The sun and the am­per­sand

Historian DON­ALD STAN­LEY looks at a Modernist ar­chi­tec­tural gem

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - NOSTALGIA -

IN the late 1920s Pro­fes­sor Bernard Ash­mole com­mis­sioned a young New Zealand ar­chi­tect, Amyas Con­nell, to build him a house named High & Over in Amer­sham on land that had be­longed to the Shard­e­loes Es­tate.

Y-shaped and de­signed to catch the sun it was one of the first in Bri­tain in the Modernist style, some­times de­scribed as one in which for some 80 years from the 1880s form dom­i­nated, rather than served, art in­clud­ing ar­chi­tec­ture.

The link be­tween Ash­mole and Con­nell lay in the for­mer be­ing an ar­chae­ol­o­gist and art historian and the lat­ter seek­ing to com­bine the ar­chi­tec­ture of the an­cient Ro­man world with more re­cent as seen by Cor­bus­ier.

Also, Con­nell was a stu­dent at the Bri­tish School in Rome of which Ash­mole was di­rec­tor. The aim was to cre­ate a Ro­man villa in the Modernistic style over­look­ing a bowl and a val­ley, both of which were pro­vided by the Mis­bourne Val­ley at the foot of the hill on which High & Over was built.

It was con­structed with a re­in­forced con­crete frame and was to have been set in gar­dens that would have matched the Moder­nis- tic style but it has been sug­gested that cost made it nec­es­sary to aim at some­thing less am­bi­tious and to build what be­came known as the ‘Sun Houses’ on the ap­proach to High & Over.

In 1931 it fea­tured in the Pathe film The House of a Dream and in 1973 ap­peared in John Bet­je­man’s TV doc­u­men­tary for the BBC, ‘Metro-Land’ in which it was de­scribed as ‘scan­dal­iz­ing all of Buck­ing­hamshire’.

The fre­quent spell­ing of its name with an am­per­sand sym­bol rather than ‘and’ fits the de­scrip­tion of Con­nell as an ar­chi­tec­tural provo­ca­teur.

Af­ter World War II few peo­ple could af­ford the up­keep of such a home.

It was turned into two dwellings and the grounds, which had cov­ered sev­eral acres, built over.

It was at this time that an ar­chi­tect, John Win­ter, had started to spe­cialise in restor­ing mod­ern-style houses built in the 1930s that had fallen into dis­re­pair. Af­ter train­ing in Eng­land un­der an Arts and Crafts ar­chi­tect, he had worked in Amer­ica where self-build­ing by ar­chi­tects was com­mon.

Hav­ing taught him­self the nec­es­sary trades he built his own house which be­came re­garded as an out­stand­ing ex­am­ple of his work.

Turn­ing to restora­tion he over­saw ex­ten­sive work on High & Over which was made a Grade II listed build­ing and re­verted to sin­gle own­er­ship.

Pi­o­neer­ing: High&Over in Amer­sham was built in the 1920s

View: The out­look over the Mis­bourne Val­ley

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