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Lee Manor House + Garden Lewisham London

Banking on Success­­­­

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.

In the late 20th century a glass lift was inserted in the middle of the staircase hall. “I used to be disturbed when I saw alterations like this super lift, but now am more understanding,” remarks John. “But one is always encouraged to place the lift on the exterior of an historic building. The best example I know, apart from Montalto in County Down, is Palazzo Spinola di Pellicceria in Genoa. An astounding museum, and a must. Indeed Genoa is a city of palaces and many are accessible. This city is the Liverpool of Italy: rough in parts!” Another successful example is the Office of Public Works’ elegant full height glass and steel shaft abutting the rear of the Irish Architectural Archive on Merrion Square, Dublin.

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 BritainChiswick, 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.

Lee Manor House conforms to the House of Raphael formula: a basement carrying a piano nobile with a lower floor of bedrooms under the parapet. “This is very interesting as it sits within the gentleman’s villa format. Pray how did you find it?” enquires John. “Lee Manor House is a very fine villa. On the ground floor, I would expect the large apse or exedra to the saloon contains or contained a fireplace. It reminds me of the first floor back room of Taylor’s 4 Grafton Street in Mayfair. This large apse is of added interest, as it would be taken up by Robert Adam in the arresting hall at Osterley Park, Isleworth, and again by our hero James Wyatt for his first and most daring scheme at Abbey Leix, County Laois, and again at Portman House on Mayfair’s Portman Square. The latter is now a smart club.”

John continues, “Another villa that comes to mind is Asgill House, in Richmond, circa 1770, which is both fine and intact. This villa was restored with the advice of Donald Insall and can be seen from the railway line. One can even go back to Marble Hill House in Twickenham, and on to James Gibbs at the exquisite Petersham Lodge – a knockout villa – which is now the clubhouse for Richmond Park Golf Course. Petersham Lodge is really worth a visit too; even the ‘landscape’ and bevelled edged mirrors over the fireplace are still in position!”

“Finally, there is the equally arresting Parkstead House designed for the 2nd Earl of Bessborough by Sir William Chambers with its very heroic portico. Lord Bessborough was an Anglo Irish peer. This can be visited. Indeed there is a good publication by English Heritage on this very subject. The original wings have vanished but the garden front and saloon are intact. There is mention of the remains of a garden temple in the grounds.” Joan Alcock writes in Sir William Chambers and the Building of Parkstead House Roehampton, 1980, “The design of Parkstead is based on the Palladian villa.” John O’Connell postscripts, “Richard Jupp was chief architect to the East India Company. His successor was Henry Holland. Lee Manor House fits into a form that one can see emerge in the 1770s.”

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Strawberry Hill House London + Horace Walpole

The Royal and Imperial Academy’s Study Leave Part I | Crittal Factor | Found Treasures

Before the quips of Oscar Wilde there were the quotes of Horace Walpole. Take, “The world is a tragedy to those who feel but a comedy to those who think.” Or, “The whole secret of life is to be interested in one thing profoundly and in a thousand things well.” His description of Twickenham, “Dowagers as plenty as flounders inhabit all around,” might have come straight from the script of An Ideal Husband. But Horace came a century earlier, destined to be forever ahead of his time.

The man who added a consonant to a style. The man whose house became an architectural genre. The man who loved cats. Horace Walpole was the son of Sir Robert Walpole, Britain’s first Prime Minister. He stretched the term ‘polymath’ to its very limit. Strawberry Hill Gothick was his contribution to the lexicon of architecture. Its origin was his summer villa Strawberry Hill which was both a private retreat and a house for show. A maison de plaisance.

Strawberry Hill, created over the latter half of the 18th century, was “The castle of my ancestors”. Or at least the ancestors of his imagination. Aware of his status as landed gentry rather than aristocracy, Horace boldly set out about designing a house with the help of friends such as Robert Adam to elevate his social standing. Medieval revival meets idiosyncratic charm. Carcassonne comes to TW1. Phallic finials, pepperpotted polygonal perpendicular verve, cusped lights, quatrefoils and crenellations, it’s a sugary confection, a castle dipped in wedding cake icing.

