Sir Edwin Lutyens was an internationally-renowned architect who left his stamp on
Preston by designing more than a dozen buildings in the vicinity. This is the story
of his life and his involvement with a small Hertfordshire village.
Lutyens formative years
Lutyens and Jekyll
Lutyens and Preston
Lutyens’ working methods
Navigate from here using links below to photographs and comments
Sources for Lutyens pages: Gardens of a Golden Afternoon - Jane Brown; Dr Mervyn
Miller (Architectural Adviser to Lutyens Trust); North Herts D. C.; Edward Lutyens
by his daughter - Mary Lutyens; The Life of Sir Edwin Lutyens - Christopher Hussey;
Houses and Gardens by E. L. Lutyens - E. L. Weaver; Domestic Architecture of Sir
Edwin Lutyens - A. S. G. Butler; Sale Particulars of Minsden Estate, 1945 - HALS)
Sir Edwin Lutyens
‘The greatest artist in building whom Britain has produced’ – thus, Sir Edwin Lutyens
has been lauded. Between 1908 and 1920, he designed several properties around Preston
ranging from estate workers’ cottages to Temple Dinsley’s extensive additions.
Edwin Landseer Lutyens was born on 29 March 1869 at Onslow Square, London. He was
one of fourteen children and was known among his friends simply as ‘Ned’.
His daughter, Mary, asserts that her family descended from a Dutchman called Lutkens
who came to England and became a naturalised British subject, changing his name in
Edwin’s father, Charles, held a commission in the 20th Regiment of Foot and was a
talented water colourist. In 1852, he married an Irish girl, Mary Gallway, in Montreal,
Canada. Five years later, Charles retired from the army with the rank of Captain
to paint professionally. He studied with Sir Edwin Landseer who was to be Ned’s godfather
and the inspiration for his name. Charles exhibited at the Royal Academy every year
and, with Edwin Landseer, designed the lions of Trafalgar Square.
As a child, Edwin contracted rheumatic fever which influenced his development: ‘Any
talent....was due to a long illness which afforded me time to think’ and which taught
him to ‘use his eyes instead of his feet’. He had a talent for drawing – ‘It’s easy,
I just think and then I draw a line around my think’.
As a teenager, he roamed the West Surrey countryside absorbing the styles of old
buildings and the methods of construction of new homes – how drains were dug; the
laying of foundations; how roofs were tiled and the erecting of chimney stacks.
In 1885, Edwin was sent to South Kensington School for Art. Four years later he was
introduced to Gertude Jekyll, doyen of English garden designers, a meeting which
was to result in several architectural commissions. Lutyens affectionately referred
to Jekyll (who was twenty-six years his senior) as ‘Aunt Bumps – the Mother of All
Bulbs’ or ‘Mab’. Together, they toured the countryside in Jekyll’s pony cart observing
farms and houses and discussing their structures.
When he was twenty years old, Lutyens opened his own office. It was the age of the
grand country house where guests were entertained from Saturday until Monday and
he established a reputation for designing picturesque houses for the nouveau riche
and country cottages. His first commission was to plan Jekyll’s own home, Munstead
Wood in Godalming, Surrey (1896).
Jekyll introduced Lutyens to those for whom she designed gardens and he planned architectural
features for homes and gardens. The ultimate kudos for many wealthy families was
a ‘Lutyens house’ with a ‘Jekyll garden’ - an ‘Edwardian catch-word denoting excellence,
something fabulous in both scale and detail’. Perhaps their best-known collaboration
is at Hestercombe in Somerset which is still a revered shrine for admiring gardeners.
When studying for a Gardening qualification, I was astonished to read of a Lutyens/Jekyll
project in my father’s old village. Jane Brown in Gardens of a Golden Afternoon (sub-titled,
The Story of a Partnership: Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll) mentions ‘another
good brick garden with elaborate terraces’ at Temple Dinsley and includes a photograph
of the garden house. She lists ‘the rose garden with its elegant brickwork’ as one
of only twenty-four ‘saveable’ and ‘hallowed’ examples of the duo’s work.
This is how Lutyens (described as the ‘leading architect of country houses’ because
of a ‘brilliant sequence of houses built for rich and fastidious Edwardians’) became
involved with Preston: he had designed additions to Abbotswood at Stow-on-the-Wold,
the home of country gentleman, Mark Fenwick to whom he had been introduced by Jekyll.
Fenwick in turn recommended Lutyens to his cousin, H. G. Fenwick, ‘Bertie’, who had
purchased Temple Dinsley. H.G.F. commissioned additions to the Queen Ann mansion
and built the estate cottages at Chequers Lane, Preston. He also had Hill End, Langley
built for his wife together with a cluster of nearby cottages. Minsden Farm, now
known as Ladygrove, Kiln Wood Cottage and 1 & 2 Hitchwood Cottages were also commissioned
during this period. Thus, in less than twelve years, a collection of buildings, whether
mansions or cottages, was created around Preston village giving a uniform and pleasing
character to the district.
Lutyens’ work evolved, his reputation grew and his designs became more grandiose:
for twenty years he planned the lay-out of New Delhi, India where he also designed
the Viceroy’s house – all in a neo-classical style. Lutyens was knighted in 1918.
Following the Great War, he devised the Cenataph in London and the Memorial of the
Missing of the Somme at Thiepval. He was also commissioned to design several commercial
buildings in London and the British Embassy in Washington, USA.
After becoming president of the Royal Academy in 1938, Lutyens died on New Year’s
Day, 1944 and his ashes were interred at St Paul’s Cathedral – an apt choice as he
referred to his ‘Wrennaisance’ style at the time he designed the additions to Temple
Lutyens had the self-trained ability to memorize a building’s colour, texture and
materials. A new commission would take shape in his mind’s eye. On site, he might
make deft, pencil sketches, sometimes on scraps of paper, which ‘poured out like
water from a jug onto the paper’ and included a note of proportions. If clients were
present during the moments of creation, they watched with fascination as their house
took shape before their gaze. Back at Lutyen’s office, the drawings were then passed
to an assistant who produced a correctly-drawn scale plan.
Rather like the artist’s ‘golden rule of thirds’, Lutyens also developed, by trial
and error, a simple but subtle system of ratios between dimensions and angles of
a building which gave a distinctive character to much of his work. He decreed that
all inclined planes should be at 54.45 degrees; that the intersection of two roofs
should be inclined at 45 degrees and that window panes should have a ‘diagonal of
square’ ratio which also gave the proportions of the whole window. If the building
design failed to conform to his methods, then the building was adjusted rather than
the proportions. His motto was ‘Metiendo Vivendum’ – ‘By measure we must live’ and
he said of his work that ‘everything should have an air of inevitability’.