A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode
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Gilbert Robert Blount was born at Mapledurham, near Reading, on 2 March 1819, the second child and son of Michael Joseph Blount and his wife Catherine (nee Wright). His parents were half first cousins. Michael was the second son of Joseph Blount and Mary Canning, and Catherine the daughter of Catherine Petre and her first husband Francis Wright. Her second husband was Michael Blount III of Mapledurham and brother to Joseph. These were all recusant Catholic families.
Mary Canning, the daughter of Francis Canning of Foxcote in Warwickshire (born 27 October 1755), married Joseph Blount (born 15 July 1752) in the chapel of Foxcote House, on 19 February 1776. It appears that they rented Britwell House near Watlington, Oxon for a time, as two of their five children were born there. They moved to France in the 1780’s and Joseph died at St Cyr, near Lyons, on 1 January 1793. He is buried there at the foot of the altar. Mary Blount returned to England with her children and she died at Cheltenham on 29 December 1843. Her burial actually took place at St Benet’s, Kemerton and she was the first person to be interred there as the church and cemetery were only blessed on 18 July 1843. Michael Joseph (Gilbert’s father) was born at Britwell House on 30 March 1783 and he married Catherine Mary Wright of Kelverdon, Essex. The Wrights were bankers and the majority of clergy and Catholic laity banked with them. The bank collapsed during the depression of the 1820’s-1850’s. Michael and Catherine were married at the Spanish Embassy in London, one of the few places in London where Catholic marriages could be celebrated at this time. In order to have the marriage legalised, another ceremony had to take place in an ‘Established Church’. This legal formality took place at the old St Mary-le-Bone Church on 26 February 1816.
Gilbert Blount was educated at Downside in Somerset, from September 1834 until December 1836, and he began his professional training as a civil engineer with Isambard Kingdom Brunel, working on the construction of the Thames Tunnel (Rotherhythe to Wapping). He was the Superintendent of Construction in 1841 and, during one of the many floods, narrowly escaped drowning. He then decided that civil engineering was not for him and so, in 1842, he became an apprentice to Mr. Anthony Salvin, an architect, whose office at the time was situated at 32 Somerset Street, London. Gilbert’s aunt, Elizabeth Riddell, was instrumental in obtaining this position as Mr Salvin’s half-sister (Mrs Anne de Lisle), was a friend of hers.i]
Whilst working for Mr Salvin, Gilbert helped produce plans for Trinity College, Cambridge, Shottesbrooke Church, Berkshire and Buckland House and Church near Faringdon, Oxfordshire. By 1847 he was working on house alterations for various well known Catholic families but, by 1850, he had set up his own office in the Adephi, London. He concentrated on designing churches, monastic buildings and liturgical furnishings. His patrons included the Cardinals Wiseman and Manning, the Duke of Norfolk, the Fitzherberts, the Cannings of Hartpury, Gloucestershire, Bishop Ullathorne and the Dominican Sisters. His principal works include Spitalfield Monastery and the Church of St Anne, London; Our Lady & St Catherine, Bow, London; Our Lady of The Assumption, Swynnnerton in Staffordshire; St Peter’s, Gloucester; St Peter’s, Bromsgrove; St Ambrose’s, Kidderminster; Carisbrook Priory, on the Isle of Wight; Westbury Convent, Bristol and the Catholic schools in Swindon.
Gilbert married Sophia Margaret Brown (born 8 October 1844), daughter of Samuel James Brown and Jacobina Sophia Radcliffe of Lofftuss Hill, Yorkshire, on 11 January 1870 at St Mary’s Chapel, Knaresbrorough. They had four daughters, Emma, Marjorie, Louisa and Gilberta, who was born after her father’s death. They lived at 1 Montague Place, London.
