Friday, October 14, 2011

Baillie Scott in Bedford

When you walk around Bedford, it wouldn't immediately strike you as the home of one of the leading lights of the Arts & Crafts movement. Whilst the unkind treatment of the town by the 1960s often detracts from the more interesting architectural features of the town, you haven't unwittingly walked past the evidence: Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott's (1865-1945) 12 years living and working in Bedford unfortunately left no obvious landmarks in the heart of the town. So, for the uninitiated, who was Baillie Scott, why did he come to Bedford, and what did he do while he was here?

Who was Baillie Scott?
Baillie Scott was an important figure in the Arts and Crafts movement, which was the most significant form of architecture from 1890 to the First World War. Scott was a designer of houses and furniture who had great success in this country and in Europe. Born in Ramsgate, Kent, in 1865 he grew up in a world already familiar with William Morris's ideals of good design. Despite an initial education in agriculture in Gloucestershire, his reading of Morris, Philip Webb and Norman Shaw led him to take up architecture. After first taking a position in Bath, he moved to the Isle of Man were he spent 12 years and where he came to maturity as a designer.  He developed an idea of the intergrated interior, where the furnishings should be in harmony with the structure of the space, and details such as the mantlepiece would be designed with the decoration to sit on it in mind. Stylistically, he moved from a medieval Morris-inspired style to a cleaner and simpler approach, following in Voysey's footsteps, eschewing elaborate decoration of  surfaces and creating furniture in simple, elegant forms. He clarified his ideas in the book Houses and Gardens, 1906.

Blackwell, Cumbria, photo from the Lakelands Trust.
One of his most famous houses is Blackwell, in Cumbria, run by the excellent Lakelands Arts Trust. The house is open for visitors, and you can even see some of our collection of W.A.S. Benson lighting on display in the stunning rooms. The German architect Hermann Muthesius described Blackwell as   "…one of the most attractive creations that the new movement in house-building has produced" and credited Baillie Scott with the "new idea of the interior as an autonomous work of art...each room is an individual creation."

Why did he come to Bedford?

Bedford had one very strong asset to a designer of interiors. John P. White's Pyghtle Works was renowned for the quality of its output and was patronised by important designers and architects, such as Sir Raymond Unwin, for its wood and metalwork. Positioned by the railway, the Pyghtle was well connected to the rest of the country and J. P. White had a showroom in London on Margaret Street to sell its products. In 1901, the year he moved to Bedford, Baillie Scott produced a catalogue of furniture for White and for one with such attention to detail, being able to visit the works on a regular basis must have very beneficial. Scott was also a family man with young children, and the strong reputation of the town's schools, which had been so important in the late 19th century growth of the town, would also have been an attraction.

Surely someone in Bedford would have commissioned him to design their house?

While Bedford wasn't completely devoid of artistic, forward thinking people in need of a house, the social make-up of ex-colonial types, who had come to Bedford to school their children, was overwhelmingly traditional in its outlook. Miss Susan Margaret Collie, appointed head of Bedford High School in 1899, was one exception to the rule: on her appointment she commissioned the young Scottish Architect Andrew N. Prentice to design the Norman Shaw inspired 56 De Parys Avenue, and, in fact, Baillie Scott's first contact with Bedford may have came from another artistically minded Bedfordian patron.

 56, De Parys Avenue, by A. N. Prentice.

Design for a house in Bedford for Carl St Amory.
Published in The Building News, August 30th 1895
Carl St Amory was an extravagant figure for Bedford at that time, a musician and a writer of operettas, he regularly held concerts at the Corn Exchange. In 1895 he commissioned Scott to design a house for him. The designs were exhibited at the Royal Academy and published in The Building News (pictured right) but for it may have been that the more rural setting of Bedford's surrounding villages suited his designs better. Scott designed two houses for clients in Biddenham, a Miss Steele and a Miss Street, and Mr A. A. Tealby commissioned a house in Sharnbrook. Scott himself set up home and office in a converted cottage on the site of Fenlake Manor, after initially setting up at 4 Windsor Place, on the corner of St. Cuthbert's Street and Goldington Road. It was at Fenlake that he wrote Houses and Gardens, but tragically the house burnt down in 1911 taking with it all of his records, and after a disrupted period in St. Johns Street and Elstow he eventually moved to London in 1913. See the interactive map below.

Kristian Purcell,
Curatorial Assistant

The core of the information in this blog came from two essays by Simon Houfe, 'The Villa Architecture of Bedford III - M. H. Baillie Scott', Bedfordshire Magazine Vol. XII (Luton, 1971) p141-146, and 'Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott - Craftsman Architect' the Foreword to: M. H. Baillie Scott, Houses and Gardens (Woodbridge, 1995)

A Google Map of Baillie Scott related locations:

View Bedford Architecture: M H Baillie Scott in a larger map

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