11 June 2022
The Carriage House, the Coach House and
the Aesthetic Movement in Buckingham
Edward Swinfen Harris (1841-1924) is the leading architect in the shaping and development of Stony Stratford, his home town. He was a distinguished architect with a national reputation, and the architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner described him as ‘the only outstanding local architect working in the north of’ Buckinghamshire.
Swinfen Harris was a leading member of the Aesthetic Movement in arts and architecture and he worked mainly in the Arts and Crafts style. His works can still be seen throughout Stony Startford, and he has also left his mark on neighbouring towns, including Buckingham.
He was commissioned in 1875 to extend the Coach House, an 18th century painted brick cottage at the top of Castle Street in Buckingham, just before the gates of Saint Peter and Saint Paul Parish Church.
The overall design chosen by Swinfen Harris for the extension to the Coach House included a half-timbered bay with a timber gallery or rare ‘Juliet’ balcony at the first-floor level, flamboyantly articulated with four bays of pointed arches, pierced spandrels and a balustrade with a turned baluster.
The prominent features of his design include a substantial brick chimney and ornamenting the street façade are sgraffito decoration panels and ironwork depicting sunflowers and vases. The 19th century revival of Sgraffito, which was revived the Arts and Crafts movement, was an ancient form of incised plaster decoration used to adorn buildings. Sgraffito is an Italian word for decorating by scratching through surface layers to reveal a lower layer and the sunflower was the symbol of the Aesthetic Movement.
Swinfen Harris also designed the adjacent Carriage House to the south-west of the Coach House, and built in 1875. It is designed with a rustic character, and is positioned with its gable facing onto the street. It is an unusual building, a quirky brick and timber house, and it compliments No 11 in its design. It was restored in 1987.
Swinfen Harris was born at 36 High Street, Stony Stratford, on 30 July 1841. His father was the clerk to the town bench of magistrates, the Board of Guardians and other bodies and Edward was the eldest son.
He was apprenticed to the book trade before being articled to an architect in London. After On completing his apprenticeship, he worked for a time before returning to Stony Stratford in 1868 to make additions to the vicarage of Wolverton Saint Mary on London Road, Stony Stratford, and also to Calverton Limes.
The Aesthetic Movement was a late 19th century movement that championed pure beauty and ‘art for art’s sake,’ emphasising the visual and sensual qualities of art and design over practical, moral or narrative considerations.
Aestheticism originated in England in the 1860s with a radical group of artists and designers, including William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. It flourished in the 1870s and 1880s, gaining prominence and the support of notable writers such as Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde, as well as local prominence in the work of architects such as Edward Swinfen Harris in Stony Stratford, Buckingham and neighbouring towns.