Visit to Knebworth Village

Saturday 27 June 2009

Lutyens’s work in Hertfordshire, Homewood aside, tends to get overlooked, but he did more work here than in any other county apart from Surrey. This tour concentrated upon the work he designed for the Lytton Estate, the family of his wife Emily.

We began a busy day by visiting three houses in Deards End Lane – nos. 3 (Wych Elms), 7 (Hillcroft) and 15 (Beacon House), which were all delightfully different. The former featured a lovely sunroom-cum-loggia: Hillcroft was an intriguing pair of identical semis that had been converted by Lutyens ten years after they were built, into a single house; whilst Beacon House was foursquare with a charming Dutch gable. The houses were built on plots that had formed part of a Lutyens original plan for a Garden Village. The programme allowed us time to wander about the surrounding roads to look at the other houses, particularly Bramble Bank, to give context to Lutyens’s work. Walking tours can often throw up chance encounters and, in my case, our route coincided with that of the local postman who knew of the architect and had always been intrigued by his work and was keen to know more: a classic example of the opportunity that exists in bringing our hero to a wider audience.

The Golf Club at the end of Deards Lane was an obvious place for lunch, and suitably refreshed, we then drove to the Church of St. Mary and St. Thomas in Old Knebworth to study the plethora of Lutyens designed graves and memorials in the church itself, and in the surrounding churchyard. The next stops were Mulberry Cottages and 190 Park Lane, where we looked around the outsides, before reaching my personal highlight of the trip, the Church of St. Martin. It is always fascinating to encounter buildings that one has not seen in books about Lutyens, and I was intrigued by the way in which the roofs almost looked like they belonged to a Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie House. We know that Wright was a great admirer of Ned, so was this a case of the latter repaying the compliment, I wonder? Or am I trying to read too much into it? The only drawback is that construction having started in 1914, the church remained incomplete until 1964 when the western end was completed by A E Richardson, regrettably to a different design.

We ended, where else but at Homewood. The weather had slowly improved throughout the day and as we drove down the long drive, the sun was beating down upon us. The refreshments on the terrace were most welcome and we were able to relax and soak up the atmosphere of the lovely house that Lutyens had built for his mother-in-law.

It was a busy but rewarding day, and our thanks are due to the various owners who allowed us access and gave so freely of their time to tell us about their properties. Particular thanks are due to our guide, Stuart Handley, who having been involved in some of the initial groundwork, had stepped into the breach when Paul Waite (who had been due to lead the tour) was unavoidably detained elsewhere.

Tim Skelton