DescriptionMunstead Wood, as executed, is probably one of Lutyens’s finest works in a style based on Surrey vernacular. However, it is no longer an exact recreation of old Surrey architecture, but merely echoes it in materials and general picturesque grouping. For Lutyens’s own manner of building is now almost fully formed and purified. Here we see the way his roofs envelop and spread like a soft felt hat, the window sills set flush with walls, and the typically wilful extension of the East wall. The house is large and strictly utilitarian in its functions. There is the hall, dining room (surprisingly classical), large workroom (for Gertrude Jekyll’s craft pursuits), study and kitchen quarters. There is no ‘drawing room’ but ingle-nooks in hall and workroom. It is constructed of Bargate stone, brick and tile; the massive oak beams of the hall come from local oak trees. The silvery grey and ‘aged’ colour of the oak was achieved by coating the timbers with hot lime for fifteen minutes and then scraping it off. The builder was Thomas Underwood (1860-1929) of Dunsfold, the stone mason William Herbert of Whitley.
The garden elevation has echoes of Voysey in its gables; the entrance elevation recalls H. H. Richardson’s work with its round-headed archway set into a massive wall. The entrance itself is a great surprise – you go through the archway, not into the house, but into a covered projection of lean-to shape, with the front door hidden to the right. The kitchen court at the rear is the most antiquarian part of the house with its cobbled yard and timber gallery.
Munstead Wood must always have been very special, a superbly crafted building for a client who believed utterly in the ‘thorough and honest spirit of the good work of old days’, and who felt that her architect had served her well. It brought Lutyens many jobs in the future, cemented his relationship with Gertrude Jekyll, and became a mecca for all Arts and Crafts architects. One such was the Scottish architect Robert Lorimer who wrote as follows to his friend R. S. Dods in Australia: ‘…It looks so reasonable, so kindly, so perfectly beautiful, that you feel that people might have been making love, and living and dying there and dear little children running about for – the last – I was going to say 1000 years – anyway 600. They’ve used old tiles which of course helps – but the proportion, the way the thing’s built – (very low coursed rubble with thick joints, and no corners) – in fact it has been built “by the old people of the old materials in the old unhurrying way” but at the same time “sweet to all modern uses”… and who do you think did this for her – a young chap called Lutyens, 27 he is – and I’ve always heard him derided by the Schultz school as a “society” architect. Miss J. has pretty well run him and now he’s doing a roaring trade and has just married a daughter of Lord Lytton, he’s evidently right in with the right lot of people – Princess Louise – Lord Battersea etc etc. and what a Gods mercy that for once in a way these people have got hold of the right man and what a thing for England.’ (Lorimer to Dods, November 22, 1897, quoted in Peter Savage, Lorimer and the Edinburgh Craft Designers, 1890.) (Amery et al., 1981, cat no.81)
With the Hut constructed, work could begin on MUNSTEAD WOOD, immediately E and entered from Heath Lane. Completed 1896–7, this is a very different matter from The Hut, part-house part-business premises. At Munstead Wood Lutyens’s distinctive Free Tudor style is already fully formed – though not fully worked out – in a kind of small-scale anticipation of the masterpieces of the next few years. The approach from the lane is carefully controlled, with the eye drawn deliberately to the SW corner, where the service wing is extended S a little to enable Lutyens to contrive one of his tour de force entrances, a clever effect with an arch of undressed voussoirs below a sheer blank Bargate stone wall punctuated by pigeon roosts (a detail unmentioned by C20 writers and only revealed by the removal of foliage very recently). The visitor slides through into a timber loggia, two-thirds open to a view along the S front but the entrance to the house instead in the loggia’s N wall. The S side was the most private side, with two large gables framing strips of mullioned windows on two storeys and nearly but not quite meeting in the centre, where the door to the living hall is placed. A large chimney brings this to an end and on the other side the roof slopes upwards above a window at a raised level for Jekyll’s writing room. The more public side of the house is the N front where an internal court or spatial kernel occurs (see also Orchards, p. 536), in the narrow well of a U created by wings for – on the r. – Miss Jekyll’s workroom and flower shop in the gabled end and – on the l. the lower hip-roofed service wing with side chimney. This is most successfully done, with stone sides and a completely unexpected half-timbered first-floor gallery across the middle, above a loggia; the timber framing in three squares containing double-ogee bracing (cf. the similar jettied feature in Godalming High Street). Parallel is a second narrow court for the kitchens, fully enclosed and entered through a timber arch between battered walls.
Inside, entrance vestibule with corner fireplace of unusual design. The hall fills the width of the S range and has at the W end a fireplace under a broad sloping hood. The dog-leg staircase runs beside this in shallow flights. C17 in style, with turned finials and pendants, but with a delightful touch: the space between the supporting joists of the top treads is left open, so that the riser has gaps in it, tying the two levels together spatially. Lutyens would use this many times. At the half-landing a l. turn into Miss Jekyll’s writing room. The principal interior of interest, however, is the spacious landing behind the half-timbering, where Lutyens created a kind of long gallery with a barn roof of double-curved queen-struts on arch-braced ties only just above head level, a foretaste of later naughtiness. Cupboards with his favourite wavy splat balusters. The workroom is much plainer, with an interesting fireplace very characteristic of early Lutyens, a semicircle for the fireplace arch and an overmantel of arches from which springs a giant brick cove, constrained by a timber frame.
The house was integral with the GARDENS, the total effect that of a continuous give-and-take between landscape and architecture. From the N garden court, a right-angle turn forms a second axis between hedges and punctuated by lily tanks, descending to the garden on the W side but also offering routes N (this was deliberate – Jekyll’s customers approached from this direction from the outbuildings and could experience the garden on the way to her flower shop in the NW wing). Gertrude Jekyll revived or invented the image of the informal English cottage garden, with walled and hedged compartments for different seasons, and that is the effect here now; but only after a diligent and heroic restoration since the 1990s by Stephen King for Sir Robert and Lady Clarke. The original planting scheme had been entirely lost in the mid C20 after the estate was broken up. The beds and rock garden were buried below turf, and semi-wild trees were allowed to grow to within a few feet of the S front. An unusual feature is a garden BENCH of a block of elm on a stone plinth at the base of a birch tree, described as the ‘Cenotaph of Sigismunda’. (O’Brien et al., 2022, pp.534-5)
BibliographyAmery, C., Richardson, M. and Stamp, G. (1981) Lutyens, the Work of the English Architect Sir Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944): Hayward Gallery London, 18 November 1981-31 January 1982. London: Arts Council of Great Britain.
O’Brien, C., Nairn, I. and Cherry, B. (2022) Surrey. Pevsner Architectural Guides: Buildings of England. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Also Cited InNairn, I., Pevsner, N. (1971) Surrey (Pevsner Architectural Guides: Buildings of England). 2nd edn. Yale University Press.
Butler, A., 1950. The architecture of Sir Edwin Lutyens: the Lutyens memorial series. Vol 1: Country Houses, Country Life: London and Scibners: New York.