Horace desired theatrical effect, nostalgic ambience and what he called “gloomth”, not historical accuracy. He dream that, “Old castles, old pictures, old histories and the babble of old people make one live back into centuries that cannot disappoint one.” To this end, after spending half a century filling Strawberry Hill to the rafters or at least rib vaults, no stranger to self publicity, he published a catalogue A Description of Strawberry Hill. Half a century later, the collection was posthumously dispersed in a 24 day sale. Lost Treasures is an exhibition of some of his collection returned on loan to its original setting. For the first time this century, it is possible to enjoy the vision of the man who put the gee into ogee.

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Lavender’s Blue + Goldsborough Hall Yorkshire

Princess Diaries

One can never have enough chairs.

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Sir John Soane’s Museum London + William Shakespeare

The Cloud Capped Towers Shakespeare in Soane’s Architectural Imagination

Sir John Soane Museum Drawing Room © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Hot on the unclad heels of Sarah Lucas’s show at Sir John Soane’s Museum comes an exhibition marking the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare. London is awash with Shakespeare festivities from Somerset House to Dr Johnson’s House. The Soanian exhibition is the best, the most intriguing, and is set in a superior interior. The playwright’s connection to the architect is far from tenuous. Quite the opposite in fact.

Sir John Soane Museum Dining Room © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Soane comes halfway between Shakespeare’s time and ours,” muses Dr Frances Sands, Curator of Drawings and Books at the museum. Last spotted leading a tour of 20 St James’s Square, Fran is one of a trio of erudite academics on duty. “The bard’s reputation was really only fully established in the 18th century Georgian period. He wasn’t a national hero before then. It kicked off, in part, with the actor David Garrick. And the Shakespeare Ladies Society! Soane, as an educated gentleman, was a collector of Shakespeariana.”

Sir John Soane Museum Passageway © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Professor Alison Shell of University College London, Guest Curator of the exhibition, adds, “Bibliophilia gathered pace as the 19th century progressed. Bibliomania! The madness of books! Soane acquired all four Shakespeare folios, a feat a private collector could never match now. One of the folios belonged to James Boswell. Shakespeare was something of a religion to Soane who venerated great men. Soane was a Romantic with a capital R!”

The exhibition space occupies two first floor galleries in the house to the left of the museum’s famous façade. “It was too tempting not to get out all four folios to make the point! Lovely!” smiles Alison. “It’s a celebration of the imaginations of Soane and Shakespeare.” The patronage of Dr Johnson’s friend Garrick is on display through actors’ portraits and theatre designs. Garrick commissioned both Soane and Robert Adam so another celebrated architect is represented. Indeed, Soane astutely purchased the full set of Adam’s office drawings.

Sir John Soane Museum Mausoleum © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Tying various artistic strands together is Soane’s drawing of George Dance’s front elevation of the Shakespeare Gallery on Pall Mall. Short lived and commercially disastrous, the design of the Shakespeare Gallery nonetheless was inspirational to Soane. Its flying saucer domes would later reappear at the Dulwich Gallery.

Sir John Soane Museum Dome © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Museum Archivist Sue Palmer points to a diary, “Rather charmingly, when Eliza and he went to visit their son studying architecture in Liverpool, Soane noted their visit to plays in Stratford-upon-Avon. So that’s rather fun!” All three academics concur that Soane was the most literary architect Britain has ever had. In 10 out of his 12 Royal Academy lectures he quoted Shakespeare. His interest in theatre, a medium obsessed with illusion, befits the great conjurer of space. Soane promoted Shakespeare as the supreme embodiment of English literature. The architect never knowingly undersold his talent. No doubt Soane was heavily hinting that he was the supreme embodiment of English architecture.

Reflection of Soane's Shakespeare Gallery Drawing © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley