Edwin Lutyens
by Edward Mitchell

The “Surrey style” of architecture was inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th century and Edwin Lutyens was a crucial figure in establishing this style that sought to challenge the dehumanising effects of the Industrial Revolution by recreating local vernacular traditions. Today, much of Surrey is protected by two hundred conservation areas and more than six thousand listed buildings.

Photograph of Edwin Lutyens. Wikimedia Commons.

Sir Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944) designed an astonishing variety of buildings from modest English country houses to war memorials, churches, and grand public buildings, all adapted for the 20th century. Born in London, he spent his early years in Thursley, Surrey, followed by the South Kensington School of Art. His first commission was Crooksbury (1889). Near Farnham, it was described by Ian Nairn as “in a very accomplished tile-hung Norman Shaw style, softer and sweeter than Shaw himself ever built.”

Other landmarks include Chinthurst Hill (Wonersh, 1893-95). Of Bargate stone and in the Tudor style, it features inset Gothic traceried windows resembling a mediaeval manor house. Sheltered in the Surrey Hills, it spreads over gardens laid out by Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932), the horticulturist. This project began a long association between Lutyens and Jekyll: her landscapes complementing his houses perfectly. He designed Munstead Wood (Godalming, 1897) which would be both her home and the centre of her business, with her drifts of colour within his boundaries of paths and stone walls. Influenced by Turner and the impressionists, other collaborations include Warren Mere (Thursley) and Wood End (Wormley).

Chinthurst Hill. By Colin Smith, CC BY-SA 2.0,

H. S. Goodhart-Rendel, another architect, wrote: “No one has ever been as artful as he in the choice of attractive materials, building into the walls and roofs of his houses not only bricks and tiles but an imaginary past . . . much more amusing than any real past could have been.” With the “Wrenaissance” (a term he probably coined) style of classicism often seen in London, Lutyens’s ambitions rapidly outgrew his early Surrey style. Notable examples include the Country Life offices (1905), the British Medical Association (1911), and two fine Midland Banks. The first in Piccadilly (1923) – a miniature gem forming an exact cube; the second in Poultry (1937, now “The Ned” hotel, named after him). The Whitehall Cenotaph (1920) and Thiepval War Memorial (1928-32) were proof of his geometrical ingenuity.

Many claim New Delhi, later the seat of Government in India, as his finest project: in particular the imposing India Gate and the Rashtrapati Bhavan (formerly the Viceroy’s House), leading the architectural historian Gavin Stamp to declare Lutyens as “surely the greatest British architect of the twentieth (or of any other) century.” A long way from the rolling, wooded landscapes of Surrey.

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