Canons Ashby Northampshire
THE natural urge of the English towards building is never long suppressed, but generally makes its reappearance as prosperity returns to the country. During the early and middle years of the seventeenth century the resources of the upper classes had, on the whole, been far too depleted for much activity in this sphere, but with the dawn of a period of agricultural prosperity (for the rich at least) at the opening of the eighteenth century, English landlords were able to indulge themselves in a small orgy of building which the wars of the reign of Queen Anne hardly seemed to check. An immense enthusiasm for architecture now permeated the upper classes No young man's education was considered complete until he had acquired at least some smattering of the mistress art, while the Grand Tour, that inevitable climax to the education of a young gentleman of position and hallmark of social status, was devoted as much to the study of the architectural masterpieces of the Continent as to the acquisition of poise and polish in the world of manners.
This amateur cult of knowledge, so admirable a thing in itself, was destined to have a somewhat sterilizing effect on architectural wall panelling and oak panelling development in this country. No longer could the evolution of style be left to the natural impulse of the builder; under the influence of fashion it became a more complex and self-conscious process. The traditional vernacular, which had so easily withstood the surface elaboration of the Early Renaissance and even the cultured innovations of Inigo Jones and Webb, had found a new vitality at the hands of Wren and his followers-a vitality which, had it been left to develop on its own lines, might well have produced one of the most gracious and distinctive schools of Renaissance practice. As it was, the pendulum of fashion was allowed to swing once more in the Palladian direction; Wren was of set purpose ignored, and Jones and his master came again, after a lapse of half a century, to be regarded as the oracles of English taste. Kent published his Designs of Inigo Jones in 1727, and the Palladian movement was embarked on its triumphant second career.
At its best it was a gracious style, admirably adapted to the social requirements of the rich; and even to-day it is remarkable how its products, founded upon the stucco splendours of Vicenza, adapt themselves to the cooler climate of the English country. As a movement it was carried forward on a surge of amateur enthusiasm and activity, but professional architects were quick to adapt themselves to the needs of patrons, and a "school" came into being with extraordinary rapidity. The animating spirit was Richard Boyle, Earl of Burlington (1695-1753), an "amateur" of genuine talent and vision, a man of wealth and position and a munificent patron of the arts. This cultured Maecenas, surrounded by his eager band : Campbell, Leoni, Kent, with Palladio as their god,Jones as their prophet and The Book of Architecture as their bible : may be allowed the credit for first inoculating English architecture with the virus of revival that was to be at once its weakness and its charm. Not content merely to emulate Palladio's severe forms, they sometimes went so far as to adopt his actual plans ; thus both Mereworth Castle in Kent, designed by Colin Campbell about I72o, and Chiswick Villa, designed by Burlington with the assistance of Kent some seven years later, were closely modelled on the Villa Capra at Vicenza.
Montacute, Somerset, Ground Plan (1580)
The wall panelling and oak panelling design, though well suited to the abundant sunshine of the Plain of Lombardy, seemed less happy among the English hedgerows, consisting as it did of a central circular hall rising high into a dome (from the windows of which came its only light), while around it were grouped the reception rooms, the whole forming on plan a compact square. At Mereworth, the nearest of the two to the original, there is a deeply-projecting portico in the centre of each facade, so that the majority of the outer rooms are denied direct sunlight. At Chiswick the porticoes were discarded except on the entrance side, but only in this respect is it superior to its twin, for with its small scale and crowded detail the effect is amusing rather than architecturally satisfactory. Campbell produced far sounder work when clinging less desperately to Palladian precedent. Houghton Hall in Norfolk (8 5), for instance, which he designed for Prime Minister Walpole about 1720, consisting of a substantial central block with a dome at each corner supported by pavilions connected with the house by long arcades, has real strength and individuality of design, and suffers from none of that deadness that is the inevitable corollary of close copy. Campbell will always be remembered as the compiler of the first three volumes of Vitruvius Britannicus, an inaccurate, partial but nevertheless extremely interesting illustrative record of domestic building during the earlier eighteenth century.
Wiston Park, Sussex
Campbell, though something of a slave to architectural wall panelling and oak panelling fashion, achieved in his buildings an "Anglicization" of Palladianism that contrasts with the more polished and Italianate manner of Giacomo Leoni. Leoni (circa 1686-1746) was in fact a Venetian brought to London by Burlington to assist in the preparation of an edition of the works of Palladio, but he soon acquired an English practice, among his major works being the stately Moor Park in Hertfordshire and the south front of Lyme Park in Cheshire (94), both completed about 172o. Leoni had more virtuosity, more certainty of touch, perhaps, than Campbell,qualities that appear triumphantly in these two houses ; nevertheless there is something lacking that the less accomplished Englishmen could often provide : a warmth, a humanity, a sympathy for the surroundings. If the Italians could build palaces for princes, it 'was the supreme talent of the English architects that their houses wall panelling and oak panelling supplied fitting accommodation for country gentlemen.
A rather clumsy bleakness was perhaps the worst error into which the English Palladians were prone to fall. Ditchley in Oxfordshire (84) and Studbooks Park near Richmond, both designed by James Gibbs (1689-1754), show something of this tendency in the paucity of their external decoration and the grimness of their outlines, while much the same criticism can be made of the vast houses of Henry Flitcroft (1697-1769)Wentworth Woodhouse in Yorkshire (89) and Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire-and of the work of Isaac Ware. Even William Kent (1684-1748), the most brilliant of Burlington's band, was not always above criticism in this respect. If the Horse Guards in Whitehall is a work of consummate skill and refinement, the exterior of Holkham in Norfolk (which was completed by Brettingham after his death) carries austerity to surprising lengths (98). Built of white brick, with thin cornices and shallow stone pediments, superficial ornament is entirely lacking and the whole effect is only saved from active ugliness by the excellence of the proportions. Perhaps, one feels, Kent deliberately struck this grim external note to enhance the interior wall panelling and oak panelling magnificence of the reception rooms, which are among the finest of the eighteenth century and still, fortunately, embellished by the original splendid if monumental furniture (88).
So much is heard throughout the earlier eighteenth century of the fashionable architect and his larger products that one is apt to forget that other work was done. As a matter of fact builders all over the country had never been more active in raising "middling" houses for the smaller squires and members of the rising professional classes. However remotely situated from the capital, the country builder could now keep in constant touch with metropolitan development by subscribing to the stream of architectural wall panelling and oak panelling pattern-books that began to flow at this time. With the aid of these, a competent artisan could erect a building from basement to attic without a single original idea of his own ; all the necessary information was supplied in elevation and plan, down to the detail of doorways, staircases and chimney-pieces.
In view of this it remains something of a mystery that the smaller Palladian house is such a rarity; for the pattern-books, with hardly an exception, were dogmatically Palladian in principle. But the fact remains that throughout most of the eighteenth century country builders persisted in the pleasant tradition established by Wren, in the quiet dignity of their productions in brick or stone largely eschewing the vicissitudes of metropolitan fashion until their manner became submerged beneath the facile stucco of the Regency. Thus the Wren vernacular lingered unobtrusively in country places side by side with the productions of Palladianism wall panelling and oak panelling and of the Classic Revival, and has happily set its seal upon the architecture of many villages and most country towns. Despite the undoubted popularity enjoyed by the pattern-books, such compact Palladian examples as Boreham House in Essex and Great Marlow Place must be taken as the exception rather than as the rule.
Longford Castle, Wiltshire