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adventures in architecture Posts

Chenies Manor House (1460)

Last week we went for a pre-lockdown visit (exterior and gardens only) to Chenies Manor House near Chorleywood. The building has an intriguing history due to its multiple alterations over the centuries, and was memorably described by Pevsner as ‘archaeologically, a fascinating puzzle’. Time Team shed some light on this a few years back, but the puzzle to some degree remains unsolved. My course only touches on secular Tudor/Jacobean buildings, and I’m keen to come back this period; for now, here are some pics:

Chenies Manor House
The Manor that’s Back-to-Front (Time Team episode on Chenies)

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Church of Christ the King, Bloomsbury (1850)

The other morning I caught Christ the King, Bloomsbury bathed in dramatic light. Pausing to take the photo below, I had another go at applying the skills learned on my course to the church’s exterior.

Church of Christ the King, Bloomsbury

Early English Gothic revival was my first guess. Why? Firstly, age: the honey-coloured ashlar is insufficiently weathered, so it’s plainly not old enough to be a medieval gothic church. We haven’t yet reached the Victorian period on our course, so I don’t yet feel confident identifying the nuances that would place it firmly of that age, though from earlier studies of the variations of gothic architecture, Christ the King seems be Early English Gothic in style.

What makes it so? Most apparent are the narrow, plain, lancet windows with little-to-no tracery, typical of the Early English Gothic style of the late 12th and early 13th centuries (see my previous post on Wells Cathedral). Supporting the structure’s weight are a series of external buttresses, an invention from the same period. However, the south transept rose widow, uncommon in England at the time, nods to the later English Decorative style, though its design here seems a little perfunctory, another clue perhaps to this being an imitation of an earlier style.

And the answer is (according to Wikipedia)…

Early English Neo-Gothic in style and cruciform in plan, the church was built by Raphael Brandon between 1850 and 1854 (with Brandon’s interior designed in 1853) for the Victorian church movement the Catholic Apostolic Church (also known as “Irvingites”). It is built of Bath stone, with a tiled roof. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_Christ_the_King,_Bloomsbury

So I wasn’t too far off (though if I had to put a year on it I’d have probably said nearer 1900). The article also notes (citing the church’s entry in the Dictionary of National Biography) that:

‘… this extremely large church was criticized by a contemporary for its lack of originality of design. Recent scholars, however, have drawn attention to the combination of 13th- and 15th-century Gothic precedents in its design,’

Both points of which tie with my initial impression … so I must be learning something!

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The Rookery, Congress House, Bloomsbury

Many years ago when working in central London I’d spend lunchtimes exploring Bloomsbury, its bookshops and squares, its Georgian terraces and modernist university blocks. I remember the front of Congress House (1956), with its Bernard Meadows sculpture, though don’t think I’d ever ventured around the side of the building until recently, when I was surprised to see what appeared to be a recently renovated entrance:

The Rookery, Congress House
The Rookery, Congress House

Named ‘The Rookery’, the project was completed in 2018 with the purpose of offering commercial office space while updating the rundown rear entrance and staff facilities. It’s a colourful, curvaceous addition to some rather grey backstreets, with a touch of the art-deco-ocean-liner aesthetic upstairs, though I don’t think the architects would thank me for saying that the projecting row of perpendicular windows remind me of the old restaurant spanning the M1 at Leicester Forest East services (the height of sophisticated dining in 1966).

Architecture Today notes that the ‘undulating side elevation on Dyott Street is … exuberant in form, with a complex composition of contrasting curves and volumes’. However, it was intriguing to find that the curving of the updated facade still follows original architect David Aberdeen’s plan, which was itself influenced (constrained?) by the slightly acute intersecting angle where Dyott Street meets Bainbridge Street.

By coincidence I happened at time to be reading about St Giles Rookery, the infamous 19th century slum that once occupied this area, in David Olusoga’s A House Through Time, which explains how the building of New Oxford Street cut through the slum and would eventually lead to its ‘clearing’. The narrow street layout north of New Oxford Street, however, remained the same (with some renaming). So fascinating to see that while the slum has gone, some of the Rookery’s street layout is still there, influencing architectural decisions in the 21st century …

architecturetoday.co.uk/the-rookery/

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Sketch of Blickling Hall (1619)

I found an old sketch I did of Blickling Hall (1619) on a trip to Norfolk, where I also wrote an article about it and visited nearby Felbrigg Hall (1620).

Blickling Hall, built in 1619-20 by Robert Lyminge, who was also responsible for Hatfield House.

Both houses claim to be designed by Robert Lyminge, though Lyminge‘s claim to Felbrigg appears to apply largely to the Jacobean entrance front, as much of the rest was altered in the 18th and 19th centuries. Lyminge’s involvement with Blickling is greater documented, and he was buried in the churchyard there in 1628.

Also particularly memorable from that trip to Blickling was the rather creepy pyramid mausoleum built for the Hobart family in 1793. I didn’t have time to sketch that – but you can read about it here.

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