The sun and the ampersand
Historian DONALD STANLEY looks at a Modernist architectural gem
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