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Eltham Palace

Seely and Paget ran one of the most noteworthy architectural firms of the inter-war years, completing their masterpiece, Eltham Palace, in 1936. Their names live on together like Batman and Robin or Lennon and McCartney, but their relationship went much deeper than that of professional partners.

Paul Paget (L) and John Seely (R) wearing a crown
Paul Paget (L) and John Seely (R) celebrating the Queen’s coronation 1953 © Templewood Estate

Meeting as students

The two met as teenagers at Trinity College, Cambridge, where John Seely, son of Lord Mottistone was studying Architecture. Paul Paget, the son of a Bishop, was an extrovert and entertainer. In Paget's words "it was just the marriage of two minds…we became virtually one person". Each referred to the other simply as 'the partner'.

Professional partnership

It was in 1922, after Paget had moved back to London to take up what he considered a dull profession in banking, that Seely turned up and announced that they were starting an architectural firm together. What Paget lacked in architectural expertise, he made up for in charm. He was the letter writer, the phone answerer, and the face of the company. Seely was the designer.

John Seely (L) drawing up plans and Paul Paget (R)
John Seely (L) drawing up plans and Paul Paget (R) © Templewood Estate

First commissions

Both came from rich families and were well connected. In Paget's words "You were just introduced to the right people, behaved in the right way, and so commission followed commission".

Their first undertaking outside of their families was for the actress Gladys Cooper. She was the pin up girl of the First World War. Following Cooper, their next commission came from the playwright, author and screenwriter JB Priestley, who lived next door to Cooper in North London - overlooking Highgate Woods

Churches and institutions

Paget's Bishop father arranged some introductions and in 1933 they built the Church of St Faith at Lee-on-the-Solent. Seely and Paget went on to oversee the restoration of over a dozen London churches after the war.

Among many other buildings, they were also responsible for restoring the Charterhouse, part of the Westminster Abbey precinct, and Eton College. In addition they built a number of new churches, including St Andrew and St George in Stevenage - the largest parish church to have been built in England since the Second World War.

Interior of the Church of St Andrew and St George
Interior of the Church of St Andrew and St George, Stevenage © Historic England Archive

In their later years Seely and Paget went on to become the Surveyors to the Fabric of St Paul's Cathedral.

Private life

They lived and worked together at 41 Cloth Fair, in the City, in a house that pre-dated the Fire of London. Their business became so successful that they were able to buy the majority of the buildings on the street.

They installed two separate baths in the bathroom, where they would soak together.

Man cleaning a bath
The double bathroom © Templewood Estate

They blocked up the window in the house opposite that overlooked their kitchen and commissioned the church artist Brian Thomas to paint over it. The mural of a sailor returning home  was "a delightful thing to look at" according to Paget. This may have resonated strongly with the partners, both having lost older brothers in the First World War.

The partners dining together at home
The partners dining together at home. The mural can just be seen outside the window © Templewood Estate

Their friend John Betjeman, later to become the Poet Laureate, moved in to this house as their neighbour in the 1950s.

Country getaway

Paul Paget standing outside the Shack
Paul Paget on his last visit to The Shack in 1983 © Templewood Estate

On weekends they would get away from the pace of London life at 'The Shack' which they built together in the grounds of Mottistone Manor on the Isle of Wight. They entertained guests at Mottistone often, but with only two bunk beds there was nowhere for guests to stay at The Shack. The shack can be seen today at Mottistone Manor.

Inside the Shack
Inside the Shack. Each bunkbed had a desk beneath it © Templewood Estate

The Courtaulds and Eltham Palace

Entrance hall of Eltham Palace
The imposing entrance hall © Historic England Archive

Paget's cousin recommended the partners to Stephen Courtauld, brother of Samuel (founder of The Courtauld Institute), and one of the richest men in the country. This led to the creation of the partners' masterpiece Eltham Palace; an Art Deco extension to a medieval royal retreat.

Eltham Palace from the south east with moat and medieval wall in foreground
Eltham Palace from the south east with moat and medieval wall in foreground © Historic England Archive

Their work included all 14 of the bedrooms and all but one of the bathrooms - Lady Courtauld's own. She stipulated that hers be designed by the fashionable Mayfair interior designer Peter Malacrida. Paget later said: "We slightly resented that and thought we would have done something much better."

Lady Courtauld’s bedroom based on a Greek temple
Lady Courtauld’s bedroom based on a Greek temple © English Heritage Trust

Life after death

Seely died in 1963 and is buried in St Catherine's chapel garden at the little cloister in Westminster Abbey.

Paget continued his duties at St Pauls, but without his partner and with no architectural training, he felt unable to continue alone. In 1971, he married the children's writer Verily Anderson, for partnership. He retired with her and her children to Templewood in North Norfolk, a building the partners erected for Paget's uncle. He lived there happily until his death in 1985.

Exterior of Templewood
Templewood in 2016 © Templewood Estate
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