23 September 2010

Arts and Crafts home, Ramsgate

How do we describe Arts and Crafts architecture, a style that was popular in the late Victorian and the Edwardian eras? Certainly it was a statement against the cheap, machine-made uniformity of the industrial revolution. But what did it stand for? The movement advocated truth to materials and traditional craftsmanship, with a preference for medieval or folk tastes. Arts and Crafts architects elected to build in the materials that could be found locally, but they could choose steep roofs, asymmetrical gables, clay tiling, corbelled brick work or any other decorative elements that they enjoyed. In the end, all Arts and Crafts architects wanted their houses to sit comfortably in their surroundings.

I don’t suppose there are many Arts and Crafts homes still standing these days in their original condition. They were very expensive to build and decorate in the late C19th, and even those that were built have been renovated since. But I found one in Country Life magazine (7th July 2010) that does not seem to have been changed. All photo credits belong to Country Life.

In the 1880s, tobacco magnate Sir William Henry Wills needed a seaside holiday home for the family. Ramsgate was an excellent choice; already by the later Victorian era, this east Kent coastal town was a well-known destination for affluent families to 'take the sea air'.

East Court: exterior, gardens and the sea

The house was designed by the very classy architects Ernest George and Harold Peto in 1889. George was so classy that Edwin Lutyens was one of his pupils. And Peto came from the minor nobility himself. After a highly successful career as an architect, Peto became increasingly interested in garden design and was commissioned to build a number of gardens in Edwardian England. In the 1890s, Peto built his own dream home, Iford Manor in Wiltshire, which of course displayed his Arts and crafts approach, especially to garden design.

Strutt and Parker call the home East Court, a magnificent example of an Arts and Crafts House, set high above the sea below. Note that The Architecture of Sir Ernest George and His Partners c1860-1922 gives this grade II-listed house’s name as East Hill.

Externally the house was given striking green slate roof tiles. The design incorporated over-hanging jetties, verandas and oriel windows, details which gave the house a distinctive, Elizabethaneque feel.

The main reception rooms were arranged around an airy reception hall with marble floors and dominated by a stained glass window depicting scenes from the Book of Revelations. A fine, wide oak staircase took the family to a galleried landing.

dining room

There were 6 main rooms accessed off the hall, the principal reception rooms displaying fine panelling and moulded ceilings. Two of these rooms formed a lovely drawing room. The most Arts and Crafts features of the drawing room were the plaster ceilings and the deeply recessed fireplace with ornate carved mantel surrounds. A glazed door opened onto a veranda overlooking the garden and sea. Adjacent to this, the half-panelled dining room was dominated by a wonderful carved wooden mantel surround, with inset marble slips and a matching fitted dresser. Beyond was the former billiard room with a semi-domed ceiling, glazed skylight, carved wooden mantel surround and panelled walls.

reception room

The first floor accommodation was arranged around a galleried landing area with a fireplace to one end. The upstairs rooms were only for the family, so I must confine myself to one comment about this private area - the rooms to the front of the house enjoyed truly wonderful sea views.

As you would expect from a late Victorian Arts and Crafts home, the gardens at East Court were very special. Shrubs, trees, evergreen hedges, brick and flint walls formed the boundaries of the garden. A coach house was added, built in the same distinctive style as the main house, with slate tile hung elevations and multi-pane leaded light windows.


The house passed to Sir William Wills' niece, Dame Janet Stancomb-Wills, on his death in 1911. Carrying on what seemed to be a family history of benevolence, Dame Janet was a keen supporter of the Antarctic expeditions. Ernest Shackleton became a close personal friend, and often stayed at East Court. Since Dame Janet's death, the house became a children’s home and then a school, however the building retains its architectural integrity and survives largely in its original layout.


Ernest Gimson 1864-1919 carried on the ideals of  William Morris into next generation, moving to the Cotswolds in 1893. He lived from 1894-1901 at Pinbury Park, leading a second generation of Cotswold Arts and Crafts furniture workshops and showrooms, both on the Cirencester Estate at Sapperton. 

Examine Stoneywell which was built in 1898 in Leicester. Ernest Gimson designed this house for his older brother Sydney Gimson. The house is built on a slope and approached from above, so one walks round the house to get to the front door, which looks out on a very rural landscape. Note the dominant chimney stacks along the south wall.  The original roof, like many of Gimson's houses, was thatched, but a fire just before WW2 meant it had to be re-roofed in Swithland slate.

If the Arts and Crafts movement could be seen as a clear rejection of the excesses of Victorian domestic architecture, Stoneywell represented the movement well. When the National Trust opened Stoneywell to visitors in February 2015, it was possible to see most of the original furniture still in the house eg Gimson's ladder-back chairs and oak bed, plus the Barnsleys' table and dresser. 

 Stoneywell in Leicestershire


Jim said...

It looks amazing inside.

Unknown said...

How wonderful! Do we have any examples of this style in Melbourne Hels?

Also, have you ever posted on Queen Anne architecture? Do we have any famous Queen Anne style homes in Melbourne I could go gawk at?!

Thanks for putting 3PP in your blogroll!

Kind Regards
H Niyazi

Hermes said...

What a lovely house. The intention as I understand it was to bring back medieval craftsmanship to design and making all sorts of things. What a noble, probably impractical aim.

Hels said...

