“All great, all perfect Works from Genius flow, The British Iliad hence, and hence the Groves of Stowe.”

Stowe, The Gardens of the Right Honourable Richard Viscount Cobham

by Gilbert West (1732) (http://faculty.bsc.edu/jtatter/west.html)

Achieving Stowe this weekend was another box ticked off on a list I’ve had for a long time.  Ever since devouring books like The English Garden by Laurence Fleming and Alan Gore (1979) in my tenage years (yes, ok, maybe I should have been playing Scalextric rather than studying Garden History) many of the great gardens of England, particularly those of the landscape movement have been on my places to visit list.  They are gradually being ticked off but there are still some important ones which are still to be done, Rousham, Stourhead, Rievaulx, and until the ‘tweet-up’ last Saturday, Stowe.

What never occurred to me then was the significance of these gardens in terms of political history – most of the famous ones were created by the great Whig landowners and were used to make pointed references to their political patrons or foes or to assert their view of British constitutional history. 

The essentials to understanding the 18th century Whig outlook on the world was that they believed that monarchs were there by the grace of the great landed families – who had twice got rid of catholic monarchs with autocratic tendencies (Charles I and James II) during the English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution.  It was these landed families that had invited William III (the protestant son-in-law of James II) and Mary (James’ daughter) to share the throne together on the clear understanding that their role was as constitutional monarchs not as divine rulers.  They also believed in the inexorable march of history towards greater and greater progress – albeit with setbacks along the way – but that (in a sort of New Labour way) allowing freedom of opportunity, education and enterprise to the lower classes would bring about benefits to society, whereas their Tory (not Conservative) opponents believed that it would lead to the criminality and rioting (which, to be fair, it did quite often).  The Whigs liberalism only went so far, as they still thought the ownership of land was the only criteria for widening the electoral franchise.

Having achieved great power with William III and subsequently with George I the Whigs split with Robert Walpole’s long administration, Viscount Cobham leading one faction (the Cobhamites).  Whigs were virtually always out of power for the second half of the century through until the 1830s – George III did not like them (and the feeling was very mutual).  The King almost refused to appoint Charles James Fox as Foreign Secretary such was their shared loathing of each other. 

Stowe’s Temple of Friendship despite being ruined by fire in the 1840s is a significant political building as it was here that ‘Cobham’s Cubs’ the Viscount’s political friends met – including two future prime ministers – George Lyttleton and William Pitt (the Elder).   It’s successor is Rockingham’s Temple of Political Friendship at Wentworth Woodhouse (for further info on Rockingham and Fox’s garden temples http://www.liberalhistory.org.uk/uploads/50-Spring%25202006.pdf ).

Stowe’s Temple of British Worthies puts forward a Whig view of those who were important to British history.  Here we find the great Whig hero – John Hampden – MP for Buckinghamshire and defender of the supremacy of the House of Commons against Charles I; William III who saved Britain from James II; King Alfred – mistakenly thought to have introduced trial by jury – a Whig constitutional landmark along with Magna Carta. 

For an explanation of the gardens see: http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=wjwanPuMIWgC&pg=PA87&lpg=PA87&dq=meanings+in+whig+gardens&source=bl&ots=chZkS_iIa2&sig=2fkQhSjrm4rtx6F-jDrQjqdBh2g&hl=en&sa=X&ei=UAofT9GtGNOw8QON0pG1Dg&ved=0CB8Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=meanings%20in%20whig%20gardens&f=false

Despite it’s magnificence, Stowe suffered when the 2nd Duke got into terrible debts and most of the main house contents were sold.  Further debts led to further sales and in 1921 the last inheritor sold it off both house and garden.  A nice benefactor would have presented it to the nation (it cost him £50,000) but because he couldn’t provide a maintenance endowment it was declined!  Instead it became a school and although it inevitably suffered, it survived in better condition than many of the great country houses which became instititutions.

In 1989 the gardens were given to the National Trust  and in 1987 the house was transferred to the ownership of the Stowe House Preservation Trust.  Since 2002 Stowe House has seen major restoration projects funded through the World Monuments Fund which have enabled the restoration of the South Front, the Marble Saloon and the Library.  Funding for the Music Room has now been secured and work will begin this year.  The event on Saturday was an opportunity to see the restoration work and the landscape garden led by the WMF Britain’s Dr Jonathan Foyle via Twitter. https://twitter.com/#!/JonathanFoyle and you can see much better architectural photographs than mine at #Stowetweetup



 Enjoy the photos.

Spotting a Burton’s

The firm of Montague Burton Limited brought a new look to Britain’s high streets during the inter-war period.  The shops Burton’s opened were of a distinct style and can still be spotted today, whether or not they remain as branches of the retailer.  By 1939 Burton’s had 595 shops – predominantly new-built – which meant their style can still be spotted on many main shopping streets.

