Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Entombment and Entomology

In 1834 Henry Inwood published a pamphlet entitled Of the Resources of Design in the Architecture of Greece, Egypt, and other Countries, obtained by the Studies of the Architects of those Countries from Nature, which advanced the theory that the architects of antiquity evolved their forms from a close study of nature, suggesting that that the flutings of Doric columns were taken from reeds, mineral crystallisations or seashells, that Egyptian mummies were wrapped up in imitation of the cocoons of moths and that the image of the sphynx was inspired by a butterfly chrysalis.

I haven't seen the book, but a contemporary review provides long extracts. There's a morbid visionary quality to some of Henry's ideas, which ties in well with the wholly original emphasis on the crypt entrances at St Pancras:
...it would require not much philosophical reflection to observe that the chrysalis of the insect kingdom seemed a state between one existence and another: and, by wishing to apply so beautiful a type to their own being, produced the prototype for converting, by bandages and painted decorations, the human body, as to resemble a pupa or chrysalis; under an impression of its awaiting, in that chrysali state, its period of entering and rising to another existence.
It seems rather a pity that he never attempted the Egyptian style. It's not inconceivable: PF Robinson's Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly was built as early as 1812, but the style never really caught on. The idea of modelling a church on an ancient Egyptian temple isn't really stranger than modelling one on a Greek temple, but I don't know that anyone ever has.

I was going to contrast the practical William with the doomed poetic Henry William. But this hardly stands up; a little poking around in the parliamentary accounts, courtesy of Google Books turns up the fact that Henry William took on his father's post as Clerk of the Works to the improvements to the surroundings of the Palace of Westminster, holding it from around 1811 to at least 1826. Which all sounds very responsible.

Monday, 16 May 2011

A Pagan Place

St Pancras New Church, originally uploaded by Archimandrill.

William Railton's teacher, William Inwood, seems to have had a patchy career as an architect. According to the Dictionary of National he was born in around 1771, son of the bailiff at at Kenwood.He was trained as an architect and surveyor, and became steward to Charles Abbot, speaker of the House of Commons 1802-17, later created Lord Colchester. Inwood seems to have been a practical man. In 1811 he published a book called Tables for the Purchasing of Estates, Freehold or Copyhold Leasehold Annuities etc.. that went through many editions. The DNB tells us that he "designed numerous mansions, villas, barracks, and warehouses." This sentence seems to have been repeated unquestioningly from mid-nineteenth accounts of his life, but the actual locations of the mansions, villas, barracks, and warehouses remain obscure. From around 1806 he was clerk of the works to the "Commissioners for executing the several Acts for improvement of streets and places near to Westminster-Hall and the two Houses of Parliament". He was succeeded in this post by his son, Henry William Inwood, at the end of February 1812.

Inwood did some work on the church tower at East Grinstead - with which Abbot had close associations -  and built the Westminster National Free Schools on some of the land conveniently cleared in the Westminster improvements. Then came his most famous building, St Pancras New Church, designed in 1818 in collaboration with  Henry William Inwood, although only William's name is mentioned on the foundation stone. By the time of it's completion, however,  it was acknowledged as a joint effort . It was a prestigious contract for a low-profile architect : at a cost of over £76,000, it was said to be the most expensive church built in London since the rebuilding of St Paul's Cathedral. The Inwoods came up with a design heavily influenced by the Erectheum in Athens, which Henry William visited at around this time (though probably after the basic plans for St Pancras had been drawn up) and of which he later published a study. It was widely seen as a radical advance in the accurate imitation of ancient Greek architecture. For a while, no-one seems to have thought this an odd ambition for an ecclesiastical architect.

William Inwood had two or possibly three sons who were also architects - Henry William born in 1794, and Charles Frederick, born in 1798 are well recorded. I've also come across a passing reference to a third, called Edward . William and Henry designed two more classical churches together - St Peter's, Regent Square (since demolished) and the Camden Chapel (later All Saints), Camden Town. They also collaborated on one in a sort of Gothick; St Mary's Somers Town, about which no architectural critic has ever had much positive to say. All three were in the parish of St Pancras. With Charles Frederick, William designed the Westminster Hospital of 1834-4, in a similarly basic Gothic.

Information about any other work seems hard to come by. He's credited with a house called Woburn Lodge which once stood next to St Pancras New Church, but Henry also claimed that in a letter to the father of a potential pupil.

Charles Frederick Inwood died in 1840 and William himself on March 16th 1843, at his house in Upper Seymour Street, Somers Town. Around this time - the exact chronology is obscure - Henry, whose career is said to have been hampered by illness, sold his collections of antiquities to the British Museum and sailed for Spain. He never arrived: the ship - the name of which I can't find mentioned anywhere - sank with the loss of all on board on March 20th.