaped shell grotto. The grass avenue which stops abruptly, unfinished since the 3rd Marquess’s untimely demise. The Curraghmore Hunt painting by William Osborne with name plates for everyone including the hounds Jason and Good Boy. Grisaille panels by Peter de Gree. Roundels by Antonio Zucchi. Francini plasterwork. Most of all, the great sense of peace that presides throughout the 1,620 hectares of Ireland’s last wilderness.
Decisions, decisions. There may not be as many approaches to architectural criticism as there are to architectural style but there are still plenty around for sure. The formal approach championed by Huxtable. Historical by the likes of Goldberger. Experiential by Muschamp. Activist by Sorkin. So on and so forth. This essay relies on a combination of formal and historical as befits its subject. The Mumford (not & Sons) walkthrough is adopted with its emphasis on the visual. A sprinkling of the sustainable approach is added to the mix. It’s a tale of two architects two centuries apart anchored by continuing moments of beauty. Dr Roderick O’Donnell, one of London’s leading architectural historians, is on standby for sound bites.
But this essay isn’t about No.10. Although the neighbouring building may be significantly lower in scale, its dignified presence holds its own. Welcome to Trinity House, Trinity Square. Samuel Wyatt’s masterpiece, an authoritative assimilation of Greco Roman style. Over to Rory: “His younger and better known brother James is more flash. Samuel is a much more controlled architect – he’s not headline. He is best known for designing a series of sold satisfying small country houses.” Isabella Blow’s family seat Doddington is one example. Built in the 1790s, Trinity House displays the Wyatt dynasty’s love of the lateral. “Horizontal emphasis is a Wyatt trait,” confirms Rory.
The ground floor is presented as a channelled stone rusticated podium with the order raised above framing the principal floor. The central segmental arched doorway is set in a three bay reticent recess flanked on either side by single bay projections with segmental arched tripartite windows. These deferential round headed apertures act as a counterpoint to overall elevational orthogonality. Upstairs, paired unfluted Greek Ionic pilasters distinguish the outer bays. Just as François Mansart gave his name to a certain type of roof, James Wyatt popularised a window type. The Wyatt window is a tripartite arrangement resembling a Palladian window (another eponymous architectural term) with the arch omitted and the entablature carried over the wider central window. Samuel places Wyatt windows over the doorway and on the first floor of the outer bays. Matching unfluted Greek Ionic columns frame the central bay with single windows on either side. Balustraded aprons fill the space below the five windows. Above, relief panels display nautical emblems and together with a couple of busty mermen hint at the building’s use. A dentilled cornice over a plain entablature surmounts the façade.
The side elevation to the left is five bays wide but squeezes in an extra floor at entablature level, resulting in a more domestic scale and character. Wyatt continues the rustication of the ground floor. A string course is the only decoration on the upper two floors. There is no rear elevation. The building abuts others behind. To the right of Wyatt’s façade is a 1950s extension by Albert Richardson. Yikes! The era that taste forgot. Fear not. Richardson’s addition is a lesson in architectural good manners. Rory pronounces, “Richardson’s work prolongs the lines of the original but is kept subordinate by setting back the two bay link and differentiating the appearance through the very subtle use of light brick on the upper storey.” A three sided canted bay terminates the Tower Hill frontage. A full stop. Richardson repeats the ground floor rustication and introduces another Wyatt window in the middle of the canted projection. Look now: the two angled walls are slightly recessed. Look up: this seemingly minor detail magnifies to create an almost pagoda effect when the cornice is viewed from the forecourt.
“The roof usually isn’t visible in classical architecture,” explains Rory, “so Richardson correctly treats it as a separate architectural entity. He clad it in copper. Richardson enjoyed and was adept at working with metals. His Financial Times building near St Paul’s, the first post war building in England to be listed, incorporates bronze framed casements and cornices trimmed with copper.” The wrought iron weathervane of a 16th century ship jauntily perched on a copper ball provides the finial. An exclamation mark! The side elevation to the right of the frontage appears as one large canted bay with three central openings. A flying first floor wing links this elevation to the building behind. Again Richardson uses metal: an expanse of glass on either side is framed in bronze with rosettes crowning the joins.