Gilbert Blount died in 1876. No obituary seems to have appeared and when Charles Barry, the President of the R.I.B.A., gave his annual address in 1877, he had great difficulty in finding any information about him, even though Gilbert had been a member of the Institute for 20 years. However he was described in the address as,
“a disciple of Pugin, he was a capable architect responsible for a small body of interesting but unadventurous works, variable in quality. Whilst he was not in the first flight as a designer, his work often had character – a personal flavour – due to his choice of parts and, at times, the wayward handling of their details…… He was a gentleman of very courteous manners and much respected among friends who deplore his death.”[ii]
Gilbert Blount died on 13 November 1876, ‘at 9.20pm, very calmly and beautifully.’[iii] His funeral took place on 18 November at St James’ Church in Reading. He was buried in the churchyard, beside the south wall of the church, in the family vault alongside his parents and sister. Since the alterations to this church in 1962, the Blount vault is now under the side aisle and is, unfortunately, not marked, but a plaque is now been placed on the nearest wall. His wife and three unmarried daughters, Marjorie, Louisa and Gilberta are all buried there with him. Emma, his eldest daughter, married William May, a solicitor, and they are both buried at St Edward’s, Sutton Park, Guildford.
[i] Letters to Gilbert Blount from Elizabeth Riddell (author’s collection) and Jill Allibone, ‘Anthony Salvin – Pioneer of Gothic Revival Architecture’
[ii] Charles Barry, R.I.B.A. address, November 1877
[iii] Gilbert Blount’s diary 1876 – continued by his wife. (author’s collection)
When looking for a builder or an architect, often the prospective client would go on personal recommendation or possibly a family connection, and the Victorians were no different to us today. Catholics were not allowed to enter certain professions until after the mid 19th century and even then work was not plentiful, so architects in particular tended to work for fellow Catholics. Gilbert Blount was no exception, except that he had some wealthy connections. These included Cardinals Wiseman and Manning, the Canning and Wright families, and then the convert and other families associated with the Catholic revival.
There were two main branches of the Wright family starting with John Wright(4th) 1580-1654. He married twice. His first wife was Anne Sulliard, who died in childbirth in 1617, having had 6 children, including John (5th). His descendants were to remain at Kelvedon Hall, Essex for another 400 years. Joane(?) was the second wife of John the Fourth and had 3 children, the youngest being Henry. His son, William was a goldsmith of Great Russell Street, London in 1699. This was a type of banking. This thriving trade continued until about 1760 when his grandson, Anthony Wright widened the range of business to include elementary banking operations (similar to what we have today) and he was described as a banker at “Ye Golden Cup, Common Garden, London”. The firm later moved to Henrietta Street. The goldsmith side of the bank fell away leaving Wright & co as a private bank of increasing repute and growing business, until it collapsed on 17th December 1840.
Anthony’s grandson – another Anthony, married Anne Biddulph of Biddulph, Staffordshire and Bruton Park, Sussex, and he was Gilbert’s maternal grandfather. One can only assume that considerable wealth came from the Biddulph estates, which were entailed and safe from the creditors, because Anthony and Anne’s grandchildren were to become some of Gilbert’s best patrons.
The first patron was Edward Blount – the eighth baronet of Mawley, Shropshire, whose mother-in-law was Gilbert’s aunt Frances (nee Wright). He almost certainly paid a considerable sum towards the building of St Ambrose, Kidderminster which was £2,400. A window was erected in 1859 at St Gregory’s, Cheltenham in memory of Frances and her husband Edward Blount who was M.P. for Steyning. It depicts St Edward the Confessor and St Frances of Rome with etchings of Westminster Abbey and St Peters, Rome. Was it designed by Blount? Why was it erected in Cheltenham? There are two possibilities. First their youngest son Henry Joseph was a Benedictine monk and priest at the time in Cheltenham. Secondly Gilbert Blount’s grandmother – Mary Blount (nee Canning), lived at 3 Somerset Place with her daughter Frances and grand daughter Frances until her death in 1845. Both No 1 and 3 Somerset Place were demolished when the present St Gregory’s Church and Priory were built. May be the window commemorates Mary as well – who knows?
