The Civic Society column with David Winpenny

Gentlemen versus Players is the theme of the two columns from last week and this week.

Sunday, 18th February 2018, 1:59 pm
Ripons Prison and Police Museum, designed by Lord Grantham. (Copyright - David Winpenny)

We’ve looked at the ‘Players’ – the professional architects who did their work for payment – so this week we’ll consider the ‘Gentlemen’ – the amateurs who did their architectural design for the love of it.

The distinction between the two, as was pointed out last week, is not a hard-and-fast one; some of the ‘Gentlemen’ were paid for their work, and not all amateurs were by any means ‘gentlemen’ in the sense that they were of a higher class.

Nevertheless, the division is a useful shorthand to differentiate them.

The Assembly Rooms, York, created by the 3rd Earl of Burlington. (Copyroght - David Winpenny)

Among the ‘Gentlemen’ we can find a number of clergymen. Some time ago this column outlined the life of Heneage Dering, Dean of Ripon and amateur architect, who did some architectural plans and made alterations to what is now the Old Deanery Hotel.

Dering was not a prolific nor indeed a recognised architect, even in his own time (he was born in 1665); better known was another Dean, Dering’s contemporary Henry Aldrich. Aldrich’s ‘day job’ was as Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, and as Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University. But he was also a recognised architect, designing a quadrangle at his own college and the Oxford church of All Saints.

Yet another clerical architect was Sir John Thoronton, family chaplain to the Dukes of Rutland.

When James Wyatt, the chosen professional architect for changes to the Duke’s Belvoir Castle, died, Sir John stepped into the breach and, as his tombstone says, ‘Of his architectural talent, the new buildings at Belvoir Castle will be a lasting monument . . . during the latter years of his life, he had the chief direction both in the design and execution of them.’

Belvoir Castle, designed in part by the Revd Sir John Thoronton. (Copyright - David Winpenny)

And then there were the aristocrats who liked to design. A book by James Lees-Milne of the National Trust, published in 1962, names some of them as ‘Earls of Creation’. The most important of them were the 9th Earl of Pembroke and the 3rd Earl of Burlington.

Pembroke had inherited Wilton House in Wiltshire, a work of the great English architect Inigo Jones, and his own architectural taste mirrored the Palladian purity that Jones introduced into the country.

Pembroke’s chief works are his Palladian Bridge at Wilton, and two suburban London houses, Marble Hill in Twickenham and White Lodge in Richmond Park, now the Royal Ballet School.

Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington, was a Yorkshire landowner, with his estate at Londesborough in East Yorkshire. He studied the architecture of Palladio in Italy, and bought many of Palladio’s original drawings, then returned to England and pushed the cause of Palladianism hard.

The Assembly Rooms, York, created by the 3rd Earl of Burlington. (Copyroght - David Winpenny)

His success was such that Palladian architecture became the only fashionable style among the Whig aristocracy.

Of Burlington’s own designs, his own Chiswick House (originally an extra wing to a Jacobean house) is a version of Palladio’s Villa Rotunda, and, nearer home, the Assembly Rooms in York are based on drawings in Palladio’s architectural treatise.

Another aristocratic architect was Robert Benson, Lord Bingley, sometime Chancellor of the Exchequer and Treasurer of the Household to George II.

He was considered an expert of architecture matters and was consulted by the Earl of Strafford about his work at Wentworth Castle in South Yorkshire and by the Duke of Chandos at Cannons, north of London. Lord Bingley designed his own house, Bramham Park.

Belvoir Castle, designed in part by the Revd Sir John Thoronton. (Copyright - David Winpenny)

An aristocratic architect perhaps more familiar to Ripon was Thomas Philip de Grey, 3rd Lord Grantham and, from 1833, 2nd Earl de Grey. He designed own house, Wrest Park in Bedfordshire, in the French style.

He was also responsible for the design of what is now Ripon’s Prison and Police Museum building, and rebuilt his own London house, 4 St James’s Square, which is now the Naval & Military Club.

His reputation as an amateur architect resulted in his appointment in 1834 as the first President of the newly-founded Institute of British Architects. He also he served as one of the Commissioners for the remodeling of Buckingham Palace and for the rebuilding of the Houses of Parliament after the fire of 1834.

It wasn’t just aristocrats who were interested in architecture – so were members of the Royal family. King George III had architecture lessons from Ripon-educated architect Sir William Chambers, and drew up plans, never executed, for a new palace at Kew. The Royal Collection contains many of his architectural drawings.

Prince Albert, too, turned his attention to architecture; he designed cottages for the royal estates, but his chief works are Balmoral Castle in Scotland and Osbourne House on the Isle of Wight – the former in the multi-towered Scottish Baronial style, the latter a large, Italian-Renaissance-style country house.

But amateurs expressing their taste in architecture has never been confined to the upper classes (though they, of course, tended to have more leisure and more money to follow their whims).

We have only to think, for example, of the many follies in the British Isles to see that architectural imagination can strike anyone at any time.

In Yorkshire alone we can point to the two (originally three) ruined columns of Yorke’s Folly above Pateley Bridge, and to the Druid’s Temple at Ilton, both the whims of men wanting to help relieve local unemployment. There are the follies at Hackfall, and near Aysgarth is the stone ‘rocketship’ at Sorrelsykes Farm.

In East Yorkshire newspaper proprietor Mr Bettison had a tower built near his house in Hornsea so that his servants could watch for his carriage approaching and make sure his dinner was on the table when he strode in.

There are still people busy planning their own architectural fantasies – some may be ‘gentlemen’ (and some indeed may be ladies) – but, whether their scheme is for a garden shed with battlements or a gargantuan classical country house, they are, in architectural terms, the ‘Gentlemen’.