Wednesday, 28 January 2015


who designs lovely things...
These were the words of Lady Bute, wife of his patron, upon the untimely death of William Burges, architect, designer, passionate Gothicist and imaginative imp. Burges was staying with the Marquis and Marchioness of Bute when he caught a chill from which he died, aged 53, in 1881. My enthusiasm for his work has been growing over the past few years, as we encounter his fantastic creations on our travels round the UK. Mr N kindly presented me with a giant book about him for Christmas too - that's Castell Coch, near Cardiff, on the cover.

Knightshayes Court, near Tiverton in Devon, is another of his buildings, now owned by the National Trust - we visited two years ago.
The stable buildings at Knightshayes.
       Burges applied his love of Medieval style and decoration to walls, furniture

and objects.


To see a film of this wonderful washstand in use, click on the link. The marble bowl is inlaid with silver fish, which seem to swim when it is filled with water.

This decanter in the form of a Gothic jug or ewer has elaborate silver mounts featuring plants and animals, typical of Burges and resembling the gargoyles and grotesque carvings found on medieval churches. He often incorporated genuine antique treasures into these elaborate designs, for example, this piece has a Chinese jade lion on its lid, with coral cameos and Eastern coins  decorating the mounts. We saw it in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, last year.
We are very lucky to live very near to two beautiful churches designed and decorated by Burges.
Christ the Consoler in the grounds of Newby Hall at Skelton-on-Ure.

The buildings delight the eye from a distance and become even more interesting when examined closely.

I love these small details most of all - the more you look, the more you see.
St. Mary's, Studley Royal Park, near Ripon .
Burges's Chorister's House, close by, is a National Trust holiday cottage
The interior is colourful, almost exotic - perhaps influenced by the architecture Burges discovered on his European travels to Spain, Italy, Greece and Turkey.
The exterior is less showy, but just as intriguing.
 Look closely, up there near the roof, and you will see...
the draughtsman
and the stonemason.
This is the house that Burges built for himself, The Tower House. He lived there only briefly, at the end of his life. A more recent resident was John Betjeman and in 1970 the house was bought by the actor Richard Harris for £75,000. Two years later he sold it to Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page for £350,000. To their credit the interiors have been carefully preserved and conserved, but, unlike much of Burges's work, it is not on view to the public - unless, of course, you are best mates with Led Zeppelin. 



  1. Hello,

    Oh, if only we were best friends with the Led Zeppelin crew......for we should love to see inside this house. We promise that you could come too!

    This has been a most fascinating post about a man whom we knew slightly but now are more familiar with. We were last at Knightsayes many years ago and have to confess that, at the time, we were much more concerned with the garden. However, we can easily see how one can become keen to seek out more of this talented man's work which appeared in so many different places. Truly he seemed able to turn his designer hand to almost anything.

    You have encouraged us to go away and find out more. Your Christmas gift looks wonderful and now we must read more!

    1. We plan, one day soon, to visit the Cecil Higgins Gallery in Bedford which has one of the best collections of Burges's furniture and objects in the country. Worth a little detour on the journey between Brighton and Norwich?

  2. Thanks for that. I visited Castell Coch some years ago but didn't really know enough to appreciate it fully. I believe Jimmy Page's fascination with the period is deep-rooted and the house was one of his first purchases on achieving fame and wealth. I see that someone in your house has an interest in Soft Machine drummer Robert Wyatt. Did you catch the Radio 4 programme about him? If not then it's available to listen to here:

    1. Yes, I hear Jimmy Page is a big fan of Rosetti and the Pre-Raphaelites who were friends of Burges. The Robert Wyatt book is mine - and yes I did hear the Radio 4 programme. I knew him briefly in the late 1960s when I was at Canterbury College of Art where he worked as a life model. He was a very pleasant and charming chap, who never stopped talking about life and music. We now have a family member who runs a deli in Louth where Wyatt now lives and sees him regularly about town.
      I regret that my drawings of him were lost in a house move about 25 years ago.

  3. Such fabulous, exotic, things. I confess to knowing little about the man or his work, but I loved your photos. Some of them have interesting angles - the one you took looking up the lion to the roof at St Mary's is astonishing! It must be terribly inconvenient when one of your guests snuffs it on the premises.

    1. Poor Burges did not inconvenience his hosts, the Butes. He actually made it home from Wales, half-paralyzed, to The Tower House where he finally conked out.

  4. I don't think I have ever come across Mr. Burges before and it makes me wonder why? Such a visionary. Thanks for sharing your pics, they are quite eyegasmic.


    1. Eyegasmic - quite so!
      I'm amazed at the number of eyegasms one can have on one day!

  5. What a wonderful post. I had not heard of Burges but I do wish that I had done so earlier. I will now have to research.

    I didn't know about the Higgins gallery either and I live quite near to Bedford. Thank you so much for such a lot of information.

    1. He's a fascinating character and - if you like decorative detail - his creations are amazing!

  6. Another Burges fan here Nilly - I was going to mention the Cecil Higgins Gallery which we used to visit when we lived in Hertfordshire, but notice that you are already acquainted with it.
    My Art Society have organised a trip to Cardifff Castle this year, and although I went many, many years ago, I think another visit for me is on the cards.

    1. I haven't yet visited the Cecil Higgins Gallery but it should be possible soon. burges wasn't very prolific but seems to pop up all over the place. He designed Dover Town Hall where, many years ago, my mini skirt shocked teachers when I went on stage to collect a school prize!