The second patron was Anthony John Wright-Biddulph who lived at Bruton Park, Sussex. He was a bachelor, and asked Blount to design a church. It was built on the edge of the estate at Duncton as a gift to the local community in 1867-1869. It cost £3,000. Archbishop Manning consecrated and opened it in August 1869, and many feel it should be looked upon as a memorial to Messrs. Wright & Co of Covent Garden. The church is dedicated to Saint Anthony and Saint George; presumably after the benefactors, Anthony Wright-Biddulph and his steward George Morley.
Anthony’s sister, Geraldine, married Godfrey Radcliffe in 1860 – he was later to become Gilbert’s uncle-in-law on his marriage to Margaret Brown in 1870. The Radcliffes lived at Dan-y-Craig, Monmouthshire and Blount designed a small chapel next to the house, that served the surrounding area. Sadly today it is a complete ruin, covered in ivy. The main door/porch is just visible, likewise a side door opening off the narrow road leading to Bont and Upper Green. During the severe winter of 1947, most of the wood was stripped from the building – beams, pews, rails, altar etc, to be used as firewood. The chapel was dedicated to The Immaculate Conception. There is a small cemetery a quarter of a mile down the lane were members of the family and a few locals are buried. In the spring it has a beautiful carpet of primroses, but later in the year bracken takes over and the tombstones are completely hidden.
St Filumena’s Church, Caverswall, Staffordshire could also have been the result of a family connection. Caverswall Castle came into the Radcliffe family in 1860 and Sir Joseph Percival Radcliffe lived at Rudding Park, nr Harrogate, Yorkshire, but spent a great deal of time at Caverswall. He was the brother of Godfrey Radcliffe (see above). The church was built on land between the castle and the main street of the village. Work started and the church was opened in January 1864 by Bishop Ullathorne. Sir Joseph paid the bill for the entire building which came to £1,700.
Robert Canning – Gilbert Blount’s first cousin once removed, lived at Hartpury, near Gloucester, and from 1794-1839 he gave shelter to a community of expatriate Dominican nuns from Brussels. (His great, great aunt – Dorothy Canning, was the prioress at “Spillikins” 1703-06). They ran a small school at Hartpury Court (Spillikins), until 1832. Gilbert stayed with his cousins as a small boy, because when he was asked by the Dominican nuns in 1862 to design Carisbrooke Priory on the Isle of Wight, one of the elderly sisters remembered him from his childhood Hartpury visits. One can only guess it was because of these visits, that he was to become one of the Dominican favoured architects. His work for them was to include St Dominic’s Convent, Stone – the Chapter Room, Guest House and girls’ boarding school. Work at the church of the Immaculate Conception (next door) included the stone sanctuary and nuns’ choir of 1862. At Stoke -on-Trent he designed the northern wing of the convent in 1864.
Further work was also carried out at St Dominic’s Priory and Church at Haverstock Hill in Camden Town, London between 1863 and 1867 and then again in 1874. This was to be a huge project centred around three acres of land. The church was to hold 5,000 people and the cost £50,000. The foundation stone was laid in 1863, but only the foundations were completed and a temporary church was opened in 1867. Work did not re-commence until 1874 and had not progressed very far before Blount died in 1876. The present church was actually designed by Charles Buckler.
St Dominic’s Priory, Carisbrooke, Isle of Wight, (1865-66), was built of local grey stone and funded by Elizabeth, Dowager Countess of Clare. The cost was £12,000. Some of these nuns had been at Hartpury, moved to Athelstone, Warwickshire, then at Hurst Green, Lancashire, and finally at Carisbrooke.
Robert Canning had two daughters – Maria and Frances. Frances was the major benefactor of a new church at Gloucester and she asked Gilbert to design it. She laid the foundation stone in 1859 – Blount attended having spent the previous night with Frances at Longford – now part of Gloucester. This church was opened March 22nd 1860. While building was in progress, Gilbert often stayed at Hartpury with Maria and her family. He thought nothing of walking the six or so miles into the city to oversee the work. In 1864 he designed schools in the city and work resumed on the church with extensions to the nave and aisles. The baptistry and tower were also added but the spire was not completed until after Gilbert’s death.
The Riddells in Northumberland, more cousins of Gilbert, had a church built at Felton. Their relatives, the Gerards of Ashton-le-Willows, had various projects that required his architectural skills too.
