Blueprint For Design

Pensive, I view’d a sacred pile, of late Which falls, like man, to rise, in nobler state.

Aaron Hill

The Scottish Roman Catholic architect James Gibbs, was originally destined for the priesthood, planning to study at the Scots College in Rome. Changing his mind he went on to study architecture in Rome instead. He was the first British architect to receive a professional training abroad, under the tutelage of Carlo Fontana, who mainly worked in Rome. Fontana had started his training as pupil to Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Petro (Berrettini) da Cortona and Carlo Rainaldi. Gibbs was also taught by Pietro Francesco Garoli, Professor of Perspective at the Accademia di San Luca, where Carlo Fontana had been Principal. Gibbs took advantage of his time in Italy to make a living by producing drawings of the antiquities for visiting British nobility and gentry, who were on the Grand Tour. This work and networking proved to be very advantageous to his future career when he returned home. It was John Erskine, Earl of Mar, who contributed financially for Gibbs’ studies in Rome and provided employment for him on his return in 1708, carrying out alterations to his Whitehall house.

Gibbs was more successful than his fellow architects in using his publications and work, to further his career and reputation as an architect. He was the first architect to publish his own designs in A Book of Architecture, Containing designs of buildings and ornaments (1728). It was a pattern book of his buildings and monuments, his designs were adaptable, so the book included variations to the existing designs. These were used to build churches throughout the Country and the world. His publications were highly remunerative, which was unusual for the period. He also benefitted financially from the sale of plates and copyright from The Rules for Drawing the Several Parts of Architecture (1732), long after its publication.

His first public building on returning from Italy was for the Commission for Building Fifty New Churches. Having friends in high places certainly helped. It was the Earl of Mar, a fellow Catholic Scot, who brought him to the attention of Robert Harley, first Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer who happened to be Queen Anne’s chief minister. It was as a result of his training and his network of friends that the Commissioners appointed him as a surveyor in 1713. Gibbs designed the new St Mary le Strand, gaining inspiration from London architecture and influence from St Paul’s Cathedral. After all Wren did champion his cause to be appointed surveyor. The construction of the new £16,000 church began in 1714 and was important as it occupied a prominent location opposite Somerset House and visible from the Thames. Unfortunately with the succession of a new Hanovaroian King and a Whig government coming to power; and the association with the Earl of Mar, he only completed one church. Mar had fled to France as the government had passed a Writ of Attainder for treason against him, for his prominent position in the Jacobite rising of 1715. Though Gibbs was to loose his position with the Commission due to the change in governance, the work he undertook for them would play an important part in his future career, he was now part of the Tory inner circle.

In 1711 John Holles, first Duke of Newcastle had purchased the Marylebone Estate. The estate land was originally the extensive Manor of Tyburn, but when the old Tyburn church was relocated in 1400, the the new church was named St Mary-la-Bourne, which ultimately became corrupted to St Marylebone. Shortly after the purchase the property passed to Newcastle’s daughter and heir Lady Henrietta Cavendish Holles who happened to marry Edward Harley the only son of Robert Harley. It was because of Gibbs’ connection to the Harley family that he became a sort of architectural advisor, and also designed buildings for this new Cavendish-Harley estate. The area extends from Oxford Street and the Marylebone Road and is now known as the Howard de Walden Estate.

The estate’s development was incredibly slow taking nearly 60 years to complete, due mainly to financial problems brought about by the collapse of the South Sea Bubble in 1720. Gibbs designed the Oxford Chapel on Vere Street in 1722 (completed 1724), located on the west side of the estate, which proved to be a smaller version of his masterpiece of St Martin-in-the-Fields; which he was building at the same time. In 1832 the chapel was dedicated to St Peter, and later in the century the Stained glass windows designed by Edward Burne-Jones and made by Morris & co were introduced. Since 1982-3 the chapel has been transformed into office space for the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

While working on the Cavendish-Harley Estate, Gibbs purchased leases for building plots on Henrietta Street (now Henrietta Place). He designed and built four houses (No. 5, 9, 10 & 11), one as a future home and the others for investment. These were under construction while he was completing St Martin-in-the -Fields. Unfortunately these properties no longer exist as they were demolished in the 1950s. Elements of the drawing room from the first floor of No 11 were saved and given to the Victoria & Albert Museum. The room is on view in the British Galleries as Room 54 Henrietta Street Room. The room was reconstructed and the missing pieces reproduced using James Gibbs’ original drawings, from the museum’s Print Room. This is the only remaining example of an interior design by Gibbs.

St Martin-in-the-Fields

In 1720 Gibbs was successful with a winning design for the competition to design a replacement for a decaying church in Westminster. There has been a church on the site since some time between 1086 and 1154. Throughout the Tudor period the original church was rebuilt and refurbished. With an increase in population the church was enlarged on the north, south and west sides and a chancel was added during the early 1600s. Newspapers contained notices advising relatives to remove bodies and monuments for their interment elsewhere. Remaining monuments were reinstalled in the crypt of the finished church.