Jim and Hermes, the very factors that made Arts and Crafts homes so special - local materials, superb craftsmanship, one-off designs and no machine-made components, also made those homes expensive and slow to complete. I bet Sir William Wills thought the interiors and gardens were worth every pound he paid.

Hels said...

H Niyazi, one of my favourite articles about Federation Edwardian Queen Anne homes in Melbourne can be found at http://melbourneblogger.blogspot.com/2009/08/federation-edwardian-domestic.html

For the same types of homes in Sydney, see Federation Details blog: http://federationdetails.blogspot.com/2009/01/federation-queen-anne-style.html

And see what you make of Edzell: http://melbourneblogger.blogspot.com/2010/06/edzell-mansion-incomparable-dame-nellie.html

Unknown said...

Cheers Hels. I see many newer homes aping these styles in my area - including my own home which was advertised as 'federation style'

I love those Queen Anne style homes, and Queen Anne style furniture!


John Hopper said...

I think even the Arts & Crafts houses that have been altered still have much going for them. There is a definite feeling of space and natural flow in an Arts & crafts home that gives an air of relaxed calm. It is as if the house was built for the occupant, rather than the occupant trying to squezze themselves into a style.

Hels said...

John I agree. The two things that most appeal are a] that the house is personally designed and not the replication of 385,298,623,098 other homes across the world and b] that it is warmly family-friendly.

But I feel very unscholarly when we look at existing architecture (domestic or otherwise) and make judgements about what the original architect's intentions were.

I am writing a long post just now about 18th and 19th century rectories that are now in private hands. I am not confident even about simple statements eg "there were originally 5 bedrooms and 3 living rooms in this particular rectory". I am even less confident about more complex and important statements eg "the rector loved the house because the decorative style throughout was X."

No wonder the post is taking so long to get written :)

alex hill said...

i used to go to school there a few years ago as im dylexic and its sad it has closed down it was a lovly place although as a kid i really didnt appriciate that :-) glad you have so many pics but there is sooo much more to this building you dont have the pics of kind regards
alex hill

Hels said...

great to hear from you.
I WISH I could have seen the upstairs rooms .. even though they were only for the family. If you have any photos that shed light on the Arts and Crafts nature of the house, I would be delighted to receive them. I would add them to the blog, giving you full credit of course.
Happy new year

Anonymous said...

Hi my name is nicki gray I have worked in east court building for 12 years now and Iam continuing my work there for the new owners, I worked with the dyslexic school for the whole 12 years I was assistant site manager and girls matron, so I know the building very well inside and out , as I said iam continuing my work for the new owners who are restoring the building back to it's original state, we have found so many original features which were hidden behind Walls and under concrete, I read on the page you would like to see some photos of the upstairs I think you were asking one of our ex pupils my email address is nicki1986gray@aol.com and I'm sure if you like I could arrange for you to come see east court because it has two more floors which you cannot see from strutt and Parker pictures which I staged for them with the site manager cris gray. If you are interested in seeing east court or me sending you some pictures please email me. Many thanks nicki gray xx

Hels said...

I would take up that offer in a heart beat, but I am only in Britain every second year, during our long winter holidays (late June and July). You clearly did a terrific job, staging the rooms - everyone has loved what they have seen. But photos would be welcome.

neil said...

i lived at east court as a kid some 35 years ago .and i can still see all the wood panals in my mind to this day with the secret compartments in the walls even the cave in the garden had places to stash stuff there is not a day that passes by that i dont think about eastcourt i am glad that it has not been pulled down though and what about the tunnel that went from the boiler room and came out were ramsgate swimming pool used to be did you know about that keep me informed about this big green house it holds great sentimental value to me kind regards neal kavengh 1975 1981

Hels said...


One of the joys of blogging is you don't know whose life will be touched, whose soul will be lifted. I am delighted to hear from you.

Anonymous said...

Very emotional for me looking at the picture of the staircase. It has been in my visual memory all my life.
I stayed at this place briefly in the 70's and remember looking up this staircase and being very scared and lonely. There were bunk beds and I was given the top bed,near the ceilings cobwebs!
That picture has always been with me.

Hels said...


Arts and Crafts architects often choose steep roofs, asymmetrical gables, clay tiling, corbelled brick work or any other decorative elements that they enjoyed but that might well have frightened young children. I understand that.

Train Man said...

When we examined Gimson in lectures, I loved Stoneywell. Could you please add this 1898 treasure house.

Hels said...

Train Man

thank you for the idea. I added the Gimson house to the post straight away. I am assuming that since your favourite house came a decade after East Court, we might expect Stoneywell to be a bit more turn-of-the-century.

Joseph said...

Country Life magazine must adore East Court because they reviewed the Ramsgate home again this year (5/8/2015). A Polish master carpenter was employed to work his way through the house, reinstating its original Arts and Crafts interior with great skill.

Alas there was only one internal photo in the August 2015 article so I cannot see any differences. But it sounds wonderful.

Hels said...


Thank you. I too would love to see the renovated spaces.

Express says that only the downstairs rooms were returned to the original Arts and Crafts taste as designed by Ernest George and Harold Peto; the upstairs rooms were left unrenovated. East Court has oak panelling and leaded light windows, ornate ceilings and magnificent windows, while the dining room has a carved wooden fireplace surround with matching dresser.

See Deborah Stone's article, Express, Sun 23rd Aug 2015