Gilbert won the competition for a Roman Catholic Cathedral at Westminster but this was not actually executed because of the need for Catholic poor schools. However, both Cardinals Wiseman and Manning gave Blount lots of work, especially in London, including alterations at the Archbishop’s House at Leyton; the House of Mercy Convent and Chapel in Blandford Square; St Elizabeth’s Hospital – the original one, not the one used today; Brentwood church – now the Cathedral with newer additions of 1860; Clapham Convent, Chapel and School; Brooke Green Schools; Hammersmith Convent and Church; Our Lady of the Rosary church, Marylebone – demolished in 1960 due to dry rot; St Catherine of Siena, Bow 1668-70; Lunatic Asylum in Hertfordshire and Cinderford Cottages, Hurst Green, Sussex. Cardinal Wiseman appears to have a farm/property here.’
Other Catholic families also commissioned Gilbert for house alterations and additions. Cottages were built for the Duke of Norfolk in Sussex and there were also numerous minor works for people in London.
In the possession of Philippa Hunter (Great Grand-daughter)
Mr. Wm Berington encourages me to write to you and to ask you, if you can without inconvenience, give me some information, which I have been long seeking for.
I began some years ago to draw up a list of the works executed by Catholic architects during the past century, and was particularly anxious to make your husbands’ list as full as possible, as however, I believe, an aluminus of Downside, my own college.
I have a catalogue of some of the churches, convents, etc which he designed – but, I dare say you could easily give me a fuller one than I could compile. If so, I shall be very grateful. Someday soon I hope I may be able to work it into a short article for the Downside Review of which I am editor – and when I come to that, I should dearly like to have a portrait of so distinguished a man. Perhaps you could give me, or lend me, a photograph of Mr. Gilbert Blount, for reproduction; with a few dates for the contemplated memoir.
With every apology for thus troubling you,
I am yours very sincerely
(ii) From MEADOW GRANGE, Near CANTERBURY, 26th October 1912
(A.E. Purdie was Blount’s assistant and he continued the uncompleted works after Blount’s death. He later became an architect in his own right.)
We had at the office Montagu Place, a fairly, full list of most of the work designed and carried out by the late Mr. Gilbert Blount, this list I made out many years ago and fastened with paste on the inside of the cupboard doors of recess (?) where most of the drawings and tracings were kept, so now I am quite at a loss to remember a twentieth part of them.
An interesting work or article might however be written giving a brief account of his useful life, serving his time after leading a collegiate education, with the eminent Engineer Brunel and then following by preference the study of Architecture in which he was most successful, ‘a thing of beauty is a joy for ever;’ and this was his principal aim in life, and is expressed to a marked degree in all his buildings, for the greatest and most minute care was lavished on them. His architectural studies through Britain, France and Italy etc., were greatly appreciated by a mind so fertile, so persevering, so painstaking and richly rewarded in the number of Churches, Convents, Schools, Mansions, Restorations, Monuments, Altars and other work requiring skilful and educated treatment, with his vast knowledge, he was consulted frequently by Prelates, Priests and Laity and often called on by architects of high standing to arbitrate on complicated matters of dispute and misunderstanding.
Tall of stature handsome in build and appearance, of a gentle and modest nature, few can surpass him, always ready to do a good and help in works of charity, a devout son of Holy Church. He passed to his reward on … and is buried in the beautiful churchyard at Reading.
Here follows a list of some of his works:
St Thomas’s Fulham
St Helen’s Brentwood
Church & Schools Holy Rosary Marylebone
St Mary Magdalene Brighton
St John’s Brighton restoration and additional chancel
Church of the Holy Family, Bedford
Church and additions to Mansion, Swynnerton Park
Church, House and Presbytery Burton Park, Sussex
Church etc at Wednesbury
Lanark Church & Convent
Restoration Chapel at Richmond
(Church) at Bosworth Hall
St Mary’s Mortlake
Church at Caverswall
St Dominic’s Priory, Haverstock Hill
Training College, Hammersmith
Convent of Mercy Blandford Square
Convent of Dominican Nuns and Chapel, Isle of Wight
Sisters of Nazareth, Hammersmith
Schools at Spitalfields
School Chapel, Dorking
Do (School Chapel ?) at Wolverton
Convent of Notre Dame, Clapham
Notre Dame, Southwark
Visitation Convent at Westbury
College buildings and additions for the Jesuit Fathers, Beaumont, old Windsor also the expensive deep foundations for the Church of St Ignatius.
and many others too numerous to mention.