The Bishop of Salisbury laid the foundation stone on the King’s behalf on the 19th March 1721 and it was completed in 1726 and proves that Gibbs was an exceptionally talented artist.

St Martin-in-the-Fields Viewed from Trafalgar Square

The Exterior

The church’s design is reminiscent of a cross between a basilica (Roman public building), and a Roman temple; both of which Gibbs would have had first hand knowledge from his time in Rome. It is significant that the design pays homage to these original public buildings, which would have been located in a prominent part of the town, especially as St Martin’s was on the Royal processional route to the City of London.

The church is built of Portland stone with a leaded roof. The rectangular body of the building has at the eastern end a hexastyle portico, with eight giant Corinthian columns supporting a pedimented entablature; the tympanum contains the Royal Arms of George I.

The Pedimented Entablature with Royal Arms of George I

The outer surface of the building is divided into bays by Corinthian order pilasters. Between the bays are two tiers of semicircular arched windows with the iconic Gibbs surround.

Arched Window with the Iconic Gibbs Surround

The staged steeple is located on the roof behind the portico. The first stage is square with a circular window on each side. The second stage is also square with an arched Gibbs surround window on each side, the corners are topped with urns. The next stage has clock faces topped with semicircles. The fourth stage changes to an octagonal belvedere with decorative finials supporting a small octagonal spire, with a series of circular openings topped with a ball and weather-vane.

The Steeple of St Martin-in-the-Fields

The Church Interior

Interior Plan

The Ceiling

The beautiful embellished elliptical vaulted ceiling is divided into panels decorated in ornate stucco. The stucco work was carried out by Giuseppe Artari and Giovanni Bagutti. Their work was highly sort after and Gibbs employed them on several occasions, including to work on his houses in Henrietta Street.

A Section of the Elliptical Vaulted Ceiling

There are large Corinthian columns dividing the nave from the aisles. These columns stand on high panelled pedestals, supporting the galleries over both aisles, and between the columns semi circular arches form vaulted spandrels.

A View of the Corinthian Columns

A Corinthian Column

The Pews

Gibbs’ original design was for pews only in the galleries. By 1758 temporary high backed pews were introduced, and in 1799 the whole church had permanent high backed seating, the same height as the column’s pedestals. Alterations to the seating took place during the 19th century.

Four Views of Pews

The doors on the end of the pews were opened by the Parish Beadle at half-a-Crown a time.

The Organ

King George I provided a Christopher Schrider organ costing £1,500, it was sold to St Mary’s Wotton-Under-Edge Gloucestershire for £200 in 1799 when the interior alterations were undertaken. Its replacement was changed in 1853 and after long service this organ was finally replaced in 1990 by the present Walker Organ with over 3,000 pipes.

The Walker Organ

The Pulpit

The 18th century pulpit is the work of local craftsmen. It was originally located on the north side of the church. During the 19th century when the interior was changed the pulpit was altered and moved to its present position. Originally the hexagonal oak pulpit supported on a highly moulded hexagonal stem, was a three decker, the lower positions and the sounding board were removed. The panels are covered in carved foliated and escalloped designs, underneath are cherub’s heads. the sweeping stairs have three spiral balusters to a trend and the newels are miniature columns.

Views of the Pulpit

The Font

The beautiful font dates from 1689 and was originally presented by William Bridgeman to the old St Martin’s church. The elliptical font is made of grained marble, and the basin is supported on a spiral fluted and foliated pedestal. The font came with a carved oak cover, in 1845 a churchwarden sold it , luckily it was recovered from an antique dealer.

The Marble Font

The East Window

During World War II the original window was shattered and the replacement is the work of Iranian artist Shirazeh Houshiary. The Venetian window consists of a stainless steel grid with handmade glass panels etched with a feathery pattern. The grid is distorted to form a cross with a large central elliptical pane allowing light to burst through.

The East Window above the Alter

The Ever Open Door

It was in 1915 when it became known as “the Church of the Ever-Open Door”, the then Vicar Dick Sheppard an uncoventional figure provided refuge for the soldiers leaving for France and for the homeless. The church providing care for the needy and homeless continues to the present day. The church is famous for its Christmas appeals and was a founding member of Amnesty International, Shelter and The Big Issue among others. It has a world renowned chamber ensemble the Academy of St Martin in the Fields. It has a full calendar with concerts and music events given by internationally know musicians, some are free and many are online.

All the photos, drawings and plans are the work of the author and as such remain her copyright.

Monuments to Enterprise

In 1693 a man was born who would change the country’s postal service and create the City of Bath as we know it.

