SPAB Scholar Describes Study Day at Goddards

Sara Holland – SPAB Lethaby Scholar

The annual Lutyens Trust Study Day was held at Goddards on Wednesday 11 June 2003 and proved to be a great success with two fascinating talks given by Ian Angus of Carden & Godfrey and Margaret Richardson, Director of the Sir John Soane Museum in London.

The talk given by Ian Angus concentrated on the philosophy and scope of the repair works carried out by Carden & Godfrey. The key to the architects’ approach was not to restore the house to any particular period but instead to keep all the later alterations and repairs if they were of merit and if the workmanship was good. Although the house had been kept in a good condition by its previous owners necessary repairs included the rebuilding of one of the chimneys and the replacement of some of the original bricks and ashlar details. The architects also had to cope with the challenge of adapting a house to become a Landmark Trust holiday property whilst still essentially retaining the atmosphere of restfulness and quiet comfort that Lutyens created for the “ladies of small means” who came to the house on holiday during the first decade of the last century.

The architect was able to explain some of the difficulties encountered when dealing with Lutyens’s detailing including the problem of the inadequate rainwater disposal system and also the question of where to run new services without disturbing historically important original finishes. He was then able to demonstrate many of his solutions on a guided tour of the building as well as posing some interesting questions to the group including the idea of re-limewashing the exterior of the buildin& Should the wisteria be cut back to allow the walls to be limewashed which would protect the bricks and stonework from the effects of the weather or should the walls remain unlimewashed so that visitors can enjoy the soft patina of age and gentle decay that gives such character to the building?

The talk by Margaret Richardson was equally stimulating as she took as her topic Lutyens’s interest in good, simple buildings for communal purposes. Her starting point was Munstead Wood, designed by Lutyens for Gertrude Jekyll as a country cottage with “a little of the feeling of a convent”. It was, in fact, Miss Jekyll who secured the job of Goddards for Lutyens, persuading Frederick Mirrielees that Lutyens was the man to help him create his philanthropic vision of a holiday retreat for hardworking governesses and nurses. With its skittle alley, common rooms and wonderful garden Goddards proved to be a huge success. The group was also interested to hear that at the same time as Lutyens was working on Goddards he was also designing Woolverstone House in Suffolk – a rest home for nuns which has a much stronger affinity with the vernacular almshouse tradition and is less straightforwardly homely than Goddards.

However, perhaps the most interesting illustration in her talk was a slide showing a perspective sketch by Lutyens which is now in the collections of the RIBA. The illustration, which was found by Frederick Mirrielees’ s granddaughter, shows a building that at first glance may be thought to be a chapel or church but is actually Lutyens’s design for an almshouse-type building based on the Hospital of St. Mary at Chichester, which he had previously described to Lady Emily in a letter. It would seem that Lutyens was really quite interested in communal buildings and the idea of people living and working together and although his career included many large country houses it is clear that he brought the same ingenuity and skill to the communal buildings he designed.

The afternoon was then rounded off by a walking tour of Abinger Common, led by Russell Morris, which took in various buildings relating to Goddards and included Mirrielees own home at Pasture Wood where a scholarly debate arose as to the authorship of a charming lean-to extension – was Lutyens the designer? Although a final answer to this particular puzzle was not forthcoming, it was still a very interesting and entertaining day at Goddards which was enjoyed by all who attended.