Of all the architects who brought about the Arts and Crafts domestic renaissance of the 1890s, Charles Francis Annesly Voysey was the only one who built much in London. There are no known buildings by him in the centre, but his influence is seen in almost every London suburb built between 1900 and 1940. C.F.A Voysey was a leading member of the Arts and Crafts movement, but above all, he was an individualistic designer who invented an architectural style of his own.
Early Life and Education
Charles Francis Annesley Voysey was born at Hessle, near Hull in Yorkshire, of a family claiming descent from the Duke of Wellington. His father was a country parson who was later expelled from the Church of England for denying the existence of Hell. The family moved to Dulwich in 1871, where the sons attended the well-known public school while the father set about establishing his own Theistic Church. Charles Voysey was first articled to J. P. Seddon, then worked for Saxon Snell and for the notable country house architect George Devey in 1880.
In 1882 C.F.A Voysey set up his own practice. It was to be six years before he got his first architectural commission, and in the meantime, he earned his way by designing wallpapers and fabrics at the suggestion of his friend Arthur Mackmurdo, founder of the Century Guild the first short-lived guild of the Arts and Crafts movement. Charles Francis Annesley Voysey married in 1885, living at Bedford Park and later in St. John’s Wood.
After an early cottage in Warwickshire, his first work in London is the horizontal veranda entrance and hall he added to the front of No. 71 South End Road, Hampstead in 1890. The next year saw two important, though still small, works. The famous three-storey studio tower at No. 14 South Parade, Bedford Park (1891) established the simplified manner which was to he his trademark striking forms, white rendered walls, horizontal band windows and hipped slate roof.
Arts and Craft Works
Another lifelong characteristic, that of overall horizontal forms, was established in the same year with the charming little studio house which Charles Francis Voysey built at No. 17 St. Dunstan’s Road, West Kensington. Horizontals again form the dominant feature of his tall houses of 1892 at Nos. 14 and 16 Hans Road, beside Harrods Department Store in Knightsbridge. At this time many Arts and Crafts architects began to experiment with unusual plans for their houses L-shapes, X-shapes and even Z-shapes, in order to break up the formality of the conventional compact block.
Charles Francis Annesley Voysey favourite was the L-plan, and an early use of this can be seen in Annesley Lodge, the house he designed for his father on the corner of Platt’s Lane and Kidderpore Avenue, Hampstead (1896). The door is in the inner angle of the L, whose long low arms embrace a pretty front garden. The interiors and furnishings too were designed by Voysey, in accordance with a principle, he applied whenever his client would agree.
This was one principle on which Charles Francis Voysey agreed with other Arts and Crafts architects; another was that of seeking to integrate a house with its site. On other matters, Charles Francis disagreed with leading fellows architects of the movement such as Philip Webb and the group of former Norman Shaw pupils led by W. R. Lethaby and E. S. Prior.
They sought to adapt and use the local vernacular, while Charles Feancis Annesley Voysey developed his own style. They employed local building materials to bring the house close to its surrounding nature, but Voysey almost always used the same white roughcast walls and slate roofs wherever he was building. Voysey felt strongly, and expressed himself strongly, that copies of past styles were wrong and simplicity of design was right. “Begin by casting out all the useless ornaments . .” he wrote in 1892. “Eschew all imitations. Strive to produce an effect of repose and simplicity.”
His next London work was the design of 1897 for the house called Dixcot in North Drive, tooting Bec Common, Streatham which was built with minor alterations by another architect after Voysey had quarrelled with his client—he had a fiery and rather an autocratic temperament which was not always harmonious with those who employed him. The 1898 additions to the front of No. 16 Chalcot Gardens, off Englands Lane, Hampstead are typical in detail except that they are of brick and stone to blend with the rest of the house. The house called Gordon Dene in Princes Way, Wimbledon (1899) has been partly altered by another architect.
A group of houses followed in Chorley Wood, on the north-west outskirts of London. The most famous is The Orchard, built for his own use in Shire Lane (1900-01 ). Again there are the long white walls, band windows and hipped slate roofs. But the frontage here has a gable at either end with an off-centre front door—the basic form of this elevation has been adapted and copied in countless suburban semi-detached houses all over England and in other countries of the British Commonwealth. In 1903-04 charles Francis designed another house, called Hollybank, in Shire Lane, Chorley Wood, and at about the same time made a typical addition to Hill Cottage in the same road.
The early 1900s gave C.F.A Voysey a rare opportunity to show what he could do when designing a larger non-domestic building. In 1902-03 he designed and built a Wallpaper Factory for Sanderson’s (who had used many of his wallpaper designs) which can still be seen in Barley Mow Passage off Turnham Green, Chiswick.
It is a delightful and elegant building. High piers support the structure and rise the full height to the roof. The windows between these piers are broad, and their horizontals are relieved by lightly arched tops. Most charming of all, the roof at sky level has a wavy outline between the piers. The building has now been well converted into insurance offices and is named Voysey House.
During the 1900s Voysey’s practice was reduced. Unlike his slightly younger colleague, M. H. Baillie Scott, he had no stomach for seeking commissions 7 when fashion shifted from his style towards romantic brick and half-timbering, or to the inventive Neo-Georgian of Ernest Newton. Charles Francis Voysey’s lovely interiors for the house called Garden Corner at No. 13 Chelsea Embankment (c. 1 906) have been destroyed except for the staircase.
After that, there is only the War Memorial (1920) at the corner of Hatfield Road and The Causeway in Potter’s Bar to record. Charles Francis Annesley Voysey himself had enough private income to live on until 1941 in chambers in Mayfair, doing occasional small architectural jobs. In 1940, a year before he died, he was belatedly awarded the Royal Gold Medal of the Royal Institute of British Architects.