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Title: Samuel Wyatt, architect
Author: Robinson, John Martin
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 1974
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This thesie is the first biography of Samuel Wyatt to be written. It attempts to establish the range and importance of his activity as an architect and engineer by using contemporary documentary sources and the evidence of his surviving buildings. In the past, Samuel Wyatt's reputation has been overshadowed by that of his more prolific and famous younger brother James. A whole chapter, therefore, is devoted to their relationship in order to establish the differences in their architectural interests and style. James and Samuel Wyatt were closely associated at the beginning of their careers up to 1774. After that date they were almost entirely independent of each other. Samuel Wyatt's work has been seen by many as a pale reflection of his brother's, and his achievement has thus been undervalued. Samuel was however an important architect in his own right. He was an interesting neo-classical designer with a refined decorative style. He was also an original planner. Many of his contemporaries thought highly of him. They were struck by two aspects of his architecture, its 'elegant simplicity' and its 'ingeniousness'. These are indeed the two dominant characteristics of his work. The ' ingeniousness' is expressed in his use of new materials and constructional techniques, and in his engineering projects. 'Elegant simplicity' perfectly sums up hie austerely refined decorative style. The way in which his work combines engineering and the most elegant neo-classicism is typical of the period. Wyatt's architecture is the exact equivalent of Wedgwood's pottery and Boulton's metal-ware. Several of Samel Wyatt's buildings have previously been attributed mistakenly to James Wyatt. It was essential, therefore, to establish which works were definitely Samuel's. The resulting list, with the sources for each attribution, is included as an appendix. Although hi a architectural output did not rival that of James Wyatt or Robert Adam, it was nonetheless substantial, surpassing that of such contemporaries as Henry Holland and equalling that of the younger George Dance. In addition to the catalogue, many photographs have been assembled to illustrate the range and quality of his work as fully as possible. Various chapters deal with his more important types of buildings. The longest of these describes his country houses, which formed the largest part of his architectural practice. They differ considerably from those of James Wyatt, being more restrained and consistent in scale and style. The majority are Greco-Roman, of moderate size. There are no fully-fledged gothick mansions by him. He only used the style when he had no option as, for instance, at Panshanger and Penrhyn. His few gothick works are vapid and of no interest. On the other hand, his classical country houses are of high quality and some originality. He evolved two personal types of house. One of these was his own version of the Anglo-Palladian villa with a main facade composed of a central domed bow flanked by overarched tripartite windows. The other, which can be called his 'belvedere house', has a main facade flanked by two domed bows. It was designed to take advantage of the prospect as is particularly obvious at Belmont (Kent) where each bow has a little glazed gazebo on top of the dome. Domed bows are the most distinctive single feature of Wyatt's houses. He was obsessed by then and used them on all possible occasions. The interiors of his houses are distinguished for their refined decoration and their novel plans. His decoration was amongst the most elegant of the period. It was even more attenuated and refined than that of Robert Adam and James Wyatt, although derived from the same sources and executed by the same craftsmen. The most important feature of his houses were their plans. Some of them show a great preoccupation with geometry culminating in that for Sundridge Park (Kent) where rooms of all shapes are packed round a circular staircase hall within a pre-existing shell. His plans also display a trend towards greater freedom and fluidity. This is expressed in asymmetrical office iwings and orangeries and the random siting of bow windows on side elevations. After his country houses the most important of Wyatt's buildings were those he designed for public clients including Trinity House in London and the Commissioner's House in the Royal Dockyard at Portsmouth. Another long chapter is therefore devoted to his public employment and works. The ingenious- ness as well as the elegance of his style is particularly apparent in this field, for it includes several of his engineering works suh as the designs for Ramsgate Harbour and for lighthouses. Lighthouses were one of Wyatt's special interests, and he designed four completely new ones, thoroughily remodelled a fifth, and repaired and altered several others. Wyatt was a reliable and competent civil engineer but not a great original like Smeaton or Rennie, his predecessor and successor at Ramsgate. The description of Wyatt's public career also reinforces the picture of an independence from James Wyatt. The latter was surveyor-general, and it might have been expected that his brother's public employment owed something to his influence. This was not the case. All Samuel Wyatt's important public employments were received before James became surveyor-general. Samuel received only one public carpentry contract directly from James Wyatt. An important and unusual aspect of Samuel Wyatt's architectural activity was the designing of subsidiary estate buildings. The design of late eighteenth century farm-buildings has not been explored hitherto. A whole chapter is devoted therefore to this aspect of Wyatt's career. It may be thought eccentric to deal at length with farm-buildings while ignoring Wyatt's London houses. Although he executed much work in London, most of it was not exceptional by contemporary standards. Wyatt made no novel contribution to town house plans. Most of his work in London consisted of alterations to existing buildings and expensive redecoration. Much of it has been destroyed without record. Mention in the appendix together with photographs of the best surviving decoration at Lichfield House seemed to be adequate treatment. On the other hand, his farm-buildings are of considerable architectural and historic interest. He worked for many of the foremost agricultural improvers of the time, including the celebrated 'Coke of Norfolk'. His farms therefore perfectly reflect the great development in agriculture in late eighteenth century England. Some of them are neo-classical designs of considerable originality. They manifest that preoccupation with geometry that is also found in his country house plans. The rise of the Wyatt family in the late eighteenth century is interesting socially and historically. It is symptomatic of the development of agriculture and industry in the north Midlands following the great improvement in communications with London after 1750, particularly the making of canals and turnpike roads. The emergence of Samuel Wyatt as a fashionable architect is part of the same movement in art and science that produced the Lunar Society, Derby Porcelain, Wedgwood's pottery, Boulton's metal ware, and artists like Paul Sandby of Nottingham, Joseph Wright of Derby or the actor David Garrick of Birmingham. This aspect of Wyatt's career is discussed in the preliminary biographical chapter where it is shown how much the success of the Wyatts was due to the encouragement of local landowners and industrialiste such as Lord Scarsdale of Kedleston, the Bagots of Blithfield and Matthew Boulton. A further chapter is devoted entirely to Wyatt's friendship with Boulton and the works that grew out of it.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Architects ; Architecture ; History ; England ; Biography ; 18th century ; 19th century