Lutyens’s (Other) Women

Jane Brown

If Lutyens the man tempts the scorn of the modern feminist, then Lutyens the architect deserves better: When Virginia Woolf gave her lecture, ‘A Room of One’s Own’, to women at Oxford and Cambridge in 1928 (published 1929) it was regarded as a landmark, a pioneering plea for a woman’s private space.

Yet, for some thirty years’ previously Lutyens’s lucky clients had been indulged with a consistent stream of studios, music rooms and boudoirs, feminine retreats in a man’s world of billiards, smoking rooms and gun lobbies. More than any other architect, he designed with women in mind, and as long as emotional entanglement was kept at bay, the outcome was invariably happy.

Julia Chance had her sculpture studio at Orchards, where she brought to life the seahorses for Marsh Court, and the baby turtles for Heywood’s pool; Ida Streatfeild, happily married to a man with archaeological, ornithological and cricketing passions, needed a garage (one of the very first) at Fulbrook for her Locomobile, quarters for her handsome young chauffeur, as well as her own bedroom, linked to her husband’s by a balcony with a view*. Goddards was the ultimate house for skittles’-playing ladies in retreat, and at Chinthurst Hill he gave Maggie Guthrie her monogrammed door-plates and mother-of-pearl garden plan. He wrote letters to his sister-in-law Constance Lytton, sketching the room she wanted at Homewood, and though downstairs was cursed with Siberian draughts and smoking chimneys* – surely more the faults of management than design – Constance had her own retreat from her battles in the suffrage cause.

Con Lytton was a heroine, but so was Emily Lawless: Emily too has a modern appeal, a presence on the internet, and she is the subject of dissertations in American universities. Emily was an eco-warrior, brought up in the west of Ireland, she was tall, red-haired with heavy-lidded eyes and a rebellious spirit, given to long tramps in Connemara, diving for treasure beneath Atlantic waves and living on remote islands. In between her adventures, she wrote passionate histories and novels and poignant poems on the woes of her beloved country, attracting controversy and admiration. She was fifty by the time Ned Lutyens met her in 1895, she was worn out, desolated after the suicide of her father, and in retreat to the shelter of the Surrey sands, to Burrows Cross near Shere, where she set up house with Lady Sarah Spencer, the 5th Earl Spencer’s sister, and he paid for the land. Lutyens built their house called Hazlehatch, after Emily’s Irish home; he patiently attended to details, though not always agreeing with his feisty client. Emily continued to write, and they gardened according to Nature’s rules; her Garden Diary (1901) is her testament in exile, she has learned to ‘grow down gracefully’ as the sedums and pennyworts, and extract a world of interest from her ‘501st tour’ of their small garden. She died in 1913 and is buried in Peaslake cemetery. For Emily Lawless, having lost her country, neither a room, nor a whole Lutyens house, of her own, was enough.

Jane Brown

● Fulbrook: the Libanus Press has just two sets remaining of the Trust’s publication of the Fulbrook Letters, the only set of letters detailing the building of a house, with Lutyens’s sketches and accounts, two volumes bound in red leather. Details from:
● Homewood’s smoking chimneys etc., see Jane Ridley, Edwin Lutyens, 2003, p.142. You can check for yourself by staying at Homewood. Telephone: 01438 812-105. Email: