A short distance outside Ilkley town-centre is Heathcote, a dignified, over-scaled villa designed by Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944) and constructed 1905-7, which is hugely significant as Lutyens’ first design in the classical style he called “Wrenaissance”, which led directly to such great works as New Delhi and the unbuilt Liverpool Catholic Cathedral.
Lutyens was appalled by the location: “…an ultra suburban locality over which villas of dreadful kind and many colours wantonly distribute themselves – a pot pourri of Yorkeological details” and he was privately dismissive of his client, a wool merchant called John Thomas Hemmingway. Lutyens declared that his client hadn’t an ‘h’ to his name, and said that he “could not spend his money – until he met me”. He was scathing about Mrs Hemmingway – “…does nothing all day and takes turns with the cook to go out…”, the daughter – “…photographs [of her] posing as a professional beauty, but when you see her she is shrimpish – about 4 foot high, full of self-confidence – adored by her admiring parents and her charm takes the form of giggles”, and the son: “…overnosed and very young and shy…No initiative. He works hard but…spends no money…”
Quite how Hemmingway came across Lutyens and chose to commission him is unclear. Lutyens, then an ambitious young architect with a reputation for charm, showed his inner steel by his choice of style and materials: he later told his colleague, Herbert Baker, “To get domination I had to get a scale greater than the height of my rooms allowed, so unconsciously the San Michele invention repeated itself. That time-worn Doric order – a lovely thing – I have the cheek to adopt. You can’t copy it. To be right you have to take it and design it…”
The result is a massive building of dour Guiseley stone – “a stone without a soul to call its own, as sober as a teetotaller” – with grey Morley stone dressings, lightened by the adventurous use of red pantiles rather than Yorkshire slate on the hipped roofs. The entrance vestibule is a magnificent space, paved in white marble which is inset – as a nod to the local vernacular – with herringbone brick waxed till it shone.
Heathcote cost J T Hemmingway £17,500, and he didn’t get what he wanted. Certainly, a demand for storage space gave him exquisite china cupboards with arched glazed doors and teardrop glazing bars; similarly, in the morning room the built-in bookshelves either side of the fireplace incorporate drop-plan writing desks.
However, one of Lutyens’ assistants, John Brandon Jones, told how on a site-visit Lutyens and Hemmingway viewed the space intended for the black marble staircase. Hemmingway said, “I don’t want a black marble staircase. I want an oak staircase”, to which Lutyens replied, “What a pity.” On a later visit, when Hemmingway was shown the completed black marble staircase, he complained, “I told you I didn’t want a black marble staircase.” “I know,” the architect replied, “and I said ‘What a pity’, didn’t I?”
Christopher Hussey, Lutyens’ official biographer, commented that this was “the outstanding example of a client thus getting the exact opposite of what he originally wanted, down to the smallest detail, and becoming immensely proud of it”.