Lions lucky escape

James Mackintosh Architects have been appointed to carry out the reinstatement of the north front balustrade stonework to the west of the Porte Cochere at Stowe House. Damage was caused following an accident, involving one of the house security guards who suffered heart attack whilst driving and crashed at speed. The incident came as quite a shock, but fortunately the security guard is recovering following surgery. Works on the reinstatement commenced this week.

The project involves the removal and reconstruction of the lion plinths, and the reconstruction of the balustrade stonework, using as much of the surviving stonework as possible. Careful consideration has been provided to the method of lifting the Coade Stone Lions which have high architectural significance. A method statement has been prepared by the Morton Partnership and the execution will be carried out by specialists Cliveden Conservation.

Coade Stone

Coade Stone was produced by the Coade Artificial Stone Company and was the leading firm in the field at the end of the 18th Century. Leading architects of the period were looking for ways in applying delicate ornament to their buildings, and Coade Stone provided by the most reliable way of achieving this and was used in many buildings of the period by architects such as Robert Adam, Sir John Nash and John Soane. The secret recipe was not discovered until the late 20th Century but was a ceramic – a mixture of clay silicates and glass – Kiln fired for four days at a time.

The North Front

Above. Illustration of the North Front of Stowe by George Bickham 1750

The central block of Stowe house was built between 1677 and 1683 to the design of William Cleere, Sir Christopher Wren's master joiner. It was a brick structure with stone quoins, and a tiled roof. 13 bays in length on both the south and north front, and two stories high plus a basement and attic story lit by dormer windows within the roof. The north front retains much of the appearance of the original house, although heightened and covered in stucco. A cupola was added to the balustraded flats at the head of the tiled roof in December 1688 but it only lasted 30 years.

The Ionic North Portico marked the second phase, and is probably the work of Sir John Vanbrugh and executed as early as 1718. It necessitated the creation of the present, enlarged, North Hall, possibly by Henry Flitcroft, which subsequently decorated by William Kent. The four corner bays were modified at the same time, and raised as towers at each corner. Vanbrugh was also responsible considerably extending the service wings in the 1720s. Low curved walls were subsequently added to contain the north forecourt, and were illustrated in Rigauds view of 1733, published in 1739. Stylistically, as he was working elsewhere at Stowe in the 1730s, these can be given to Kent together with the pedimented gateways through which the service courts were approached. Sections of Kent wall survive at either side of the Leoni arches. It is likely that the current colonnades follow the line of Kent's curved walls.

With so much alteration the building lost its coherence and proposals remodelling Stowe House were made from 1750s onwards and include schemes by both Borra and Blondel. However, Earl Temple did not start the work until 1770 when work on the north front commenced with advice on the design by his cousin Thomas Pitt. William Ride produced the wooden models required for the two Ionic colonnades and work was completed two years later. A scheme for erecting a balustrade around the colonnades was illustrated Seeley's view 1780 but there is no evidence that it was executed. The attic story between the towers was encased by a wall between the towers, and capped by balustrade 14 urns that remained in position until 1924 when they sold to surmount the balustrade of Easton Neston. The scheme designed by Thomas Pitt, Lord Camelford, followed the general arrangement of the design which Robert Adam was paid hundred guineas in 1771, but the handling of the orders was modified and the arrangement of the staircase completely changed. According to Michael Bevington the Coade Stone Lions were added in 1778. The Egyptian Hall was constructed in 1804 and the winter entrance below the Porte Cochere was added by 1778.


In March, we carried out an exercise to record the condition of the damaged stone. Stonework was collected from the rubble arising from the accident and salvaged stone was moved below the porte-cohere and arranged into piles according to the heights of the stone. Stone salvaged was mainly ashlar, with several sections of balustrade coping. All the balusters were badly damaged and could not be re-used. Whilst most of the stone damaged was from the restoration some historic stone dating to the 18 century restoration of the North Front was found – these stone are only dressed on five sides only. Most interestingly - a handful of ancient stones, moulded on the rear, indicating that they were re-used from older part of the building in the 18th Century development of the north front.

Cliveden Conservation commence repairs on the Lions this week. Cliveden Conservation have been involved in several phases of repair at Stowe, including the relocation of the Bickerdyke Lions from the South Front only a few years ago. Their first priority will be safely relocating the west Coade Stone Lion so the plinth can be rebuilt.




Foxcombe Fireplaces

 Example of Delft tile

Example of Delft tile

Early 20th Century changes to historic fireplaces at Foxcombe Hall.

Despite the modern lighting, carpet and furniture, Earl Berkeley's Bedroom and Dressing Room of 1904, designed by Ernest George and Yeates, remain largely intact. Decorative relief plaster cornice and carved wood doors, the period fireplace with blue tiling. However, one thing I overlooked (until my recent meeting with Vale of the White Horse DC, conservation officer, Sally Straddling) was why were these precious tiles installed? ...and what the fireplace would have looked like originally? This was a good question, and on reflection is something that I have seen over and over again. Firstly at the Radcliffe Infirmary in 2011, and more recently at Somerville College.

