One of the greatest of the UK’s country house architects was Sir Edwin Lutyens – a man with undoubted talent who was also able to use thoroughly modern techniques of collaboration and media exposure to boost his career and win business. His main media connection was the tireless promotion of his work by Country Life magazine which was, in no small part, due to his close friendship with the founder and editor Edward Hudson. So when Hudson needed to restore and modernise a manor house he’d bought it was inevitable who he would call on. Plumpton Place in Sussex is now considered to be one of Lutyens’ best country houses and it’s for sale.
Lutyens (b. 1869 – d. 1944) was a master at the creation of houses which evoked what many would have in their minds as the ‘ideal’ country house. He was able to marry the romanticism of the Arts & Crafts movement to his own clear ideas as to how a house should look both inside and out. A strong proponent of using local materials he, more importantly, was able to use them in innovative ways which made his houses distinctive.
A classic example of this was his use of chalk at Marsh Court in Hampshire which gave this house a brilliant white appearance, and which contrasted with small tiles of knapped flint set into the walls and the red-brick chimneys. Marsh Court (finished in 1904 and for sale in 2007 for around £13m) was the last of Lutyens’ ‘Tudor’ style houses but it would never be considered an old house – again showing his genius of matching local materials with an assured architectural design.
Much of Lutyens’ fame can be attributed to the unstinting support he received from Edward Hudson who had cleverly exploited the growing urban middle-classes interest in a nostalgic view of ‘olde’ England and the country lifestyle. Founded in 1897 it chronicled not only the best of the grand old country seats but also sought to keep the tradition alive at a time when the lifestyle was beginning to come under threat. One of his writers was the renowned garden designer Gertrude Jekyll who had met Lutyens in 1889 and had collaborated with him to create some of the best regarded house-and-garden compositions in the country. Jeykll introduced Lutyens to Edward Hudson in 1899 thus creating a life-long friendship between the two. To Hudson, Lutyens’ ability to create these idealistic visions of country life were the perfect material for his magazine. Coupled with the extensive use of their distinctive, high-quality black & white photos it provided an unrivalled opportunity for Lutyens to built fame with the middle-classes but also advertise his talents to the aspirational wealthy or the existing gentry.
Hudson was a man to put his money where his magazine was and commissioned Lutyens to work on three houses; Deanery Gardens, Lindisfarne Castle and Plumpton Place – all now considered to be Lutyens’ best work. Hudson had bought Plumpton, a derelict, moated manor house, in 1928 for £3,300, to be used as a weekend retreat and a place to entertain. In some ways Lutyens’ work there was a surprising contrast to the grand Classical-style banks and corporate work he was engaged with in London and elsewhere. Lutyens created a new route to the house which used a theatrical sense of surprise to hide the house except for glimpses through arches and trees. Inside the most notable addition was that of a music room with huge, almost mullioned, windows with small panes of glasses set into wooden frames rather than the then fashionable steel, flooding the room with light.
The house was bought in 1983 for £800,000 by an American venture capitalist called Tom Perkins who has since lavished ‘millions’ on careful restoration. So if you have £8m, this is a rare opportunity to live in a genuine Lutyens masterpiece which has played its own part in shaping our national impression as to what a country house should look like.
Property details: ‘Plumpton Place, Sussex‘ [Knight Frank]