ROEHAMPTON HIGH STREET SW15
Also Known As: MANRESA HOUSE, ROEHAMPTON HIGH STREET SW15, ROEHAMPTON LANE
BESSBOROUGH HOUSE, ROEHAMPTON HIGH STREET SW15, ROEHAMPTON LANE
Villa, 1760, by Sir William Chambers for Lord Bessborough with later additions from the 1860s by the Society of Jesus and then in 2004 by Whitelands College.
PLAN: rectangular C18 villa faces west with intact C18 plan on ground and first floors; single storey C19 corridor to the east connecting villa to flanking C19 wings to north and south. Further ranges, running east from the corridor, form a courtyard closed by a block of c2004 on the east side. Former chapel is to the south of south courtyard range; a chapel of c2004 is further to the east, accessed through the east courtyard range. There is a third block of c2004 to the north, an extension of the north courtyard range.
EXTERIOR: The villa's principal façade is an excellent example of a mid-C18 villa, inspired by the houses of the Italian Veneto. The brick building is faced with Portland stone and of five bays and three storeys. It demonstrates those features characteristic of the Italian villas it emulated, including a rusticated ground floor and a central six-column Ionic pedimented loggia with a balustrade at first floor. This is reached by grand twin curved flights of steps with wrought iron railings. There is also a central entrance at basement level with a carved entablature. The rear, typically for a building of the C18, is relatively plain and a single storey corridor of 1860 partially obscures the elevation. The fenestration is regular with a clock set into the central window, introduced by the Jesuits in the C19.
The north and south elevations of the villa are obscured by C19 additions. To the south is a five bay wing of 1860 by H Clutton, in the Italian palazzo style, of stock brick with stone dressings, including a rusticated plinth and quoins. The chapel, behind the south wing was begun in 1860 by JJ Scoles and completed after his death by Nicholl, has a nave with aisles and an apsidal east end. To the north is a wing, added by the Jesuits slightly later; this has eight bays, five in the centre projecting, and is of stock brick with stone surrounds to the central windows, voussoirs to the ground floor windows and quoins. Adjoining this is a new building, built c2004, housing teaching rooms and a café. Running east from the villa are two ranges creating a courtyard to the rear of 1877-8 (south) and 1885-6 (north) by FA Walters. That to the north abuts the c2004 block. The courtyard is enclosed to the east by an entrance wing of c2004. There are now free-standing blocks in the area to the east of the house, built in c2004, and a new chapel to the south of the Jesuit chapel, which is connected to the C19 block by a small link corridor.
SETTING: The 1760s villa faces west and has a view over Richmond Park, as uninterrupted as it was when Lord Bessborough first selected the site in 1762. This remarkable feature is invaluable in evoking the landscape setting that inspired so many aristocrats and gentlemen to build small villas in this area in the Georgian period. No other surviving C18 Thames-side house retains its original setting in the same way, although the area to the east of Parkstead House has changed beyond recognition.
INTERIOR: Of exceptional significance for the survival of Chambers' decorative scheme; including fireplaces, door-cases, a central staircase and plasterwork ceilings (the latter most complete of his early works). The most elaborate fireplace, in the central hall, is of marble carved by Joseph Wilton and has a raised centre, swags and trophies of the arts. Other fireplaces by Chambers in the principal reception rooms are equally fine, though not as grand. The ceilings are of considerable significance and are described in detail in The Buildings of England: London, South p. 693. The staircase, which rises along three sides of the hall, is also of particular note in having a wrought-iron carved balustrade and elaborate plasterwork friezes that are typical of Chambers' work. The staircase originally had an octagonal servants' stair within its central well, which has since been removed, depriving the plan-form of its principal feature of interest. The ingenuity of this solution to making the most of the space within a compact building is not repeated elsewhere in the house, although the arrangement remains of intrinsic special interest as an example of a C18 villa plan. The basement floor of the Chambers' villa has narrow passageways leading to small rooms. Of note are the floral plasterwork on the corridor walls and the use of a medallion motif with heads and prows in the ceilings. The same pattern is repeated on a C18 circular skylight on the second floor. There is a good level of survival of original doors, door-cases and windows on the second floor, although the plan has been altered and fireplaces removed.
