The Exciting Times of Late 19th Century Architecture
The mid-19th century was an exciting period in English architecture when builders of country houses embraced a new freedom of style and modern inventions. Out went the strict classical Georgian country house and in came what could best be described as a fusion of styles.

The Gothic Revival was a romantic interpretation of an earlier time. Although it had started in the 18th century it really came to the fore with the work of Pugin and Ruskin in his Stones of Venice, first published in 1851. In essence the Gothic Revival was seen to be a more adaptable and less rigid style that allowed the elevations of a building to flow rather than be constrained by a classical plan.

The newly emerging Arts & Crafts movement sought to fight against effects of industrialisation on both the lives of ordinary people and on design for the mass market. It set out to celebrate fine craftsmanship and integrate it into design. William Morris’s The Red House, built in 1859, is generally acknowledged to mark the start of the Arts & Crafts movement. Morris’s contemporary, Norman Shaw, on the other hand, was more influenced by the Queen Anne style and the work of Christopher Wren. The late 19th century saw all these styles brought together in a celebration of fine workmanship and industrial innovation. Changes in the manufacture of glass and wrought iron in particular had a great impact on buildings as both crown glass and cast iron which had, up until then, been expensive and difficult to work with.

Across the country there are examples of Victorian Gothic Revival country houses and villas. The advent of the railway allowed the middle and upper classes to be more mobile and live outside the major conurbations with clean air and a reliable water supply.

One of those to embrace this new found freedom of style was Thomas Allfree. He had been the English tutor to Czar Nicholas I’s children in Russia and upon his return to England in about 1850 founded a school in Tunbridge Wells. His ambition was to build himself a country villa nearby to enhance his status.

Allfree identified the perfect location on Tunbridge Wells Common, 256 acres of parkland, where construction was only allowed on sites already built upon before 1739 and where statutory restrictions remain in force to this day. One can now only guess at Allfree’s vision because in the course of its 160 years the house has undergone radical change. The original exterior included Tudor style chimneys and Arts & Craft barge boards.

There can be little doubt that Allfree would have been overjoyed when in the 1970s the owners at the time, Vivian Liff and George Steward, adopted the Victoria Gothic Revival style for the restoration work. Exploiting the high ceilings and well-proportioned rooms of the Victorian era, they created a quirky interior with a mix of Gothic styles still recognisable today in Walpole’s Strawberry Hill and Pugin’s interiors at the Palace of Westminster. The drawing room, now provides a versatile space for both grand entertaining and domestic intimacy, reinterpreting the Piano Nobile concept where the principal rooms were on the first floor.

The present owners have sought to respect the architectural history and integrity of the house whilst at the same time bringing its kitchen/breakfast room into the 21st century and replacing Liff and Stewart’s conservatory with a seasoned oak, double-glazed, under floor heated garden room/conservatory.

With a total of just over 5,000 sq.ft. the house has plenty of scope. In addition to the entrance hall, dining room, library, study, kitchen/breakfast room and conservatory, there is the first floor drawing room, master bedroom suite, 3 further bedrooms, and potential for one or two further en-suite bedrooms on the second floor. There is also the possibility subject to necessary consents of converting the Victorian ‘below stairs’ area into perhaps a home cinema, gym and/or office and storage. There is a 2 bay underground garage, further parking and an attractive, secluded terraced garden to the rear. The centre of town and the mainline station with frequent services taking less than an hour to London, are only about half a mile away.

Romanoff Lodge is being offered for sale by the Tunbridge Wells office, telephone 01892 521700, at an asking price of £1,750,000.

Dawn Carritt
October, 2016