Harold Peto Travel Diaries Volume 1: Book Review

Italy 1887

As we all know Lutyens served his pupillage, be it brief, with the distinguished architects’ practice of George and Peto. We are familiar with Robin Whalley’s The Great Edwardian Gardens of Harold Peto focussing on his designs for gardens in this country post 1900 and villas and gardens in the south of France. However August 2011 saw the publication of the first of a series of Harold Peto’s Travel Diaries dating from Spring 1887 to 1898 as small booklets, each to carry the transcription of the journey of that particular diary. The first journeys took place whilst Peto was still in partnership with George (& during Lutyens’s brief sojourn) when, fed up with the dirt, grime and climate of London, each Spring and autumn if possible would see him embarking abroad.

The originals of the diaries have been available to the intrepid for study at the Wiltshire Record Office but now Peto’s descendants have generously given consent to Robin Whalley to publish them. I am delighted to have been involved as acknowledged collaborator.

As a gentle introduction we have Spring in Italy 1887, Florence, Siena and onward; gentle for us as well as in this case we were working from an earlier transcription relatively easy to read. However this is just a taster; we shall return to Italy three more times. The next and larger diary covers a five week journey to the east coast of USA and Canada in November – December 1887 and here we have been transcribing from the actual originals – a challenge in itself – black ink on fragile oyster paper and folded in four causing the ink from one sheet to bleed through to another. It is hard to convey the personal thrill as Robin and I, miles apart, struggle individually to decipher the writing and what one uncovers, compare each other’s and agree a final text.

The USA diary reveals that, through introductions from Peto’s personal friends such as Henry James and J. Singer Sargent, he meets the cultured celebrities of the day, Isabella Stewart Gardner, Mrs. Astor and the Vanderbilts to name a few, and explores the new constructions, with renowned architects such as Richardson or Stanford White, ‘buildings in the business parts like mountains above you, 11 & 12 stories high’.

By the time this Newsletter reaches you I expect this 2nd Peto Travel Diary to be published and hope you will all become as hooked as myself and await the emergence of each diary with keen anticipation. As well as further jaunts to Italy, Peto visits France, Germany, Greece, Egypt and finally Japan in 1898. The Italian Diary 1887 available at £4 per copy incl. p&p & all information from www.cwarelipress.co.uk

Jane Balfour


Harold Peto’s Travel Diaries Volume 2 America 1887
As featured in the Newsletter for Autumn 2011. Volume 2 is now published at £6 per copy incl. P&P, available via www.cwarelipress.co.uk