Paragon of Virtuous Planning
Sometimes you just gotta hunt a little harder, dig a little deeper, look a little longer, to see the wood and the trees. Beauty isn’t always served up on a plate, not even in glorious Blackheath. Its Georgian terraces and Regency villas facing the Heath are on full display for all to admire but, to employ a military analogy, the army that is architecture can’t be just about majors. Lieutenants are required too. Where is the hidden charm, the understated elegance, the stuff that scenery is made of? Ryculff Square.
But first, a race through literature celebrating the neoclassical, the Georgian, the neo Georgian and the hooley. Deputy Chief Architect to the Ministry of Health Housing Department Manning Robertson, who owned Huntington Castle in County Carlow, penned Everyday Architecture in 1924. He states in his preface, “The necessity for economy is forcing us into honest expression, and the new style, although based upon past tradition and especially upon Georgian work, is not a mere copy, but bears the stamp of the present day; we are in fact continuing the sequence of English architecture from the point where it was rudely interrupted by the industrial materialism of the last century. More and more we rely for our effects upon good plain brick and tile work, of pleasing texture and varied colour, and upon the elusive quality of proportion emphasised by the play of shadows.”
Manning Robertson wasn’t the only 20th century Anglo Irish gentleman author. Lord Kilbracken, who owned Killegar House in County Leitrim, was a Tatler columnist. His 1960 book Shamrocks and Unicorns is an amusing array of essays meandering from The Night of the Hooley and A Ghostly Encounter to Bog for Sale and Wanderlust. Arthur Trystan Edwards upholds the merits of the Georgian style in his 1946 book Good and Bad Manners in Architecture: “The period of domestic architecture from which for all others we have most to learn is the Georgian. The essential modernity of the ‘Georgian’ style should be fully recognised… The sedate and comely form of the 18th century houses are a perfect embodiment of the social spirit. They belong to the community, they are born of the discovery that in domestic architecture individuality is best securely established when houses defer to a common cultural standard.”
Ryculff Square once more. The scheme is about as streamlined neo Georgian as is possible. Sir Albert Richardson designed a series of apartment blocks placed around leafy green squares. Completed in 1954, plain brick elevations are subtly relieved by string courses and mildly projecting porches. Low pitched concrete tile roofs rest on deep eaves. Almost 65 years after its first brick was laid, Ryculff Square remains largely unspoiled. The plethora of plastic framed double glazing and galaxy of satellite dishes are both reversible. A few kilometres south of the Heath, Lourdes Close is the latest residential development in Blackheath. Designed by Thrive Architects, the nine townhouses are neo Georgian.
Sir Albert Richardson lived in the Georgian gem of Avenue House in Ampthill, Bedfordshire. Gavin Stamp lamented the sale and dispersal of its contents in 2013 while extolling the architect’s virtues in Apollo Magazine. “Richardson may have adopted a pose in Ampthill – refusing to install electric light, dressing up in Georgian clothes and being carried through the streets in a sedan chair – but he was a seriously good modern architect,” Professor Stamp argued. “He began by promoting the Edwardian rediscovery of neoclassicism and the works of people like Soane and Cockerell. After the First World War he intelligently adapted the abstracted classical language of Schinkel and other neoclassicists…” Avenue House was bought by Tim Knox, Director of the Royal Collection, and garden designer Todd Longstaffe-Gowan, who are restoring the house to its future glory.