Sunday, 6 May 2012


I've come across a digitised version of Henry William Inwood's  Erechtheion at Athens. I haven't read a great deal of it yet, but browsng through it shines a bit of light on the  lives of the Inwoods. There's a rather gushing dedication to Lord Colchester.  Before receiving his title in 1817, Colchester - aka. Charles Abbot - had been Speaker of the House of Commons, and seems to have been largely responsible for the clearances of the buildings around the Houses of Parliament,  (or "the great improvements ... round and in the approaches to the senate" as Inwood puts it) to which Henry William and before that his father had been Clerk of the Works. According to  the Penny Cyclopedia, whose account seems to be the main source for the lives of the Inwoods  (even now, more than a hundred and fifty years, later the ODNB recycles it almost word-for-word), William Inwood was steward to Abbot.

Amongst the technical and historical material in the text of The Erechtheion at Athens, there's some information about Inwood's activities in Greece, including,  the acquisition of a capital which nspired some details on his own architectural work. The  Penny Cyclopedia (published by the admirably-named "Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge")   gives an account on the variation of the Ionic order which, it says, Inwood used on the portico of the Regent Square chapel   It  is described as one "met with by Mr. Inwood among some fragments on the banks of the Ilissus, near Athens, in which the eye of the volute is remarkably large, and carved into a rosette."  A review in the Gentleman's Magazine, however says that the capital with the rosette was only used in the chancel of the chapel, in an attempt at elegant variation which the writer found "pedantic" and "not altogether accordant with the principles of good taste."

Inwood's own account explains that by the time  he met the capital on the banks of the Ilissus  it had been  incorporated into the wall of a former chapel,  then in use as a shelter for sheep. It  had  previously been sketched by W.J. Bankes, and mentioned in a book by  Sir William Gell, so its pretty clear Inwood knew what he was after .when he penetrated its gloom:
"On further search…on darkest side the darkest side of the shed  within about two feet of the ground, built up in the wall, appeared the front of the present capital, with a part of the plaster that had formed the interior finish of the walls then remaining on it, which had been covered, together with the other masonry and  materials of which the wall was built."
Unlike  previous travellers,  Inwood  wasn't satisfied with making a drawing. He had to have the stone itself . The next section  of his account doesn't  show him in the most attractive light.
"Proceeding to the Athenian city, and imparting to several this discovery , a resident of Athens, of whom a fragment of  a sepulchral stelae had been a few days before purchased,  was deputed to procure it. This he described, could only be done at night, to prevent its being observed and taken possession of by any of the Turks (who would then offer it for exorbitant sale, or exhibit some arbitrary caprice of reserving it), or by any of the members  of a monastery to whom the building might have originally belonged.  He added , however, on that night himself and son would, with the proper tools, and by concealing  in a sack the marble, bring it before the morning."
The "resident  of Athens" succeeded in evading any monks or capricious Turks, and by the next evening it was packed in a case on a steamer bound for Constantinople. A few hours later he discovered that the French consul, M. Fauvel, knew of the capital, had drawn it, and intended to remove it from the shed for his own collection. Whether he  too  was going to use the nocturnal services of  a "resident of Athens" isn't made clear.
"It was impossible not to feel secretly gratified at Mr. Fauvel's, or Mr. Gropius's (who had also a collection of antiquities at Athens) not having possessed themselves of this fragment before."
There were two temples nearby, Inwood tells us, described by Pausanias;  that of  Triptolemus, and what is described as "the naos of Eucleia or eternal fame, dedicated in honour of the victory gained over the Medes at Marathon".  It was noted for the large scale on which the sacrifice of goats that went on there, which makes it  seem a very long way from Regent Square,  I don't know how much the Greek Revivalists worried about  the appropriateness of  their chosen style to church building. Perhaps the Greek inscription, translating as  "May the light of the blessed Gospel thus ever illuminate the dark temples of the Heathen",  carved on the foundation stone of the Inwoods'  St Pancras New Church indicates a certain amount of unease.

The Regent Square chapel was damaged by bombing during the Second World War and  the remains demolished in the 1960s. Ian Nairn's description of it in his book on London makes it sound an admirable ruin,  I wonder if  Inwood thought about how his work would look in ruins, as Soane did  when, not foreseeing  Nemesis in the shape of Herbert Baker, he got Gandy to paint his Bank of England as it might look a  thousand or two years in the future.

 The  capital, with the rest of Inwood's collection of fragments is now in the British Museum, to which he sold it just before setting off on his fatal journey