Probably you may remember more than I have described, if so kindly append them.
I trust you and your family are keeping in the best of health and hurrying to catch post, with kindest regards,
I remain dear Madam
Yours very sincerely,
(iii) Letter from A.E. Purdie to Mrs. Blount 30th October 1912
Meadow Grange, near Canterbury.
I return your list with a few corrections added thereon.
Those shown by X I am uncertain about since they might be additions only.
I dare say you will be able to assist the Revd Father a good deal.
With Kindest Regards
I remain dear Madam
Yours very sincerely
(iv) Some of the works of Mr. Gilbert Robert Blount
Undated List probably by Margaret Blount, widow
Ashton-le-Willows Church and Schools (Sir M. Gerard afterwards Lord Gerard)
Arundel Cottages (for Duke of Norfolk)
Archbishop’s House Westminster (formerly the Guards Institute structural alterations were made to suit the requirements of the late Cardinal Manning)
x Aldworth Church
Blandford Square complete Convent and Chapel
x Barfriston Church
Burton Park Church and house Mr. Bullocks (editor – should be Wilcocks) house
Brentwood St. Helen’s Church
Bow Church of Our Lady
Brighton Church St. Mary Magdalen
Brighton Church St. John the Baptist an old Church to which was added Chancel and chapels and other extensions – a mural monument to the memory of the late Mrs. Fitzherbert is fixed on the epistle of the nave.
Bosworth Hall Church of Our Lady for St. Francis Turville
Bedford Church of the Holy Family (for the late Canon Warmoll)
Old Beaumont College, Church and additions
Clapham Notre Dame Convent, Schools and Chapel
Carisbrook Priory complete Convent and Chapel
Castle Rising Church
x Colney Hatch Asylum
x Chelsea Almshouses
x Cinderford Cottages
Caverswall Castle Church and additions for the late Sir Percival Radcliffe Bart
Dorking (? not sure of word following – editor) Church, St Josephs, Schools Presbytery
x St. Dormier Church
x Englefield and x Ewell Churches
Felton Park Church
Glasgow Friary (added in pencil – editor)
Garswood and Wrightington schools
Hammersmith Training College
Hammersmith Church and Convent Good Shepherd
x Highgate Cemetery uncertain as Cemetery etc of this (being (concluding illegible note – editor)
Homer Row London Our Lady of the Rosary Church and schools
x Ivor Church
Ingatestone Hall Church and additions
Kidderminster (Church of the Holy Family)
Lanark Church and Convent (added in pencil)
x Leydden Church
Mortlake (in pencil)
Manor House Ilford Church and additions to old house
Marylebone Church and Schools (added in pencil – possibly Homer Road above – editor)
Nazareth House Church, Convent and cchools
New Hall Convent Lodge and Porch
Newton le Willows (added in pencil – probably Ashton-le-Willows – editor)
Rudding Park Cottages
x Swindon Schools
Spicer St Spitalfields London schools
Spitalfields St. Anne’s Church
Stone part of Church and complete Convent
Stoke Staffordshire Convent and schools
Swynnerton Park Church and additions to house
x Streatley Church
x Shotterbrook Church
Southwark Notre Dame Convent (added in pencil)
Westminster Archbishops House. This was formerly the Guards Institute. Structural alterations were made to suit the requirements
Shrine enclosure for the late Cardinal Wiseman’s tomb removed to Westminster Cathedral.
