North Cotswolds Tour

Thursday 29 April 2010

The day was a typical April one in England, beginning with great promise and freshness but then changing its mind and deciding to label itself ‘showery’. The county was Gloucestershire or, as Nancy Mitford, whose grandfather built one of the houses we were to see would have said, ‘Glorstershire’. The link between the houses visited was the short period of articles served by 18/19 year-old Edwin Lutyens in the office of Ernest George in Maddox Street, in London. The other articled clerks included one who was to become a particular friend; a young man from Norfolk called Guy Dawber.

In 1886, Dawber took up the post of Clerk of Works at Batsford Park, near Moretonin-the-Marsh, a major house on which George was then working. In time, this led to a life-long love of the Cotswolds and to Dawber designing many buildings in the counties of Gloucester and Worcester. Both Dawber and Lutyens shared an interest in the use of local materials and in high-quality craftsmanship. In this, they were both probably greatly influenced by Ernest George; Lutyens to an extent far greater than he was later prepared to admit.

Following a stop in the village of Upper Slaughter in order to view a ‘courtyard’ remodelling of cottages by Lutyens of 1906-13, members called at Eyford House, a perfect specimen of Guy Dawber’s ‘Cotswold’ houses. Replacing an earlier building in 1911-12, Eyford highlights Dawber, like Lutyens and Baker, at a period when he was moving away from informal compositions to a more classical style. The formal and classical approach was, nevertheless, tailored to meet the requirements of a ‘20th Century Georgian’, rather than an ‘18th Century Georgian’ clientele. The charming south elevation is suitably grand. Even before it was reduced in size later in the 20th Century, the house behind was remarkably ‘compact’.

Members then re-entered their architectural time-machines to move backwards a few years to 1904-5, the construction date of Wells Folly, near Moreton-in-the-Marsh. A smaller house, very much in the Lutyens ‘Arts and Crafts’ informal style, Dawber here designed a small square hall with an archway leading to the main staircase reminiscent of Lutyens’s Homewood at Knebworth.

Our third and final stop was Batsford Park (1887-93) designed by the firm of Ernest George and Harold Peto for Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford, later 1st Lord Redesdale of the second creation, who had inherited the estate from his cousin.

In The Edwardian Great House of 2000, Hilary Grainger tells us that “The house represents an important change in George and Peto’s work. Described as having the general style of a Tudor Manor House, ‘Cotswold Elizabethan’ a clever working up of the Dorset-Tudor-Gothic, it was built of local Broughton stone and looks disarmingly like a genuine Manor House…”

Very much a late 19th Century ‘hall’ house, the exterior has a keynote of austerity which is continued to some extent in the interior. This did not preclude some very fine detailing and ornament, the workmanship of the panelling, door furniture and other details reflecting the contemporary influence of the Arts and Crafts movement. The house was described by the influential landscape gardener, William Robinson, as ‘one of the few really good, new houses in England’.

Our thanks go to Janet Allen for her work in organising and planning the tour and making it such an interesting and enjoyable one. Thanks must also go to the owners of all three houses for their kindness and generosity in allowing us to visit their homes – and for welcoming us to their lovely corner of the country.

John Entwisle