Back to Rory: “Richardson was a very competent Georgian revival architect. He was a neo Georgian in every sense – he lit his house with candles and wore 18th century costume. Richardson wasn’t interested in Soane – he would have considered him too radical, not Georgian enough. He wanted to revive Georgian architecture and wasn’t interested in developing a big commercial practice. Unlike the boring hackneyed neo Palladian architects of today, Richardson was his own man. “
Ding-a-ling-ling. Time to go indoors. What’s the relationship of container to contents? That’s a question for the Nazis to answer. A World War II bomb landed on the, er, landing on a Saturday evening in 1940. The ensuing fire gutted the building. Although the furniture was destroyed, the paintings, silver and records were fortuitously in storage. Richardson reconstituted a slightly streamlined version of Wyatt’s interiors relying on 1919 Country Life photographs. “Most of the rooms, certainly in the original block, look like convincing 18th century interiors,” Rory reckons. Richardson excels at imbuing space with meaning. A sense of scale and proportion is achieved through carefully controlled containment, boundaries and direction. The low ceiling of the entrance hall accentuates the dramatic sequence of what lies beyond – and above. Applied decoration in the entrance hall takes the form of incised panels and niches holding lighthouses. A further clue to the building’s use. Walking past the ground floor timber panelled cloakroom, Rory observes, “So much of Richardson’s detailing is implied, reticent, recessed rather than extruded.”
A pair of Roman Doric columns with gilded capitals, sea green scagliola shafts and black bases heralds the approach to the staircase hall. This tripartite opening is an unglazed variation of the Wyatt window and is a recurring motif throughout the building. Just as the stairway is one of the great architectural problems, so Wyatt’s is one of the great solutions. On axis of the entrance door the staircase is both complexly configured and perfectly, restfully modulated. The upper two treads of the first flight bow inwards as if in anticipation of the bowed flights to come. Such rhythm of compression and vertical expansion of space stretching heavenward to a clerestory and trompe l’oeil ceiling. The stone treads cantilevering out from the great semicircular apse. The fine wrought iron balustrade with anthemion panels. Sometimes they do it right. Wyatt and Richardson making waves. A tongue shaped secondary staircase slips in behind the main event. Entablatures of Ionic columns facing the landing carry mini galleries with balustrades and pairs of caryatids. Rory spots a sea change in design direction. “The introduction of the Ionic order gives a different flavour to this floor. It suggests thinking, something more intellectual.”
Off the landing is the Court Room. It’s the same size as the three bay entrance hall below but has a high ceiling above a deep cove. A trompe l’oeil sky by Glyn Jones adds to the feeling of latitude. “Jones was a very ambitious figurative painter of the mid 20th century,” notes Rory. This room has the character of a country house saloon. A gilt framed mirror stands over the while marble with ormolu detail fireplace. Six full length majestic regal portraits grace the walls: George III and Queen Charlotte by Gainsborough Dupont; William IV and Queen Adelaide by Wills Beechey; Edward VII by Frank Holl and George V by John Collier. A hemicycle shaped wine table sits on the Killybegs woollen carpet. Tall double mahogany doors with ormolu escutcheons open into the Luncheon Room. Oyster sea shell pink wallpaper awaits.
The first floor of Richardson’s wing contains three main interconnecting rooms. The intimate Reading Room, the large Library and an annex called the Pepys Room which is lit by the metal framed windows. At first the Library’s function is not apparent as the books are concealed behind doors in the panelling. The two ends are treated as ellipses with the south end accommodated in the projecting canted bay. Stained glass dating from the 16th century is placed in the sashes. “I think one would know this is a 20th century room. It’s very pretty with beautiful detailing based in the vernacular,” observes Rory. “In using the term ‘vernacular’ I am of course referring to domestic Georgian architecture. ‘High street Georgian’ to coin a phrase.” He’s on a roll. “There are extensive drawings in his seminal publication Regional Architecture of the West of England. For example, Richardson meticulously studies traditional shop fronts. The inventiveness and attention to detail – look again at the Library panelling, the Pepys Room fenestration – are clearly derived from his studies.”
Complements, compliments. Time to reflect on the architecture once more. This is a building by two designers or engineers or engineer designers working at the height of their powers, a complete work of substance. Future proofing, to use the latest dire planning jargon, was probably not top of Wyatt’s agenda. But his architecture remains aesthetically pleasing to the modern eye and with Richardson’s help has adapted well to contemporary requirements. That’s what’s called… eek more planningease… sustainable development. Stop. In a final Huxtablesque moment, the scale of the building, the subtlety and seriousness of the architectural style and material, of sculpted stone and smooth brick; the visible and tangible continuity of London’s Georgian tradition; the accent and nuance – colour, size, style, massing, space, light, dark, solids, voids, highs and lows – all are just right.