Numerous tombs, sacred vessels and Altars were designed by Mr. Gilbert Blount
Oscott College extensions and additions
Haverstock Hill St. Dominics Church
Large drawings for metalwork
Fonts etc etc
Benches, vestment chests
and numerous other designs
The names with x against them I am uncertain about, they might be additions only but there are drawings of them among Mr. G. Blount’s
Wednesbury Church (added in pencil)
Westbury Convent (added in pencil)
Wolverton (added in pencil)
Wrightington schools (added in pencil)
(v) The Priory, Little Malvern (postcard, postmarked 26th January 1913, addressed to Mrs. Blount, Woodbridge Park, Guildford, Surrey )
I have not yet completed my paper – So, with yr kind permission will keep the documents a little longer. I have, alas, only one eye to work with, & must use it economically. My article I trust will appear in the Downside Review & of course you shall have a copy.
Yrs. v. faithfully
Gilbert Dolan O.S.B.
(vi) The Priory, Little Malvern 27.10.1913
(To Mrs Blount, Woodbridge Park, Guildford, Surrey)
Dear Mrs Blount,
I cannot tell you how much I am obliged to you for your kind communication – the photograph and Mr Purdie’s letter : & I shall look forward with pleasure for the further information which you promise me.
I am sure you will agree with me that our leading Catholic architects of the revival, especially such a one as your husband, deserve commemoration in some proper quarter.
With renewed thanks I am
Very sincerely yours
Gilbert Dolan O.S.B.
(viii) Undated List of Gilbert R. Blounts designs etc.
The pencil additions and the Crosses are possibly by Emma Blount, his daughter (according to Philippa Hunter, Great Grand-daughter)
Clapham, Notre Dame Convent & Schools & Chapel (pencil)
Stoke Staffordshire Convent & Schools
Nazareth House Church (pencil addition) & Convent & schools
Stone (pencil addition) part of Church & Convent complete
Carisbrook Priory (pencil addition) Dominican complete convent & Chapel
Blandford Sq Convent & Church (pencil addition) complete convent & chapel
Swynnerton Park Church (pencil addition) & additions to House
X Upton Church
Ewell (pencil addition) Chapel
X Horne churches
X Tilehurst Church
Cheltenham Churcesh (pencil addition) this was by Hansom
X Shotterbrook Churches
Kidderminster Church of the Holy Trinity
Burton Park Church (pencil addition) Mr. Willock’s House)
St Jos (pencil addition) Helens
Manor House Ilford Church (pencil addition) is an old house & additions to House only
Bow Our Lady Church
Gloucester St Peters Church
Brighton St Mary Magdalen
Brighton New Church (pencil additions) changed from new to old. St John’s Brighton Additions of chancel and chapels
Woodchester Franciscan Convent & Church (incorrect – editor)
Hammersmith Good Shepherd Church & Convent.
Bosworth Church of Our Lady (pencil addition) Hall for Sir Francis Turville KCMG
Bedford Church of the Holy Family (pencil addition) for the late Canon Warmoll
Dorking St Jos. Church schools & Presbytery
Ingatestone Hall Church of St Erconwald (pencil addition) additions
Stone Convent (pencil addition) complete
Felton Park Church
X St Dormier Church
Spitalfields St Anne’s Church
Homer Row London “Our Lady of the Rosary Church & Schools”
Castle Rising Church
Wolferton Church & schools
Old Beaumont College & Church (pencil addition) additions
X Coney Hatch Asylum
New Hall Convent Lodge and Porch
Rudding Park Cottages
Schools, Spicer Street (pencil addition) Spitalfields London E
X Swindon Schools
X Chelsea Almshouses
X Cinderford Cottages
X Highgate Cemetery (pencil addition) uncertain as to extent of this being protestant.
Garswood & Wrightington Schools (pencil addition) & additions to house
Arundel cottages (pencil addition) for the Duke of Norfolk
Ashton-le-Willows Church & Schools Sir B Gerard afterwards Lord Gerard
Felton (actually written Fetern – editor) Church
Dorking Church and Presbytery Schools
Manor House, Little (could be another similar word – editor) Ilford
Two bottom drawers etc (not clear – editor)
St. Dominic’s Haverstock Hill Church
Carisbrook Convent and Church
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