Montague Burton himself understood the importance of both window display and giving a new look to what were effectively tailors’ shops.  Instead of making them dark and exclusive like the exclusive gentleman’s retailer, Burton wanted them to feel inviting and open to the middle- and working-class young man in industrial towns.  By leasing the upper floors to Billiards Clubs, he encouraged young men to pass the shop windows and admire the merchandise.  It also provided an occupation for young men which didn’t include visiting the pub, as a teetotaler Burton was keen to encourage healthy alternatives for socialising.

In a 1925 Burton’s publication the following was said about the shops:

“Every Montague Burton shop has the same outward appearance, both in its window dressing and in the name of the firm uniformly presented in bronze lettering on fine marble.  The exterior stonework is always of emerald pearl granite, with shafts of Scotch grey granite.  The interior fittings of oak and gunmetal, quiet and dignified are the same at every branch.”

Several alternative shop front styles were later developed dependent on the prestige of the area – some continued to use Portland stone, some had granite facings and some used white terracotta.  Windows frames were reduced to a minimum (usually metal framed) to allow uninterrupted views of the clothes.

The opening of a store was an opportunity for great publicity.  An advert promoting the opening of one Lancashire store proclaimed “The palatial premises in Fleet Street erected by Montague Burton Limited are an architectural acquisition to the town, as well as another monument to the enterprise of a firm whose career is quite a romance in business.  The style of architecture adopted by the firm is unique.  It combines classic grace with chaste ornamentation…The white terra cotta of which the exterior is constructed is in striking contrast to the sombre hues of surrounding buildings, but it gives an agreeable aspect of brightness and lightness to the thoroughfare.  The window framings are in ornamental bronze, and along the top of the windows the name of the firm appears on beautiful white facia.”

Extracts from:


Many of the Burton’s stores have Egyptian decoration – which may have been influenced by the Temple Mill in Leeds built in 1841.  Burton’s huge factory was based at Hudson Road, Leeds (still extant – try Google Earth!) which became the biggest clothing factory in Europe.  The Egyptian style might also have suited Burton (no pun intended) as an appropriate middle-eastern style as he was a leading Zionist and was very proud of his Jewish heritage – he had visited Palacestine in 1933 and 1934. 



Burtons store









Where the stores aren’t branded and have changed hands, their previous incarnation is an educated guess on my part based on their architectural styles so if anyone knows these are not former Burton’s feel free to comment!

Former Burton’s store in Mansfield, Notts (above).

Leamington Spa apparently had two Burton’s


Burton Leamington shop












This small one which is still part of the Arcadia Group (formerly Burton Group Plc)



Burton shop Leamington









And this larger one (with a detail of the frieze below)



Burton shop Leamington










Burton Stafford shop









One in central Stafford (above)



Macclesfield Burton shop










A former store in Macclesfield



Burton, King's Lynn shop









And one in King’s Lynn which is still a Burton store.

For the modern Burton’s history of Montagu Burton: http://tinyurl.com/3k5zr33 and for many more images of Burton stores: http://www.flickr.com/groups/burtonsdeco/

The Aesthetic movement/stlye which began in the 1860s and can still be found in watered-down form until around 1910 is generally a little harder to pin down than the more easily quantified (and therefore more popular) Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles.  In literature and art, it is easily personified through the lifestyles and work of Oscar Wilde and James McNeill Whistler – in architecture its proponents are generally less well-known household names, though chief among them E.W. Godwin has gradually risen in prominence in recent years.  Other architects designed in the aesthetic style but used others as well – such as Richard Norman Shaw and W. E. Nesfield.   The aesthetic architectural style sometimes gets called Queen Anne revival – but it is a particularly free and loose revival if so – and although there are famous examples such as the Bedford Park suburb designed mainly by Norman Shaw and Godwin, and parts of Cheyne Walk and Tite Street, Chelsea, there are also hundreds of aesthetic movement influenced buildings around the Midlands and further afield.

Without knowing the local architects or sometimes the dates of the buildings, there are still many giveaway features which will narrow down the date of a building to c1880-1900 (and more often than not to mid-1880s) if you know the tell-tale signs, and one of these is usually applied terracotta detailing. Others are particular glazing bar arrangements, the use of red brick with narrow mortar courses or rubbed brickwork in imitation of Queen Anne and early Georgian buildings, stained and painted glass front doors, and the use of white painted spindle ballusters on porches or balconies.

The motifs found on terracotta details are often the same as those found on the decorative arts of the movement – the sunflower, the peacock feather and the lily.  As Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience put it:

“Be eloquent in praise of the very dull old days
which have long since passed away,
And convince ’em, if you can, that the reign of good Queen Anne
was Culture’s palmiest day.
Of course you will pooh-pooh whatever’s fresh and new,
and declare it’s crude and mean,
For Art stopped short in the cultivated court of the Empress Josephine.

