The living Classical tradition
A 1750s Classical country house, probably designed by William Halfpenny, has been brilliantly extended by the addition of a new hall and wing. Jeremy Musson reports
Upton House, not far from tetbury in Gloucestershire, built in 1752, is a beguiling West Country example of the compact, Classical country house with a magnificent double-height hall (Fig 1). Its story, however, does not simply rest in the Georgian era. In order to demonstrate the relevance of the Classical tradition he so admires, the present owner, Roger seelig, commissioned a new double-height hall and wing that was completed in 2005 to replace modest service buildings mostly of the late 1930s on the north side of the house. this new addition was designed by Craig Hamilton and is an original and witty response to the existing building, creating a generously scaled toplit room (Fig 2) that transforms the circulation and feel of this much-admired Cotswolds villa.
the mid-georgian upton House was built for one nathaniel Cripps, whose family had been minor landowners and magistrates in this area since the late 16th century. not much is known about nathaniel, but he left the house to his brother samuel, described as ‘of Bristol’, who was then succeeded by his son, thomas.
In A New History of Gloucestershire (1779), samuel Rudder gives a long account of the medieval history of the manor and then says of the relatively new house only: ‘thomas Cripps is the present principal inhabitant who has a good estate and an elegant new-built house in the hamlet where his family have resided for many generations and once enjoyed a larger estate than it does at present.’
upton House might be seen as an attempt to assert an old family’s status in the county. the main show front to the south-east or, for simplicity, south (Fig 4)—now the garden elevation, but originally the entrance—is a carefully modulated composition that echoes the details of certain designs pub- lished in James Gibbs’s Book of Architecture (1728), especially, perhaps, plate 54.
Its ground floor is boldly rusticated, its windows incorporating a keystone and voussoir arrangement with an almost Vanbrughian quality. Above, the tall, firstfloor windows have blind balustrades and are crowned by pediments supported on Ionic pilasters. over these is an attic storey with oval windows in the central three-bay projection of the façade. this centrepiece is crowned by a triangular pediment filled with a carved coat of arms.
perhaps the most surprising feature of the house is that none of this rich ornamentation continues onto the side elevations; the side walls have huge expanses of rubble masonry and that to the west is even enlivened by inlaid patterns of stone.
It seems from 19th-century architectural surveys that the 1752 house retained part of an earlier 17th-century building as the domestic offices. something of this is still just visible on the east side.
the identity of the original 18th-century architect of upton House is still not known for certain. Marcus Binney’s confident attribution of the house on stylistic grounds to the Bristol-based architect William Halfpenny (Country Life, February 15, 1973) has, however, since been supported by others, including nicholas Kingsley, author of the most important modern study of Gloucestershire’s country houses.
Halfpenny is most famous as a prolific producer of numerous pattern books, from the Art of Sound Building (1725) and A New and Compleat System of Architecture (1749) to Architecture Properly Ornamented (1752). Despite the resonance—even familiarity—of his name, as a result of his ener-
Fig 1: The double-storey hall of the 1750s with its fine plasterwork, which has been attributed to Joseph Thomas