South Cotswolds Tour

September 11th 2011

Arriving in the village of Miserden from the industrial outskirts of Gloucester was to be transported into a different world. The village glows with the warm colour of the local Cotswold stone and seems unchanged and timeless.

We gathered at the Carpenter’s Arms for coffee before walking across the road to view the exterior of Miserden House. An eighteenth century house to the village street, it presents a later more mixed countenance to the garden. We viewed the well mannered and reticent extension added in 1920 by Sidney Barnsley. A pupil of Norman Gimson, Barnsley turned late to architecture and his work is rooted in the Arts and Crafts tradition.

We then progressed by car down the avenue to Misarden Park. An earlier house, completely reworked by Waterhouse in 1875, Misarden underwent further extensive remodellings. We were greeted and warmly welcomed by Major Wills who first showed us the entrance hall sporting salvaged panelling introduced from London and an early 20th century ceiling in archaic style. The double drawing room, richly decorated in yellow, was accessed by steps from the hall. We progressed via the panelled dining room to view the Lutyens work at Misarden; the splendid library wing added after the fire in 1919. The Major spoke of how the fire tender had taken many hours to reach the house by which time the fire had fully taken charge destroying works only recently completed. In adversity comes opportunity and we owe these flames a debt in that Lutyens was able to add a well judged and interesting addition. Internally, the library is splendidly robust with great oak beams forming and supporting a raised plaster ceiling in the centre. Beautifully detailed bookcases rise up suggesting they should support the ceiling but as with so many of Lutyens’ architectural conceptions, there is an element of contradiction afoot and they stop short.

Externally, we viewed the extension in context from the long terrace. A light and graceful loggia ties the extension back to the rest of the house. The wing itself demonstrates Lutyens’ love of clean surfaces. There are no projecting cills or string courses and the whole is a kind of modern abstraction of the Cotswolds house style, particularly noticeable at the gable end where the windows punctuate a severe elevation reminiscent of Drogo.

After a walk through delightful gardens, we expressed our thanks and progressed to a very pleasant lunch. This was followed by a convoy to Hilles, the home of Detmar Blow, Lutyens’ contemporary and colleague. The approach to the house is reticent to the point of introversion. Only Detmar’s monument to the right hand side hints at any dwelling to come. We walked down to the house, unheralded by any gates or fanfare to be greeted by Detmar’s grandson, Amaury and by a staggering view across the Severn Valley and beyond. The house itself sits shiplike astride a steep escarpment.

The exterior is idiosyncratic and it helps to know that it underwent several changes of design. The glassy three storey tower tucked beside the projecting entrance wing seems incongruous until one learns that it was to have been mirrored to the other side of the wing. The south facade is generously fenestrated and gabled and concentrates energetically towards the centre porch. Internally the house is infused with an amazing atmosphere. Blow’s love of good craftsmanship and well made objects is ever present. The collections and interests of Detmar and his descendants give the interior a unique spirit and richness.

All in all, a most enjoyable and rewarding day. We thank Janet Allen for her impeccable organisation and the owners for their kindness in welcoming us to their homes.

David Averill.