The efforts of those who choose, or inherit, the responsibility for the care of our nation’s heritage are often unacknowledged – and yet the custodians continue regardless. Their dedication is such that they will make significant sacrifices in terms of time, personal comfort, and money to not only rescue buildings at risk but also just to keep others in good repair. Now in its 12th year, the Georgian Group Architectural Awards (hosted by Christie’s, sponsored by Savills) take the opportunity to assess and recognise those who have done such sterling work, primarily in the restoration and re-use of Georgian buildings but also new buildings built in a sympathetic style.
The first category awarded is the main prize – Restoration of a Georgian Country House – which this year was jointly won by Hendre House, Carnarvonshire and St Giles House, Dorset. These two projects are both remarkable as each house was in a parlous state and only through the dogged efforts of each owner have they been rescued and are now beautiful homes again.
Hendre House enjoys an enviable position on the side of the Conwy valley, yet by the mid-20th century it had become a ruin after being abandoned in 1932. In 2001, the derelict house was bought by Michael Tree, a man who had done much to raise awareness of the threats to Welsh architectural heritage and also on a practical level with the restoration of Trevor Hall. Hendre is a Regency gem which had been built in 1802 as a compact villa, orientated to take advantage of the stunning views. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the project is that Mr Tree decided to do much of the work himself, working with a local builder. The sensitive interior restoration involved the re-instatement of various elements which had been stripped out and were still on-site or recreated from existing fabric. The shade of green used in the dining room is based on a paint fragment obtained from the ruined Edwinsford Hall and then used by Patrick Baty to create a new shade called ‘Edwinsford Green‘. Overall, this is a remarkable achievement both in terms of the scale but also the sensitivity brought to the restoration, allowing Hendre to re-join the sadly depleted ranks of Welsh country houses. (Country Life have a great gallery of photos of Hendre)
Considering the competition, one can appreciate why the committee decided that joint winners was the only way to recognise both Hendre and St Giles House, Dorset. Now the seat of the 12th Earl of Shaftesbury, Nicholas Ashley-Cooper, the restoration is one not only of the physical fabric of the house but also of the family in the life of the area. The core of St Giles House dates from 1660, but with later additions, some of which were removed by the current Earl’s father in the 1970s. This programme of work was not completed, and although it reduced the house to a more manageable size, left unresolved the scars of where the additions had been removed. The house was put into hibernation for a number of years before the current Earl moved back after unexpectedly inheriting both the title and the estate.
Faced with the scale of work, others may have sold up and moved on, but all credit to Lord Shaftesbury (working with architect Philip Hughes), he has enthusiastically embraced the project which has comprised a complete restoration, to create not only living accommodation for the family but also to enable the rest of the house to function as a wedding and events venue. Today, the quality of the interior and sensitive exterior works belies the challenging state in which he took it on and enables the estate to once again become part of the fabric of local life.
Also on the shortlist in this category was the restoration of Corngreaves Hall, West Midlands by the private developer, Gr8space. As regular readers of this blog will know that I’m very critical of developers who purchase ‘at risk’ country houses then submit huge ‘enabling development’ schemes far in excess of what’s required to restore the house, then build an estate, often unsympathetically, and then ‘forget’ to restore the house. Thankfully, in this case, although they didn’t win, the developer should be commended for their restoration of Corngreaves Hall.
The winner of the next category – Restoration of a Georgian Interior – was rightly awarded for the exemplary work carried out at Kenwood House, north London. The house is one of Robert Adam’s best works, the marriage of a wonderfully proportioned and detailed country house, with a series of elegant interiors. Now in the care of English Heritage, the restoration took a rigorous approach to the investigation of the original decoration and having determined the scheme implemented by Adam, then sought to replace the more garish 19th-century decoration. The replacement of the extensive gilt work with the more historically accurate scheme, particularly in the Library, has created a dramatic interior space which brings home just how bold and creative Adam was in his designs.
Llanelly House justifiably won the Restoration of a Georgian Building in an Urban Setting category. An important townhouse, built in 1714, it had become a much misused building, hemmed in by busy town-centre roads and cut off from the parish church opposite. Under the inspired guidance of Craig Hamilton Architects and with some thankfully enlightened support from the local council, not only has the house been restored and found a use as a genealogy centre, but wider townscape changes have re-routed the roads and created a delightful urban space with this historic building proudly taking pride of place.
The category of Reuse of a Georgian Building was won by St George’s Church, Great Yarmouth, which has found a new life as a theatre.
Painshill Landscape Garden, Surrey, has long been recognised as a fine example of a Georgian ‘country house’ parkland, even if it was created without a house at the centre. Winning the Restoration of a Georgian Garden or Landscape category recognises the exceptional work of the Painshill Trust in preserving what remains and the restoration of the many important garden buildings it contains.
One of the most exciting categories is the New Building in the Classical Tradition which was also awarded to joint winners. This category is the one which should demonstrate that the language of Classical architecture is still as relevant today and that its use does not automatically mean pastiche or unthinking decoration. Chitcombe House, Dorset, designed by Stuart Martin Architects, won (in my humble opinion) on the strength and style of the entrance front. Displaying a Dutch influence, with shades of Lutyens, it certainly creates the sense of arrival one would wish to have at a country house. However, the other side (
for which I can’t find an image one now found [PDF] – thanks Tom) has two projecting bays connected by a loggia which seems almost an anti-climax after the interest created by the entrance.
The other winner is a superb design which marries both elegant proportions with fine and thoughtful detailing. Crucis Park, Gloucestershire by Yiangou Architects, replaced a 1960s house with a compact house which draws on the traditions of local architecture but within the broader context of Queen Anne styling. Although the two main fronts share the same historical form (a square with projecting centre – see Puslinch), the variations of the bold broken pediment above the front door, and the engaged colonnade on the other, create distinctive styling which subtly elevates the quality of the house. The interiors also feature some beautiful fireplaces and staircase. This is the type of smaller country house architecture which should be encouraged as the correct continuation of the Classical tradition.
Overall, a very successful evening and credit should be given to the Georgian Group who have created awards that have established themselves as a benchmark by which Georgian restoration can be judged. The annual event – made possible through the vital sponsorship of Savills (who had kindly invited me – thanks!) – not only rightly give praise and recognition to those directly engaged, but also generally raise the standard and awareness of architectural heritage and the huge efforts required to maintain it. If there were space for one more award, I would like to see one to recognise ‘Restoration of Georgian Building by a Public Body’ to encourage the care of heritage within the public sector where it can sadly be all too often lacking.
Successive governments have retreated from their duties to help support the owners as custodians, not only by withdrawing grant support but equally with hostile measures such as applying full-rate VAT to repairs. Consequently, the Georgian Group play a key role in acting as a ‘cheerleader’ for this vital part of the nation’s history, economy and, most importantly, our common heritage, which although mostly privately owned, enriches us all.
Further information from The Georgian Group:
- ‘2014 Georgian Group Architectural Awards sponsored by Savills: the winners‘ [The Georgian Group]
- ‘2014 Georgian Group Architectural Awards sponsored by Savills: the shortlist‘ [The Georgian Group]
- Architectural Awards – previous winners [The Georgian Group]
- Photos of the event by Nick Harvey [Flickr]