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Ralph Allen

Ralph Allen was from Cornwall and from a very early age he helped his grandmother run the St Columb’s post office. In 1708 he went to work for Joseph Quash, the Exeter post master. About a year later Quash was granted the contract to extend the cross post between Exeter and Oxford via Bath. When Mrs Mary Collins, the post mistress of Bath, resigned in 1712 over allegations of nepotism, Allen was appointed in her place. Allen built his reputation on hard work and honesty, gaining the friendship and backing of notable people. In 1715 Allen came across a Jacobite plot and informed General George Wade who successfully confiscated a shipment of arms and horse from the West. Wade built a house in Bath and was elected MP for Bath in 1722.

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General George Wade’s House with the later Regency Shop Front 

Wade’s house dates from about 1720 and is architecturally important as it is the first house in Bath to use the Palladian giant order. There is no documentary evidence as to who was the original architect, various names have been put forward such Thomas Greenway who was probably responsible for an adjoining property. Lord Burlington has also been mentioned simply because he designed Wade’s house in Cork Street London.

In 1718 the Countess of Kingston was granted the lease of the Post House in Lilliput Alley, on a property dating from c1620. Ralph Allen became the subtenant in the same year and ran his business from the building. In 1720 he successfully negotiated his first contract with the General Post Office for taking over the cross post between Exeter and Oxford and all bye-posts. The contracts were renewable every seven years, which he did up until his death. He completely reformed the postal service, opening up more routes, allowing mail to be delivered efficiently and securely throughout England, eventually without having to go via London. In the beginning he ran the business at a loss, but as time went on and he introduced his new methods he became a wealthy man.

Allen a young man with a head for business, created his own luck, he was the right person in the right place at the right time. He married his first wife in 1721, Elizabeth the daughter of a London merchant and his fortunes were on the rise. When Wade became MP, he was able to help Allen, as a result Allen became chief treasurer of the Avon Navigation Scheme in 1725. The scheme was to improve access between the Port of Bristol and Bath by deepening the river, bringing down the cost and ease of transporting goods. It would also provide an alternative means of transport for potential visitors to the spa resort, especially when the road system was dangerous and impassable at times. The same year saw him become freeman of the city and a member of the council.

Ralph Allen’s Town House

In 1722 Ralph Allen acquired the lease on the Post House in Lilliput Alley. He built a north wing, which was originally attached, at a right angle so its principal front faces east and overlooked a large garden. The new Palladian front contained a rusticated ground floor with a central wide arch with narrow arched openings on either side. Above this is a large central arched window with rectangular windows on either side there are blind balustrades at the base of each window. There are three smaller windows on the second floor, sandwiched by four columns with moulded bases on plain pedestals with Corinthian capitals. The steeply pitched triangular pediment is framed by a modillioned cornice with three acroterial ornaments of stone balls. The centre contains a small circular opening surrendered by elaborate scrolled foliage. From the windows he could view Claverton Down. There is a pen and ink 18th century drawing showing the town house as a U shaped mansion with wings on either side, this has been disputed for making the property grander and larger than it actually was. At a later date it was subdivided into three properties, the original Post House became 1 and 2 North Parade Passage; the detached north wing is now known as the Ralph Allen Town House.

In 1726 Allen bought land south of the River Avon, which included the Combe Down followed by Bathampton Down mines in 1727. These underground workings had been used since Roman times to extract Oolite limestone for building. The stone had to be mined rather than quarried, this hilly area around Bath was a mass of honeycombed excavations. The top layer of stone was suitable for paving and the Lower layers could be used for building, but the process was not straightforward. Though the stone is relatively easy to extract, because it is soft and can be sawn in any direction, it needs after care. The honey coloured stone must be allowed to mature in the open air for weeks so the water drains away. The stone dries out and becomes a pale white or grey colour. When building a wall the stone must be laid in the same position as it was extracted from the mine or otherwise it will crack and decay.

Allen experienced a very negative response to Bath stone when he tried to obtain the contract to supply building material for Greenwich Hospital in 1728. The Governors preferred the cheaper Portland Stone. To counteract this negativity he needed to undertake a large building project to show off the versatility of the stone closer to home.

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Principal Front of Prior Park

Prior Park was designed by John Wood the Elder based on designs by Andrea Palladio. The property would consist of a central house with wings on either side connected by arcades. The wings would be used for administration of his postal business and stables. The principal front is the north facade overlooking the park where the ground falls away down to lake. The Portico has six giant columns with an additional full column on either return and a half column against the building wall. The columns have moulded bases and the plain shafts are topped with Roman Corinthian capitals. These support an entablature with a triangular pediment. The balustrade on the parapet flanks either side of the triangular pediment and is above each window, which is segmented by a plain solid section.  The whole house would be used to publicise the wonders of Bath stone. Every Thursday afternoon he opened the grounds to the public to showcase the wonders of Bath Stone. The beautiful gardens were full of ornate features and statues as examples of the stones versatility.

