Our Coming of Age

by Jane Brown

A significant birthday has crept up on the Lutyens Trust and I thought it should not pass without a brief memoir. Our status as an educational charity was confirmed twenty-one years ago on 10th May 1985, and the Trust was launched on 14th May at Brook House in Park Lane, one of a group of buildings for which Sir Edwin had designed the exterior elevations in the 1930s. From the letters that fatten my first Honorary Secretary’s file it appears to have been a happy party for something over a hundred journalists, architects, owners and people of influence whom we hoped would forward our cause: a thank-you note from Henry Baker, Sir Herbert’s son, saying that he liked to think the ‘hatchet is buried’ (over Lutyens’s and Baker’s Delhi arguments) and he wished to support the Trust, typifies the goodwill of that evening.

The interest and enthusiasm engendered by the Arts Council’s successful Lutyens Exhibition (which closed at the end of January 1982) was crucial to the founding of the Trust, for we had a wave to ride. But it was still a big step and it wasn’t until the autumn of 1983 that six of us, who had been involved in the exhibition committee, sat down to founders’ meetings: we were already facing our first big challenge, no fewer than six applications to divide the house and build on the garden at The Salutation in Sandwich, thereby dissecting and destroying Lutyens’s most intricate Wrenaissance house and garden ensemble. When, with three additional members, we met as a management committee in March 1984, it was with the news that Dover District Council had refused the applications and there were to be no appeals. But farther down the minutes I see Deanery Garden appears; as I remember an American decorator, who shall be nameless, had decided to give the Grade 1 interiors of delicately-hued oak beams a blanket of whitewash – this was to be another cause celebre (with the expensive restoration enforced by Wokingham District Council). A modestly typed Newsletter No. 1 appeared on 1st September 1985 listing our first eighty Friends, and with the notice of an October party at Sir Edwin’s last home, 13 Mansfield Street, to celebrate the publication of The Letters of Edwin Lutyens to his Wife by Clayre Percy and Jane Ridley.

The Trust’s educational role was always our raison d’etre, and we felt this should be enjoyable whenever possible: our visits have inspired the pleasures of discovery etc., but also our steadily accumulating store of detailed Visit Notes is a valuable resource. I see that in the first Newsletter we appealed for Friends’ help in our ‘stocktaking’ for a list of Lutyens’s works: your response has been encouraging and much has been accomplished, but a complete list has proved elusive, chasing down something like 550 commissions ranging from a cottage to New Delhi with all their component parts and details will pose a challenge to enthusiastic researchers for many years to come. Even at such a treasured site as Hestercombe lost fragments of design – pavings, a gate (and the kitchen garden out of reach) – are still being recognised. Many of us were there in March for the Orangery’s Centenary, and I rather wish more 100th birthdays for buildings could be celebrated – but of course these will go on occurring until 2041!

I have two overwhelming impressions from these early records of the Trust. Firstly, and sadly, that so very many of our benefactors, friends and supporters have died: I feel Mary Lutyens should represent them all – we were so lucky to have Mary, who discovered many of her father’s buildings for the first time in her own last years, and was a wonderful ambassadress for the Trust and friend to us all. My second impression is that it was a very old-fashioned world (of carbon copies and handwritten letters) just twenty-one years ago. Now, with our wonderfully informative and popular website – www.lutyenstrust.org.uk – an online photographic archive in preparation, and outreach to Lutyens’s works all over the world, the Trust is making the most of the internet revolution. From my back seat I’m sure that congratulations are in order, and Godspeed to you all, for the next 21 years!

Jane Brown, Trustee ( Hon. Secretary 1984-95 )