The main period of tin-glazed pottery in the Netherlands was from 1640-1740. Delft - based on 14th Century Chinese Porcelain became incredibly popular as a result of Dutch trade with China.  Despite the artistic process involved in the creation of Delft tiles, the tiles did not evolve into a luxury item, andinstead remained accessible to most of the middle class population in colonial Dutch society. As Dutch Delftware increased in popularity, the English began to incorporate the Dutch painting style into their tiles as well. As demand grew, the production of Delft tiles was manufactured in factories, the most famous of which were based in Bristol and Liverpool. Eventually the Dutch followed suit and began to produce their own tiles in factories. The tiles became popular after an embargo was imposed against the importation of goods into Britain

 The fireplace in Berkeley's Drawing Room at Foxcombe 2017.

The fireplace in Berkeley's Drawing Room at Foxcombe 2017.

In the colonies, Delft tiles became an expensive item as authentic copies could only be imported from Britain.

It is not clear whether the tiles at Foxcombe were Dutch or a reproduction from England, nevertheless they appear to pre-date the 1904 Chimney.

Hilary Grainger's recent book 'The Architecture of Sir Ernest George and Yeates' predominately illustrates exteriors and therefore doesn't provide a clue to the typical George and Yeates designs. Gavin Stamp's book on Lutyen's (Pupil of Ernest George) has a number of fireplaces similar to the fireplace at Foxcombe, such as the fireplace at Sullingstead See fig 1. Given the grandeur of the interiors carried out by Ernest George and Yeates at Foxcombe It seems most likely that the fireplaces at Foxcombe would have reflected the architectural fashion of open fires, reflecting the designs of fireplaces from the medieval country house.

 Sullingstead, Lutyens

Sullingstead, Lutyens

So why and when was it covered up?

During the Edwardian period 1901-1914, the preoccupation as far as fireplaces were concerned was to achieve greater efficiency with less fuel consumption. Slow combustion techniques were constantly being improved. The cheeks of the fireplace would be made from fire-brick, splayed at the sides and with the back sloping forward, so to project more heat into the room. Often the grate was ventilated directly from outdoors to the fire did not draw a draught across the room. Chimney pieces took many forms, with an increase in the use of glazed tiles more elegant than in the Victorian Period, and often set within older period frames.

So my assumption is that it was covered up by Albert Richardson as part of his 1935 alterations shortly after Rippon Hall purchased the House. The closing of the back would have improved the efficiency of the fire and the ancient tiles have proved a sympathetic and appropriate design solution of the time. 

So what to do? it would be lovely to see what is behind the fire boarding, but perhaps the tiles have more relevance now that the building has been taken over by Peking University. Perhaps the simplest thing to do is to find a suitable fire grate to install within the tiles - we shall have to wait and see.

Elements of Style, Calloway S. Octopus Publishing London 1992.
Edwin Lutyens Country Houses. Stamp G. Aurum Press, London 2001.
The Architecture of Sir Ernest George and Yeates, Grainger H. Spire Books, Reading 2011

Sensitive solutions for 9 and 10 Ship St


9 and 10 Ship St are Grade II listed properties owned by Oxford City Council. The properties are on the Medieval Town wall and are timber framed. A short heritage snapshot revealed that both 9 and 10 Ship Street, retain surviving building fabric from the medieval wall of Oxford, which survive within the cellars. Both properties were re-faced and re-roofed in the 18 Century whilst elements of the timber framed structure seems likely to date from 1643-1675. According to the Inventory of the City of Oxford, 1939, No. 10 Ship Street was re-fitted in the 18th Century and No. 9 has a newel staircase. At this date both properties were in a good condition The listing description confirms that no 10 Ship St was altered in 1969, however, from our initial inspection of the surviving fabric and a verbal description of previous alterations provided Oxford City Council, it appears that both properties were substantially altered at this time.

Oxford City Council have engaged James Mackintosh Architects Limited to prepare proposals for upgrading the building to comply with the stringent requirements of the HMO (House of Multiple Occupation) design guide and part B of the Building Regulations. Timber framed buildings are naturally difficult to upgrade for fire as there are often voids between floors and walls allowing a fire to travel from basement to second story. The good news is that there are many suitable construction details and specialist products to overcome this. Specified and approached correctly most are benign in conservation terms. An added complication is that in both properties there is no direct means of escape to outside, so alternative means of escape from the first floor are proposed.

We have currently prepared a strategy to for escape and to avoid additional claims whilst the work is on site plan to prepare bespoke details for upgrading each and every junction.