Visit to Campion Hall and Middleton Park

Saturday 12 September 2009

It seemed as if there was divine intervention, when members of the Lutyens Trust visited two late commissions by Lutyens, Campion Hall, Oxford (1935-1942) and Middleton Park, Middleton Stoney (1938), for the sun shone in a blue cloudless sky, which enhanced the architecture. Gavin Chappell had arranged the day with his usual panache. We were welcomed to Campion Hall by The Master, Brendan Callaghan who explained that this building was the first permanent Private Hall of the Society of Jesus at Oxford since the Reformation. The then Master, the Rev. Martin D’Arcy had been dissatisfied with his architect and on Lady Horner’s advice had approached her friend, Edwin Lutyens. Campion Hall is a highly significant building in the history of the Jesuits in England.

The life of the Society of Jesus in Oxford is one of prayer, contemplation and scholarship and Lutyens rose to the challenge magnificently. The site was an old 17th century house, Micklem Hall on the north-west corner of a narrow strip of land tucked away in Brewer Street. Lutyens skilfully attached to it two sides of a quadrangle built in a seventeenth century Cotswold style; the stone walls are of Oxford rubble with windows surrounds of Clipsham stone and a red tiled roof. The austere exterior of the north wing gives nothing away, and there is the element of surprise when one enters from a shady street to look out on to a grass court, bounded on the east by the residential wing. Situated on the first floor of the north wing is the serene barrel-vaulted, apsed chapel with columns employing the Delhi Order, enlivened with the famous Cardinal’s hat lamp fittings. We were fortunate to have Dr.Libby Horner with us, she is the authority on Frank Brangwyn and she explained how Lurtyens had incorporated the Brangwyn Stations of the Cross into the chapel architecture. After the tour of the domestic accommodation, library, refectory and spacious study bedrooms, with their original fittings and furniture some of us would have liked to return to academic life. The quality of the building and the fittings was remarked upon and Father Callaghan said it reflected the political importance the Jesuits attached to this foundation. Lutyens created very distinguished collegiate accommodation which has been enhanced over the years by paintings and sculpture from benefactors encouraged by Father D’Arcy and later Masters.

The south side of the court was closed by a later wing added by G Armes in 1958, which is currently undergoing renovation. The good news is that Pembroke College has acquired the site behind the western garden wall and the industrial works are to be demolished and a more sympathetic building erected.

After a pub lunch the group was welcomed to Middleton Park by Julia and Ian Davenport who are so supportive of The Lutyens Trust. Middleton Park was the last great country house built before the Second World War on which Lutyens collaborated with his son, Robert. The estate had been owned by the Earls of Jersey since the 17th century and the house, dating from 1755, was demolished to make way for the present building. The brief from the Earl of Jersey was for a compact family home with elegant reception rooms and accommodation for a dozen guests, each bedroom with a bathroom. The upper floor provided nursery suites and rooms for ladies’ maids; the Earl stipulated that all other staff, resident or visiting, were to be housed in four detached lodges.

At first sight, the house strikes one as very un-English, the entrance façade with a blank lower wall and monumental rusticated porch is awe-inspiring. The west façade, overlooking the lawn and formal terraces, is articulated with long sash windows and shutters beneath a steeply pitched roof, recalling 17th century French chateaux. No sooner had the house been completed than the war broke out in 1939 and it was requisitioned (the Jerseys only managed a few weekend parties). After the war the Jersey family sold it and it passed through the hands of several owners before the Davenports purchased it in the 1970s. The generous provision of bathrooms facilitated a skilful conversion of the house into luxury apartments and the lodges are let as houses. Mr. and Mrs. Davenport had arranged for the group to visit several, enabling us to see the library and dining room on the ground floor, the Countess of Jersey’s bedroom and bathroom on the first floor and nursery accommodation on the second floor. As at Campion Hall, so at Middleton Park the spatial planning provided for luxurious but convenient domesticity. The materials used, wood, stone, the black and white marble floors were of the highest quality. The Delhi Order made another appearance in the entrance hall. The visit concluded with tea served by the Davenport family in Lady Jersey’s bedroom and an exhibition of archival material.

We are indebted to Father Callaghan and Mr. and Mrs. Davenport for allowing the Lutyens Trust to visit Campion Hall and Middleton Park again and to Gavin Chappell for organising a delightful visit, if not the spectacular weather!

Janet Allen