The Civic Society column with David Winpenny

There used to be a fashion for cricket matches to be arranged between '˜Gentlemen and Players' '“ the implication being that the gentlemen did it for love, the players for money.

Sunday, 11th February 2018, 2:30 pm
Ripon Cathedrals east end was designed by Master Mason Simon. (Copyright - David Winpenny)

This didn’t stop them all enjoying the game; the third Duke of Dorset, though Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and later British Ambassador to France, seems to have been passionate about cricket.

He made cricketing history when his 77 for Kent against Hambledon in 1774 was part of the first-recorded 100 partnership, and he very nearly led the first English team to tour abroad. Unfortunately, it only got as far as Dover; he had chosen to take his players to France in 1789.

What has this to do with architecture, the raison d’être of this column?

The Parthenon, Athens  designed by Ictinus and Callicrates.

In architecture, too, there have been gentleman and players in the past – men who designed buildings for the love of it, and those who did it as a profession.

In this, the first of two linked columns, we’ll look at the players – though the dividing line is not always clear.

In these days of supreme professionalism, architecture is almost entirely the preserve of the trained specialist who has studied hard, gained his recognised qualifications and has the laws governing architecture, planning, engineering, health & safety and a host of other matters at his fingertips.

It wasn’t always so. At the very start of civilisation, of course, everyone constructed their own shelter – though whether that made them architects is debatable. But there were certainly professional men involved in the building of Knossos in Crete and of Mycenae in the Bronze Age, and Solomon’s Temple was, we are told, constructed in the mid-tenth century BC by Hiram of Tyre, described in the Bible as ‘skilful to work in gold, and in silver, in brass, in iron, in stone, and in timber . . . and to find out every device which shall be put to him.’ The Parthenon in Athens was built from 447 BC, and we have the names of two of its architects, Ictinus and Callicrates.

Burton Agnes Hall, East Yorkshire, was designed by Robert Smythson. (Copyright - David Winpenny)

The Romans, too, had professional architects; much of what we know of Roman architectural technique comes from the ‘Ten Books of Architecture’ written in the first century BC by a rather minor architect Marcus Vitruvius Pollio – usually known just as Vitruvius.

Leaping forward to the Middle Ages, we have the names of architects, though they were usually termed as ‘master masons’ – the title ‘architect’, from Greek ‘arkhitekton’ which means a master builder or a director of works, wasn’t really used until the 16th century.

We know that in the 12th century William of Sens was working on Canterbury Cathedral, and that in the late 13th a master mason called Simon was rebuilding the east end of Ripon Cathedral – at the same time that a mason from Savoy, James of St George, was the mastermind behind the massive Welsh castles, like Conwy, Harlech, Caernarfon and Beaumaris.

In the early 14th century Adam of Walsingham designed the unique octagonal lantern of Ely Cathedral.

The Parthenon, Athens  designed by Ictinus and Callicrates.

By the end of the 15th century other professionals were at work, including John Wastell who designed the great fan vault of King’s College Chapel, Cambridge.

By the 16th century, to be an architect was tom have a recognised profession; among the first to be accorded the title was Robert Smythson, who designed Hardwick Hall, Longleat and Burton Agnes; his son John was also an architect, and was responsible for Bolsover Castle.

From the 17th century, architects were able to come from relatively humble beginnings to a place at Court and in society – men like Inigo Jones, whose father was Welsh cloth-maker, and Jones’ architectural successor John Webb.

Others carved out a name for themselves in provincial towns and cities – like the Bastard Brothers – John and William – who rebuilt Blandford Forum after a fire in 1731, and William Etty of York (who was, apparently, not related to the painter of the same name).

Burton Agnes Hall, East Yorkshire, was designed by Robert Smythson. (Copyright - David Winpenny)

The big architectural names of this period – Wren, Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor – present a mixed bunch. Wren, though not trained as an architect, was so brilliant a mathematician that architecture came naturally to him; let’s count him as a player, though his father was a clergyman and eventually Dean of Windsor. Hawksmoor was definitely a player – son of a farmer and a professional architect to his fingertips. Vanbrugh, though, we might rank as an amateur – not quite a gentleman, perhaps; his father was a sugar-baker.

From the later 18th century onwards architecture became increasingly professionalised. Men like Sir Robert Taylor and James Wyatt (architect of Ripon Town Hall), as well as the Adam dynasty – William, John and, most famously Robert – who began in Scotland but, like many architects, including Colen Campbell and James Gibbs, moved to London.

By the time we get to the 19th century, architects are well-respected. Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin designed the new Houses of Parliament after the 1834 fire.

There were specialists in churches, like Butterfield, Street, Pearson and Bodley, country house architects like Nesfield, Shaw and Webb (though all these architects could do varied work) and oddities like Burges, designer of the churches at Studley Royal and Skelton-on-Ure, who was rich enough to please himself what he did.

Gilbert Scott was the archetypal architectural player, whose vast practice was facilitated by the coming of the railways.

Later architects, like Lutyens or Charles Holden, Basil Spence and James Stirling, worked to increase their practices – a trend that has continued into the 21st century.

Today we expect our architects to be professional men, whose work is remunerated properly and who will steer clients through the minefield of construction.

Some may, indeed, end with knighthoods or even peerages, but they are still the players. Perhaps the day of the ‘gentlemen’ amateurs is now over – though there are probably even now people hoping to build their own architectural visions, perhaps feeling hampered by planning law.

Next week we’ll see how the ‘Gentlemen’ of the past might provide inspiration for them.