…… Though the Philistines may jostle, you will rank as an apostle
in the high aesthetic band,
If you walk down Piccadilly with a poppy or a lily
in your medieval hand”.

aesthetic brick building Macclesfield Cheshire









A great Aesthetic building with amazing terracotta details – West Park Museum, Macclesfield, Cheshire.  Unfortunately I was there in the morning and it only opened in the afternoon.  The date is 1897, so quite late, with a terracotta bust of Victoria celebrating her Diamond Jubilee.

aesthetic movement detail








A nice aesthetic sunflower finial on what I presume to be the toplighting lantern for the gallery.


terracotta detail fakenham norfolk shop

Ten years earlier – a building in Fakenham, Norfolk with all the aesthetic hallmarks – larger numbers of glazing bars in the upper sashes, rubbed brick above the windows, and entabulature and applied pillars in moulded brick and a terracotta commemorative plaque (below) to celebrate Victoria’s Golden Jubilee and her status of Queen of the British Empire and Empress of India.


Shop terracotta fakenham norfolk












Aesthetic movement building King's Lynn Norfolk



Upper floors of two adjacent shops in King’s Lynn, Norfolk – one showing more exuberance!


And below, another King’s Lynn shop’s upper storey.  What presumably was a later Aesthetic makeover has disappeared under paint apart from the nicely detailed terracotta ballustrade.


ballustrade terracotta King's Lynn Norfolk

Aesthetic Alfreton Derbyshire



More typical Aesthetic glazing, this time in Alfreton, Derbyshire.


Cromer Norfolk








Dutch gables, red brick and dense panes in the upper sashes of the windows, with a strong vertical emphasis with the chimneys and narrow sashes.  Cromer, Norfolk.


late Victorian house Leamington










Not all is Regency in Royal Leamington Spa – this fine pair of houses show many of the typical aesthetic late Victorian features – red brick, gables, stained glass, unusual glazing bars in the upper sashes, spindle balusters to form details on the porch and tall chimneys.



terracotta Cromer Norfolk








R.W Palmer, 1893, Clarence Mews – presumably a commercial building with aesthetic styling (details below).  Cromer, Norfolk.


Cromer Norfolk

Cromer Norfolk

Cromer Norfolk aesthetic daffodil wrought iron








And nearby in Cromer, great aesthetic daffodils above a double shop front.  Very probably by the famous Norwich manufacturers Barnard, Bishop and Barnard who produced aesthetic designs in collaboration with Thomas Jeckyll  including a two storey Japanese pavilion for the 1876 Philadelphia Exhibition.  The shop fronts below.


Cromer Norfolk shop 19th century








And nearer to home (below), a Dutch gable in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire showing aesthetic pretensions. 


Bromsgrove Worcestershire gable terracotta

And following a walk around Worcester this weekend, some more examples, including a perfect Aesthetic Movement sunflower in a vase on a keystone on an 1881 building.

terracotta Worcester shop keystone sunflower

Worcester shop terracotta

shop terracotta Worcester

terracotta sunflower Worcester shop

This one in particularly untouched condition with a lovely sunflower panel between the upper windows – Foregate Street, Worcester.

And to see what they were all imitating, take a look at number four – Kew Palace (not the thumbnail)

http://www.built.org.uk/photographs/london-.html here.


There’s something about doors which make them the most important part of any building.  I suppose it’s that they enable a person to interact with a building – they are the literally the portal which enables human and building to connect.  In doing this they also give away so much information – scale, positioning, type, material will all immediately inform the user of some of what to expect from this building. 

What surprises me is that on the whole when you talk about architecture to people they think they don’t know anything about it – yet, as we all are, they are sophisticated users of buildings.  Most people would be able to tell the difference between and categorise many thousands of types of buildings.  Dropped into an unknown town in their own country, the majority of people do not become disorientated or unable to engage with strange buildings.  They have a vast knowledge which enables them to identify a station from a petrol station, a church from a school, a shop from a private house.  Few would struggle to find there way into a building (unless bad design ensured it was difficult) – but they don’t apparently know anything about architecture.

So as promised, some comments on doors I photographed in Norfolk.

King's Lynn medieval doors

Doors St Nicholas Chapel King's Lynn Norfolk gothic detail

These have to be the most stunning doors I saw all week – the amazing but redundant St Nicholas Chapel – is full of great carving and perpendicular gems.  Well cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust.  These doors are wonderfully detailed with robed figures, gothic canopies and ornate pinacles (though in need of a dust if not some other form of conservation). For more images see:


Wisbech Georgian House

A very modest early Georgian door in Wisbech (possibly a re-instatement) on what immediately struck me as one of the finest Georgian houses I saw – modest in scale but lovely in proportion and detail.  Having tried to find out more, there’s much more detail here: 


Ah well, I knew I’d never afford it, but thankfully don’t like the way the interior’s been treated.

