A Mod­ernist cas­tle

Boldly con­ceived by a lead­ing shoe man­u­fac­turer and his wife in 1908, this house, re­cently re­stored, elicited much com­ment, as Oliver Ger­rish ex­plains Up­meads, Stafford­shire The home of Alun Rogers and Michelle Brab­bins

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Pho­to­graphs by Justin Paget

The boldly con­ceived Up­meads in Stafford­shire elicited much com­ment when it was built in 1908, says Oliver Ger­rish

Up­meads stands in the sub­urbs of stafford and has in­spired strong feel­ings, both pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive, since it was built in 1908. It was cre­ated for a re­mark­able cou­ple, Fred­er­ick and ma­bel Bo­s­tock, who were both mem­bers of the ply­mouth Brethren and shared a com­mon an­ces­tor, the Rev Wil­liam Henry dor­man, who played a ma­jor role in the for­ma­tion of this evan­gel­i­cal group.

The Bo­s­tock fam­ily founded the cel­e­brated Lotus shoe com­pany of stafford in 1759 and con­tin­ued to dom­i­nate the in­dus­trial, civic and cul­tural life of the county town. Fred­er­ick was in­ter­ested in ar­chi­tec­ture and his wife (née dor­man) had trained as an artist at the Birm­ing­ham school of art, the bas­tion of the arts-and-crafts move­ment. ma­bel’s brother, John, was a close friend of Frank Lloyd Wright.

ac­cord­ing to fam­ily tra­di­tion, the new house was an at­tempt to up­stage shawms, a nearby coun­try house that had been de­signed by H. T. sandy for Fred­er­ick’s el­der brother. It was com­pleted in 1905 and de­scribed by pevs­ner as ‘a house in the Voy­sey style—orig­i­nal in es­sen­tials but not yet out of sym­pa­thy with the past’. To de­sign Up­meads, the Bo­s­tocks turned to the arts-and-crafts ar­chi­tect edgar Wood, who was of Uni­tar­ian stock, a founder of the North­ern art­work­ers Guild and a friend of Charles Ren­nie mack­in­tosh.

It is not quite clear how they chose him, but fam­ily tra­di­tion states that he was rec­om­mended by Sandy af­ter his own pro­pos­als for a house were re­jected as be­ing in­suf­fi­ciently bold. What­ever the case, in the long run, Ma­bel came both to dis­like the ar­chi­tect and the home he cre­ated for her.

The name of the house is prob­a­bly bor­rowed from a medieval story, The Well at the World’s

End, writ­ten in 1896 by Wil­liam Morris, which refers to ‘the lit­tle hills of Up­meads’. This as­so­ci­a­tion pre­sum­ably ex­plains the cas­tle-like air of the build­ing, which is planned on a square foot­ing and has bold mass­ing rem­i­nis­cent of Van­burgh. It’s also Wood’s most con­fi­dent at­tempt at a fla­troofed house, which be­gan with 36, Mel­lalieu Street (1906) in Mid­dle­ton, Manch­ester, and was then fol­lowed by Dal­nyveed (1907) in Hert­ford­shire, a house of­ten mis­taken for Up­meads.

The whole is con­structed of 2in Stafford­shire brick, hard burnt and of bro­ken pur­ple and grey-red tones, with dress­ings of Bath stone (Fig 5). In­ci­den­tally, the bricks are not laid in a reg­u­lar bond with head­ers and stretch­ers, as you would ex­pect in a build­ing of qual­ity. Rather, they are all placed with the long side of the brick fac­ing out­wards laid as stretch­ers. The house was built by Es­p­ley & Sons of Stafford.

Up­meads is ap­proached from a right an­gle at the end of a straight drive. The house emerges sud­denly on the left from be­tween two lodge-like build­ings that for­merly ac­com­mo­dated a garage and ser­vices. Orig­i­nally, these were both of a sin­gle storey, the garage block hav­ing been height­ened by an­other storey soon af­ter com­ple­tion to ac­com­mo­date the chauf­feur. The main front is im­pos­ing and re­strained, with a cen­tral door­way. This bold and avant-garde façade was akin to the new work of Wal­ter Gropius and Adolf Meyer for their in­dus­trial clients. A draw­ing of the entrance front of Up­meads was ex­hib­ited at the Royal Academy in 1908.

Gouged out above it is a three-bay re­v­erse bow (Fig 1), a fea­ture that calls to mind the work of Wood’s con­tem­po­rary Josef Hoffmann, in his work at the Palais Sto­clet in Brus­sels. Sur­mount­ing the whole is a wide tower, which is vis­ually con­nected to the lower level of the façade by a ver­ti­cal band of stone that in­cor­po­rates the front door and two win­dows.

Over the door is a carved mo­tif sug­ges­tive of a portcullis with the date 1908 and, above this, is a boldly carved dec­o­ra­tive panel in­cor­po­rat­ing Fred­er­ick’s and Ma­bel’s ini­tials. Wood had vis­ited Spain in 1908, which may have been an in­flu­ence for his in­ter­est in geo­met­ric pat­terns.

Fig 1 above: The curved entrance bow. Above the door is a pat­tern like a portcullis and the date 1908. Carved in the stonework are the ini­tials of the builders and a Span­ishin­spired pat­tern. Fig 2 right: A view to­wards the cen­tral hall, with its ot­toman

Fig 3 above: The mar­ble fire­place and pan­elling of the prin­ci­pal bed­room. Fig 4 left: One of the bed­rooms pre­serves its orig­i­nal wall­pa­per, pos­si­bly to a de­sign by Klimt

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