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Image for the news item 'Designing Enabling Spaces: Kings and Cottages, 1798-1827' on 20 May 2021
Plates [L-R] 1, 2, 3 & 4: Humphry Repton, 'Designs for the Pavilion at Brighton' (1808); 5: James Malton, 'An Essay on British Cottage Architecture, Comprising Dwellings for the Peasant and Farmer, and Retreats for the Gentleman' (1798); 6: Richard Elsam, 'Designs for Cottages: Including Hints for Improving the Condition of the Peasantry in all parts of the United Kingdom by Promoting Comfort in their Habitations' (1816); 7: Joseph Gandy, 'Designs for Cottages, Cottage Farms and Other Rural Buildings' (1805); 8: Robert Lugar, 'Architectural Sketches for Cottages, Rural Dwellings, and Villas, in the Grecian, Gothic, and Fancy Styles, with Plans; Suitable to Persons of Genteel Life and Moderate Fortune' (London, 1805); 9: J. Thomson, 'Retreats: A Series of Designs Consisting of Plans and Elevations for Cottages, Villas, and Ornamental Buildings' (1827); 10 & 11: 'The Red Books of Humphry Repton: Facsimiles' (Basilisk Press, 1976); 

This week’s Rare Book Blog highlights just some of the many books in Emmanuel’s collection that reflect an enthusiasm for new buildings in a range of styles during the period of hand-coloured books.

At the grandest level there is Humphry Repton’s publication in book form of his proposals for a new summer palace in the ‘oriental taste’ at Brighton. This de luxe volume deploys Repton’s trademark ‘before-and-after’ gimmick, whereby the underlying image of the proposed new building or grounds is overlaid by painted flaps depicting the current state of affairs, usually represented as variously cluttered, drab and dispiriting. So (in Plate 1) dull reality is depicted, but once the flaps have been turned back (Plate 2) – hey presto! – something much more alluring is uncovered to tempt the client.  

An even more stupendous ‘reveal’ is achieved when flaps painted with some unremarkable townscapes (Plate 3) are lifted to reveal a whole new palace in their place underneath (Plate 4). Even so, despite the presentation, Repton didn’t get the job, although the Brighton Pavilion as we know it was indeed built. At another level, a number of books in Emmanuel’s Graham Watson Collection show contemporary architects thinking creatively about much more modest dwellings. There is a clutch of books discussing plans and formats for ‘cottages’. In part, this was caught up with the craze for the Picturesque, in which the tumbledown habitations of working folk – probably leaky, draughty and overgrown – were appreciated aesthetically for their Picturesque irregularity and dilapidation. Jane Austen coolly satirizes this in 'Sense and Sensibility' (1811), when the Dashwoods must downsize: ‘Barton Cottage’ was grievously ‘defective, for the building was regular, the roof was tiled, the window shutters were not painted green, nor were the walls covered with honeysuckles’. More seriously, there was promotion to landowners of the merits of constructing convenient cottages for estate workers, often including cost estimates. James Malton’s 'An Essay on British Cottage Architecture' (1798) pioneers estate cottages which supposedly reinterpret vernacular traditions, as in two cottage designs for the same floor plan (Plate 5). Malton aimed to give Picturesque ideas a practical application, accommodating these with convenience.

In his 'Designs for Cottages' (1816) Richard Elsam is also on a mission to improve the lifestyle of working people in the countryside by improving their homes (Plate 6). An outlier is 'Designs for Cottages' (1805) by Joseph Gandy, an assistant to Sir John Soane, whose severely linear and wholly unornamented designs for rural workers’ homes seem to anticipate Modernist design, as in his plan for a cottage that includes a round pigeon-loft (Plate 7) – one of a set of futuristic designs, including schemes for multiple family units grouped together. But the whole concept of the ‘cottage’ was flexible and becomes imbued with romantic notions – perhaps still influential – of smaller abodes in which people of higher status (like Jane Austen’s Dashwoods) might choose to reside for whatever reason. In his 'Architectural Sketches for Cottages' (1805) Robert Lugar includes designs and plans for thatched cottages which are a model of elegance (Plate 8), using the terms ‘cottage ornée’ and ‘gentleman’s cot’. There is a clue in the title of J. Thomson’s 'Retreats' (1827), as also in the subtitle of Malton’s 'Cottage Architecture', ‘Comprising Dwellings for the Peasant and Farmer, and Retreats for the Gentleman’. Thomson’s plans for a very elegant ‘Grecian Residence’ (Plate 9) – the floor plan includes ‘Boudoir’ and ‘School’ – is listed among the designs for ‘Cottages’ on his contents page. Here is a beautiful home for persons of some means, who nonetheless cultivate the idea of their home as a ‘retreat’ from the world and, in some (to us) very extended sense, a ‘cottage’. Contrivances for selling a new building to a client – such as delusional ‘architects’ impressions’ – are somehow eternal. In his plans for Sheringham Hall in North Norfolk, Repton includes two views of the proposed house (now a property of the National Trust). The first is as if painted on a cloudy day and the foreground is bleakly denuded of ‘architects’ trees’ (Plate 10). Repton labels this ‘an Elevation perhaps too plain’. The next plate shows the same house on a sunny day, with some embellishments, in a lushly-planted landscape, and is labelled ‘an Elevation a little richer’ (Plate 11). There is little doubt which way the architect expects his client to jump. 

Barry Windeatt (Keeper of Rare Books)

Images by Helen Carron (College Librarian)

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