‘More or less ev­ery as­pect of life was bet­ter un­der the Ge­orges’

The chair­man of the Ge­or­gian Group on why the 18th cen­tury was best

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

IDON’T live in the 21st cen­tury,’ de­clares Christopher Boyle. ‘I never have. Even from the tini­est age, I’ve al­ways been stuck some­where in the first half of the 18th.’ His re­li­gion pre­vents him from be­liev­ing in rein­car­na­tion, but he’s thought about it. ‘It’s not just the build­ings, but mu­sic, lit­er­a­ture—ev­ery­thing. I’ve been teased for laugh­ing out loud on the Tube while read­ing Alexan­der Pope.’

Den­tistry left some­thing to be de­sired 250 years ago and he ad­mits to worrying about the food, but more or less ev­ery other as­pect of life was bet­ter un­der the Ge­orges. ‘The in­ven­tion of the in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gine spelled the end of civil­i­sa­tion—that and the 1832 Re­form Act, of course.’

The chair­man­ship of the Ge­or­gian Group could have been made for him. Af­ter 18 months in post, Mr Boyle is de­light­ing in the con­ser­va­tion char­ity’s 80th an­niver­sary. I meet him in its el­e­gant W1 Adam town house, 6, Fitzroy Square (Coun­try Life, Jan­uary 25, 2017), where last month’s ex­hi­bi­tion, ‘Splen­dour!’, cen­tred on restora­tion crafts: ‘All the things you need if you’re go­ing to look af­ter or adapt an 18th-cen­tury build­ing, from lime mor­tar to scagli­ola ta­bles. It’s to de­feat the no­tion that, even if you wanted to repli­cate the best Ge­or­gian work, you couldn’t do it. We don’t be­lieve that. We know it’s not true. We can do any­thing and ev­ery­thing that was ever done be­fore.’

Square of face, with a flush of Cum­brian colour to his cheeks, Mr Boyle even looks the part— it’s easy to imag­ine him be­ing painted by Hog­a­rth. At Kirklin­ton, the es­tate that he bought a few miles south of the Scot­tish bor­der, he’s proud to be ‘an im­prov­ing squire. I plant trees. I re-im­part my park and put deer in it’.

He’s cre­at­ing a house be­hind its 1680s façade, all that sur­vives of Kirklin­ton Hall. Isn’t that a bit early for him? Per­haps, but he gave up the sug­ary el­e­gance of the mid Ge­or­gians long ago. ‘Since my early twen­ties, I’ve been solidly Kent. There’s some­thing very re­li­able and mas­cu­line about the taste at the be­gin­ning of the 18th cen­tury, which could also be lav­ish and rich.’ It was a time of ‘rum­bus­tious’ char­ac­ters, ex­pressed in nov­els such as Tom Jones and Tris­tram Shandy. ‘I like con­trast. I like con­tra­dic­tion—the mael­strom mix. You get that [from] then.’

He’s ef­fec­tively his own ar­chi­tect and the house that’s aris­ing won’t be a copy of any­thing that pre­ex­isted: by a pos­si­bly happy stroke of fate, noth­ing is known about the orig­i­nal build­ing be­yond the few walls that sur­vive. In­stead, it will ‘be im­bued with the spirit of the old in the ways that [ar­chi­tects] Det­mar Blow or Lorimer did. I have the same mind­set as the Arts-and-crafts peo­ple of the be­gin­ning of the 20th cen­tury.’

He em­ploys a team of crafts­men ‘who are not Arts-and-crafts be­cause they wouldn’t see them­selves as part of a re­vival—they just do it’. Draw­ings are made in im­pe­rial mea­sure­ments: ‘We know an inch is an inch not 2.5cm.’ The brain can’t be fooled: pan­elling made to a met­ric scale looks sub­lim­i­nally wrong.

One could as­sume that Mr Boyle is in the mould of ec­cen­tric ar­chi­tect Al­bert Richard­son, es­chew­ing 21st-cen­tury tech­nol­ogy to spend his even­ings play­ing the spinet in can­dlelit gloom, but he isn’t. He uses email, takes aero­planes. His wife and three chil­dren are on hand to keep the 18th cen­tury firmly in check. Nev­er­the­less, his com­plete fa­mil­iar­ity with the pe­riod is, he ex­plains, ‘a fun­da­men­tal driver of my whole ap­proach. Be­cause I in­habit the 18th cen­tury, I don’t see it as be­ing in as­pic, a dead arte­fact we have to leave be­hind and put in a box. It in­forms how we ex­ist to­day and can do in the fu­ture’.

Mr Boyle is still buoyed by the op­ti­mism of the Thatcher decade, which co­in­cided with his univer­sity years (at Mer­ton Col­lege, Ox­ford, where he joined the Ge­or­gian Group). ‘I don’t ac­cept the con­cept that we’re man­ag­ing re­treat. I don’t see why, if we ap­proach things in a pos­i­tive way, we can’t be just as mar­vel­lous.’

One of his joys is to see 21stcen­tury wings added to a house that was re­stored, if not newly built, in the late 20th cen­tury. ‘You see the built en­vi­ron­ment work­ing as it al­ways has— some­thing bril­liant be­ing added to some­thing that was pretty good any­way to cre­ate an even greater whole.’

His self-iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with all things Ge­or­gian comes, he says, from his Cum­brian up­bring­ing. ‘The land­scape was laid out af­ter a very late en­clo­sure award in the 1820s and hasn’t changed since. The whole place is im­bued with a late-ge­or­gian feel. It’s not a po­lite land­scape in the sense that Wilt­shire might be; it re­flects a more rough-and-ready ex­is­tence.’

When Mr Boyle left Sed­bergh, his fa­ther, a farmer, ex­plained that there was no money in farm­ing. ‘My only other in­ter­est was draw­ing pic­tures, in which there was also no money, so I stud­ied ju­rispru­dence.’ Strangely, for a lead­ing plan­ning QC at Land­mark Cham­bers, he finds law ‘ter­ri­bly te­dious’, but that’s the ad­van­tage of his spe­cial­ism: ‘There’s al­most no law to it. Most of the pub­lic-law prin­ci­ples were es­tab­lished in about 1965 and haven’t changed since. It’s about ev­i­dence, facts, ar­gu­ments and, par­tic­u­larly, ex­pert opin­ion.’ Most of his work con­cerns very large hous­ing schemes: ‘Noth­ing,’ he says in words that must de­light all le­gal ears, ‘is ever black and white.’

Few of to­day’s schemes pro­duce a Bath or an Ed­in­burgh, but why shouldn’t they? ‘If you get it right— and that’s the prob­lem, peo­ple don’t—there’s no rea­son why new­build shouldn’t be just as de­light­ful as any­thing that went be­fore.’

This is a prin­ci­ple he takes to dis­cus­sions in the Ge­or­gian Group. ‘When I come to look at new in­ter­ven­tions in the his­toric en­vi­ron­ment, I don’t ap­proach it with a mind­set that says noth­ing must change. We can go on adding lay­ers.’ Only they must be the right lay­ers. Le­gal bat­tles are of­ten fought over the de­sir­abil­ity of a devel­op­ment, with too lit­tle at­ten­tion paid to what the re­sult will look like. ‘I’d do it other way round. Devel­op­ment is needed—let’s see how to make it great.’ Clive Aslet

‘More or less ev­ery as­pect of life was bet­ter un­der the Ge­orges

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