Holland House and its Architectural Context

It was gratifying to hear a real expert tell us that we have something ‘precious’ in the elegant remains of Holland House. The expert was Malcolm Airs, Emeritus Professor of Conservation and the Historic Environment at Oxford University, when he gave a talk to the Friends on 18 October.

Holland HouseHis talk was entitled ‘Jacobean Country Houses in the London Countryside’, and he provided a fascinating history of the architectural context of Holland House. The first examples were of grand houses centred on a great hall, and where this hall was fully evident from the outside, given away by the large windows designed to light the big table at the ‘high end’. This was followed by a trend for symmetry, with the service areas and rooms for the privileged more difficult to distinguish from outside and often masked by loggias. From 1603, novelty was in vogue, and pleasure grounds were created to be viewed from the roofs of the loggias and from the entertaining areas on the first floor. The service areas were banished ‘below stairs’ to the basement.

So we can now see where Holland House fits in. Built in 1605 for Sir Walter Cope, we first saw a plan for a compact symmetrical house, then a later design by John Thorpe, showing west and east wings and a loggia. These wings were built in 1638, and the resulting H-shape was found in many other great houses of the period. It is interesting to reflect that many illustrations of Holland House show so much decoration that the symmetry is far from evident.

Later mansions were built to a more regular shape, with the eccentric exception of Papillon Hall in Leicestershire, a six-sided building with extensions later added to resemble the shape of a butterfly.

Malcolm teased us with his extensive knowledge of the many threats to Holland House over the years – we are lucky it has survived – and his studies of the old stables. Not only were we hearing his talk in the Orangery, created out of the old stable building, but he could tell us exactly where each horse stall was and more. But that is for another occasion.

We do indeed have something precious, and we must ensure it is conserved.

Jennie Kettlewell

Photo courtesy of rbkc.gov.uk