Casework Holiday?

Autumn 2008

It’s August, and many people have gone away, but the Lutyens Trust casework continues. True, the level is reduced from the hectic pace so far this year, but continued vigilance is advisable. Important cases reported earlier have progressed The Corporation of London has granted full planning permission and listed building consent for the hotel conversion of the former Midland Bank HQ in Poultry (1924-39). The owners were so delighted that they hosted a reception in July, which I attended: they are optimistic about implementing the approved scheme, which preserves all the major interior spaces, with virtually no external alteration to Lut’s refined façades. My comment on behalf of the Trust was printed in full in the
planning committee papers – a first!

The scheme for Folly Farm (1906-1912) has now been submitted to West Berkshire Council. The documentation included an impressive analysis of the evolution of the house compiled by the owner. Margaret Richardson and I were involved in positive discussions as the application scheme emerged.

Further research by council officials in Norwich has brought to light a cache of original Lutyens drawings and correspondence about the Norwich War Memorial (1925 moved 1938) – I am eagerly awaiting promised copies.

The proposed wings for the Henrietta Barnett School (former Institute) in Hampstead Garden Suburb (1909-1930) have now been developed for submission to Barnet LB and the Hampstead Garden Suburb Trust. Andy Barnett of the Michael Hopkins practice has worked up the concept of low key buildings with subtle brickwork detailing, a Hopkins speciality. I shall report on the design in more detail next time. Earlier this year the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded a project development grant to the HGS Trust for design options to regenerate Central Square , flanked by Lutyens’s twin churches – St. Jude (1909) and The Free Church (1911). Following public consultation, the chosen scheme includes replanting of
the tree avenues and some of the formal beds from the Lutyens layout and a ‘virtual’ realisation of the never-implemented canal between the transepts of the churches, by a lower level trough planted with bluebells and ground cover. This will be entered to the HLF this autumn for grant assistance towards making things happen.

Taking a week’s break in the north of England, I visited the splendid Rochdale Great War Memorial (1919-22) which includes a high podium with catafalque atop sited opposite W H Crossland’s magnificent Town Hall ((1871) Nearby in Bolton Road, Bury stands the Lancashire Fusiliers Memorial (1922), an obelisk on a pedestal flanked by painted flags bearing the regimental colours – sadly in a rather poor condition. One of Lutyens’s nephews apparently served in the regiment during the Great War.

Visiting Barrow-in-Furness for some serious family history research, I stayed in Abbey House (1914) which originated as a hospitality centre for prestigious guests of Vickers shipyard, which concentrated on warship construction in the early 20th century, and pioneered submarines. The simplified, almost abstract Tudor style relies on mass, planes and silhouette, with a minimum of historic detail, apart from the mullioned and leaded-light windows. Abbey House became an hotel in the 1980s (after a long twilight as a County Council care home): in the early 1990s, I was involved with The Victorian Society and English Heritage over the siting and design of a linked extension to the east of the main block, which was reasonably successful, if not too subtly or sensitively detailed. Many of the grand interiors in the house have survived well, especially the Great Hall, with its oak screen and staircase representing an expanded version of that at Little Thakeham, and also dominated by a central two storey mullioned transom bay window.

A free day took me north along the coast road to Muncaster: the mediaeval castle was aggrandised from the 16th century by successive Baron Muncasters, the last of whom, Sir Joseph Francis Pennington, fought in the Crimean War, died in his eighties in 1917. The Pennington-Ramsdens who took over the estate commissioned an exuberant Chest Tomb from Lutyens, to contain the mortal remains of the Fifth Baron and his wife. This stands in the churchyard, while in the chancel of the 15th century church, there is a black and white marble Commemorative wall memorial to the pair. On the Ravenglass Road is a Great War Memorial (1920) in the form of the bladed cross on a stepped podium, with a carved laurel wreath on the back – very similar to the Ashwell Cross (1922) – but lacking the refinement of the coved base used at Abinger, Surrey. Lutyens also prepared designs for alterations at the castle (Salvin had done some excellent work there in the 19th century), but these never materialised.

Then, a dash down to Port Sunlight to join the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Liverpool weekend. Aside from the tour of the joyously decadent collection in the Lady Lever Art Gallery (William and Segar Owen, 1913-22) there was the chance to cast a watchful eye on Lut’s Nos. 17-23 Corniche Road (1897-99), idiosyncratic Arts and Crafts cottages in a sea of eclectic, mainly Old English, work by the Owens, Douglas and Fordham, and Grayson and Ould. Lever was conservative in taste, but quality tells in the long run – virtually everything in Port Sunlight is listed,
and still looks good after a century or more.

Finally, I caught up with the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, Liverpool. Recent casework has involved minor alterations to the Lutyens-designed Crypt to accommodate a new Treasury and improved disabled access, together with some (mainly) welcome improvements to the paving and planting around the lower entrances (security fencing and lighting standards necessary but obtrusive). Alas, the scheme was unfinished, and the Crypt remains technically a building site, so access was denied. One of the cathedral guides was embarrassed by the overrun – completion was due by the beginning of August. I do hope they get their act together by October when the Crypt is due to host a major exhibition of drawings
and projects by Le Corbusier: a bizarre but potentially stimulating juxtaposition.

Then homeward bound to find a large parcel of drawings for 7-8 St. James Square awaiting scrutiny.

Dr Mervyn Miller