Also of exceptional special interest are the William Morris and Company stained glass windows and reredos, imported in 2004. Originally pointed lancets, the fifteen windows were altered to round-headed to suit the Romanesque style of the Putney chapel. Twelve of the windows, depicting female saints, were funded by donations from graduating students; they are now situated in the corridor of the north wing in the courtyard, lit from a smaller inner courtyard to the north. The windows form an obvious group, each depicting a tall female figure with a small face and hands on alternating red and blue backgrounds. All are characterised by the serenity of the figures, although each is distinguished by the symbols of their martyrdom illustrated in the glass. The other three windows, formerly at the east end of the chapels at Chelsea and Putney, are in a small corridor leading from the southern wing to the new chapel, built to the east of the original chapel in 2004. They were commissioned as a memorial to a Head Governess who died in a road accident. The central window depicts Christ the Saviour of the World, and the other two the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene, the latter the only Morris design in the ensemble. The reredos was designed by William Morris and is now in a lecture theatre in the c2004 buildings to the north of the site. This is a rectangular trellis supporting square panels of carved oak. Most panels display curling foliage but four contain the creatures associated with of the four Evangelists and the central two depict arrows, symbolic of the martyrdom of St Ursula, the College's patron saint. A cornice bears the Latin inscription 'hoc facite in meam commemorationem' meaning 'Do this in remembrance of me', words taken from I Corinthians 11. The design and craftsmanship of the reredos, particular in the use of silver and gold to reflect light, are of a very high quality.
The interiors of the C19 sections retain a number of original features which are of special interest. The finest interior of the C19 work is the chapel, which is in the Italian Renaissance style with marble pilasters and colourful paintwork. The aisle bays contain sky-lit coffered domes and the barrel vaulted nave ceiling is pierced by a row of clerestory lights. The adjacent former vestry has an elaborate frieze and pedimented door cases. Also of note is the single storey corridor to the rear of the Chambers' villa, which is largely unaltered and has a handsome colonnade of Doric pillars. Other corridors contain pilasters and pedimented door cases. There are several fireplaces, some bearing the Jesuits' insignias: 'IHS' and 'AMDG'. On the first floor of the south wing are small cell-like rooms, once accommodation for the Jesuit residents.
HISTORY: The history of Parkstead House falls neatly into three phases. The original building was built from 1762 to designs by Sir William Chambers as a riverside villa for Lord Bessborough. Designs for surviving ceilings can be dated to 1761 and 1763 and the house was complete by 1768. Then, in 1860, two wings and a chapel for the Society of Jesus were added, creating a horseshoe courtyard to the rear of Chambers' villa and replacing Chambers' wings (which are illustrated in Vitruvius Britannicus IV). Finally, when the house passed into educational use in the C20, the courtyard was enclosed with the addition of a fourth wing, firstly by a building of 1949 then by a new foyer built c2004. At this time, the fifteen stained glass windows and a reredos by William Morris and Company were installed in the building.
Sir William Chambers is an architect of exceptional significance, the designer of Somerset House and an important figure in the C18 neo-classical movement. This was the first of several villas designed by Chambers in the 1760s and owes its form and type to Lord Burlington's Chiswick House of 1728. Foot's Clay, a villa in Kent built by Bourchier Cleeve in 1756 in an imitation of Palladio's Villa Rotunda, has also been cited as an influence on Chambers' design (by Pevsner).
The William Morris and Company stained glass was commissioned by Whitelands College in the 1880s for their first chapel in Chelsea and subsequently moved with them to Putney in 1930 and then to Parkstead in 2004. In 1883, John Ruskin wrote to Edward Burne-Jones on behalf of the 'Principal, Governesses and Scholars of Whitelands College' and secured his, and William Morris', personal involvement in the commission. Fourteen of the windows were designed by Burne-Jones, one by Morris, and all were crafted by Morris at the Merton Abbey Works. Five of the windows (saints Agnes, Celia, Catherine, Dorothy and Margaret) were from pre-existing Burne-Jones designs; the rest were designed specifically for the College. The reredos was commissioned 1886 and designed by Morris. It was crafted by Kate Faulkner at her studio in Bloomsbury. In a letter she described how the surface was treated with silver and then gold paint in order that 'every part, even the lowest relief, catches the light, reflects it ... [and] even strong colours have been used freely'.
SUMMARY OF IMPORTANCE: Parkstead House, formerly Manresa House, is a 1760s house by a major architect of the C18, Sir William Chambers. The building survives well and is of exceptional interest as an example of the best Georgian architecture, inspired in form and setting by the villas of the Italian Veneto. The interiors are of particular note in having the original staircase, plan form, fireplaces and plasterwork ceilings. The C19 additions by the Jesuits are also of special architectural and historic interest, particularly the 1860s chapel. The changes the building has undergone in the first years of the C21 do not detract significantly from the special interest of the listed building and the installation of the exceptionally important William Morris and Company stained glass windows and reredos considerably enhances the building's architectural and historic qualities.
SOURCES: John Harris and Michael Snodin (eds), Sir William Chambers: architect to George III (1996) 245
Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner, Buildings of England: London, South (2001) 692-4
Malcolm Cole, Whitelands College: the Chapel (1985)
Historians File on Manresa House in EH archives