Ar­chi­tec­ture Wan­der­ing Ar­chi­tects

Country Life Every Week - - Books -

Michael Drury (Shaun Tyas, £35)

I’m pleased to see the reis­sue of this book, first pub­lished in 2000, which I bought at great cost when it was out of print. many readers will en­joy the sub­ject mat­ter: that of the Art­sand-crafts move­ment. The au­thor charts the sto­ries of 15 or so ar­chi­tects who at­tempted to live ac­cord­ing to the teach­ings of John Ruskin and Wil­liam mor­ris. It was a hard row to hoe and the nar­ra­tive ex­plores an un­usu­ally wide range of emo­tion for a work of ar­chi­tec­tural his­tory: tri­umph, catas­tro­phe and love in­ter­est are all here.

I’m not sure that the ti­tle does the book many favours. Ar­chi­tects of this school did some­times travel as itin­er­ant crafts­men and there are some good para­graphs on the vogue for gypsy car­a­vans, favoured by Det­mar Blow and his client Pamela Ten­nant, as well as by Toad of Toad Hall be­fore the ad­vent of his mo­tor­cars. Pamela’s was called Trav­eller’s Joy. (It was not the only kind of joy that she shared with Blow, for whom she had an in­fat­u­a­tion, nor was she the only client’s wife to be smit­ten by a ro­man­tic ar­chi­tect.)

How­ever, wan­der­ing was not the prin­ci­pal qual­ity that these ide­al­ists had in com­mon; some, like Her­bert North and Harold Falkner, trav­elled lit­tle and, once the Barns­leys and oth­ers had come to rest in the Cotswolds, they hardly budged. In­deed, their root­ed­ness is part of their charm. Still, there’s a great deal to en­joy in this schol­arly vol­ume, in­clud­ing the best ac­count of Blow’s life in pub­lished form.

Blow’s life was a Shake­spearean tragedy, whose de­noue­ment fol­lowed his over-re­liance on the cruel, self-in­dul­gent Ben­dor, 2nd Duke of West­min­ster: what Blow called ‘the devil’s but­tons’ (money) were his un­do­ing. As an artist, he at­tempted to rise above such petty con­cerns, but, as other artists have found, ig­nor­ing an un­pleas­ant ne­ces­sity doesn’t mean it goes away.

There is much striv­ing, many tribu­la­tions and ul­ti­mately some fail­ure in this book. The ideals that the ar­chi­tects set them­selves were too high, the so­ci­ety in which they worked too ob­du­rate. How­ever, in some ways, par­tic­u­larly their rev­er­ence for an­cient build­ings, they con­di­tioned the aes­thetic of the mod­ern world.

Al­fred Pow­ell ac­tu­ally lived un­til 1960, dy­ing at the age of 95. A pity more of them could not have seen the dawn of that decade; its lib­er­ated ex­u­ber­ance might have suited some of them bet­ter than the ed­war­dian era. Clive Aslet

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