Bath Stone can vary in type and from quarry to quarry, therefore the stone proved to be versatile. Once the Kennet and Avon canal was completed in November 1810, it enabled a more efficient and cost effective means of transporting the quarried stone to London. Its use for building in London and beyond became more wide spread.

Unfortunately Prior Park ended Allen and Wood’s friendship and working relationship. Wood’s design was in the style of a Palladian villa and based to some extent on Colen Campbell’s Wanstead House design, which appeared in Vitruvius Britannicus (1715), and was never built. Wood’s design was altered by Richard Jones the Clerk of Works, causing an argument between Wood and Allen, resulting in Wood’s dismissal. Jones completed to his own design the east wing as one pavilion instead of two, and completely changed the west wing’s intended appearance as a Palladian agricultural building.

Allen purchased the lower slopes in 1743 and created the lakes and Richard Jones built a Palladian Bridge in 1755. This is a copy of the bridge at Wilton Wiltshire designed by Robert Morris (1737), and to a lesser extent the bridge at Stowe in Aylesbury Vale Buckinghamshire attributed to James Gibbs (1738). The roofed bridge has two end pavilions with an open colonnade with four Ionic columns on either side. Unlike Wilton the width between the middle columns on either side is wider. Also the ceiling is plain plaster with a simple entablature, whereas Wilton’s ceiling is coffered and the entablature is carved.

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Palladian Bridge

The Open Colonnade and the Ionic Columns

In 1830 Prior Park became a Catholic College it has endured two fires, the first severely damaged the interior in 1836, which was rebuilt using the salvaged interior of Huntstrete House, Marksbury Somerset. The major damage to the building was a result of the 1991 fire. It started in the roof and the downward destruction eventually obliterated the roof, third floor and a majority of the second floor. Half of the first floor and two thirds of the ground floor survived. The massive work of reconstructing the building was undertaken and completed in 1995.

Prior Park college is a Catholic independent co-educational public school and the  28 acres of landscaped gardens and pleasure grounds have been the property of the National Trust since 1993.

Allen moved into Prior Park in 1735 living in one wing while the work progressed on the main block. Two years later he purchased Bathampton Manor the home of his second wife’s family, it became the residence of his brother Philip Allen (1694-1765). Later he built a house in Weymouth as a summer residence for his wife. The final edition to his property portfolio was Claverton Manor. Ralph Allen purchased Claverton Manor for £18,000 in 1752 as it adjoined Prior Park and consisted of 1300 acres, a great edition to his landscaped park. Though he did not live in the Elizabethan manor House he occasionally used it as a entertainment venue.

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The American Museum

In 1817 John Vivian, a barrister purchased the manor and built a large house above the village. This new Claverton Manor is now the American Museum. The original property was not maintained and ultimately demolished in 1823. The remains of the original manor house’s terrace garden is grade 11* listed. The lower terraces still retain the garden walls of pierced strap work stone, with two balustrades. There are gate piers with pierced stone obelisks and iron gates.

Pierced Strap Work Stone Wall

Pierced Stone Obelisks and Garden View

In 1764 Robert Parsons recorded in his commonplace book of a meeting with Ralph Allen to discuss designs for tombstones and memorials, the next day Allen died. It is believed that Allen’s mausoleum in the churchyard of St Mary’s Church Claverton is the work of Robert Parsons.

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St Mary’s Church Claverton 

Robert Parsons was a stonemason who made his living carving garden vases, ornaments and chimneys from Bath stone, though he also worked in marble producing chimneypieces and monuments. In 1751 he became a Baptist minister in Bath, and a year later he built a meeting house in Southgate Street. He also built a meeting house for the Anabaptists in Horse Street. He was employed by both John Wood the Elder and Sanderson Miller, working on the Bristol Exchange and the new gothic hall at Laycock Abbey.

Ralph Allen’s Mausoleum

Ralph Allen’s mausoleum is a square grade 11* structure of ashlar raised on two steps. The walls comprised of three arches each side, which were originally open, but at a later date railings were inserted. Behind the ashlar parapet the stone slab roof rises to a pyramidal shape. Below the parapet is a moulded cornice echoing the moulding on the arches piers and the tombs cornice.

View of Arches and Pyramidal Shape Roof

On the interior the pyramid has a vaulted ceiling, and the mausoleum contains a stone chest tomb with inscribed marble inserts. The tomb contains not only Allen and his second wife, but later members of the family, the last interned was in 1993. The mausoleum was restored in 1975 by Bath Preservation Trust.

Interior Vaulted Roof and the Stone Chest Tomb

 

The photos are from the author’s own collection.

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