King’s Lynn is full of gorgeous Georgian buildings, but in the less celebrated areas around London Road (not at the Old Town end of the town) some were in dire need of love – this one had been relatively well-treated, but others in the same terraces had not.  However, even small incursions into the original design (the aluminium handle, doorbell and yale lock, the badly applied numbers, the quarry tiled steps and the layers of unremoved paint clogging up the delicate mouldings) while not impacting majorly from a distance would be better removed or replaced more appropriately to let the boldness of the original design sing out.

Georgian door King's Lynn Norfolk



sheringham church

St Peter’s Church, Sheringham didn’t become the parish church until the 1950s when the older church of All Saint’s Upper Sheringham was hived off to a different parish.  St Peter’s is largely uninspiring, neither being Arts and Crafts or interesting gothic revival.  It is large and airy, but with few good details, though the doors did prompt me to take a photo – nice quality ironwork and not covered in church notices and instructions about closing them!

Door cromer aesthetic

Aesthetic door cromer



A sadder sight in Cromer – this row of what had been nice quality late 19th century houses with Aesthetic movement inspired details (terracotta tiling, complicated glazing patterns in the doors and upper sashes and dutch style attic gables) had not been well looked after.  The door on the left showed how to ruin the doors on the right, while upstairs the houses on the right had had their dutch gables on the attics rebuilt in plain triagular form and had had most of their interesting fenestration removed.  While the one on the left had had more surface treatments added (paint, pebbledash etc) there were more of the original features which could be restored.  Only one in a terrace of 5 or 6 had a trace of original railings the others had all been replaced by differing quality modern ones.



mosaic doorstep hotel Cromer Norfolk

The back entrance of the Hotel de Paris at Cromer (the most noticeable building on the seafront above the pier) with a lovely coloured mosaic doorway.  Details such as this can easily disappear (parts of this have gone in the past and it is clear that if someone hadn’t intervened the rest would have subsequently broken up) but they make an interesting building extra special and match exactly the style and period of the door they announce.

The terrazzo and mosaic floor in the entrance loggia to the 1927-8 Majestic Cinema in King’s Lynn – a building which looks fairly behind its times – having more in common with Edwardian styling than the late ’20s.

cinema King's Lynn Norfolk

Only four years later, the Wisbech Empire Cinema much more enthusiastically embraces modernity and what later would be called Art Deco (but not until the 1960s).  I didn’t see inside but apparently it’s a very good surviving interior – the exterior, though treated in unpainted stucco/render rusticated in imitation of stone blocks, is very well preserved and has some lovely details including this one on the side door.

Empire Cinema Wisbech Norfolk

The doors again reflect the Moderne design of the time.

Wisbech cinema


And finally, although the door wasn’t that interesting, the whole shopfront was – one of two shopfronts with original sunburst frosted glass panels at the top I saw in King’s Lynn.   The town has numerous good Victorian and even earlier shop fronts, so I don’t suppose this is seen as anything to take pride in, but with some care and attention, this could look like an amazing gem, rather than a waiting to be ripped out, shopfront.  We need to look after the modest architecture of the period 1914-1980 as if it’s as important as the well-known style-leading buildings of the same period.

Art Deco 1930s shop King's Lynn Norfolk sunburst

It’s always amazed me how few people seem to look at buildings in any amount of detail.  I started aged about 8 or 9 – and rather precociously joined my local Civic Society aged around 11.  I was fascinated by old buildings and what inspired me were the slide shows put on by a local man, Bill Ward, in my home town of Wigston Magna in Leicestershire, who had been photographing the area and buildings as they disappeared since at least the 1930s.  Seeing how much had disappeared and was still disappearing, I started taking my own photographs of historic local buildings – in case.   Interest in local buildings gradually translated into a fascination with architecture, and it was the strong architectural element of the History of Art course which attracted me to Sussex University.  A study trip to Rome the following easter had me well-and-truly hooked if I wasn’t already.

Although I’ve continued to photograph architecture, it is only with the purchase of a digital camera that I can now afford to capture all the minor details and quirks of modest buildings without spending a fortune on film or amassing a room full of photograph albums.   Following a tour round the Midlands in July, which really got me going, I’ve now just returned from five days in Norfolk, with another few hundred photographs and a need to share some of the best, worst, quirky and upsetting of the buildings I’ve seen which has led to the start of this blog.

Over the next few days I’ll be posting images from the trips with comments which I hope will be of interest and you’ll want to comment on or disagree with me about, or which may start completely new discussions.