The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Long Melford 1965
Cambridge c.1937
Cambridge, 1959
Cambridge, Peterhouse College, Fen Court 1939-1940

Not what it seems….

There’s a current application for the  de-listing of this Grade II house (top left),  in the Suffolk village of Long Melford.   Not the sort of sort of house that you’d expect C20 Society to look twice at.

However, it seems as if the listing Inspector, back in 1978, was a bit hasty,  and that’s why it’s come our way now.  It was listed then as “a C19 timber-framed and plastered house”, but it’s actually nothing of the kind.   It was designed in 1965, by architects Hughes and Bicknell.   The excellent website Cambridge 2000 here (curiously dedicated to the author’s cats) has photos of some of the practice’s better known work, including college and commercial buildings in Cambridge.

Peter Bicknell (1907-1995,  see obituary), combined academic teaching with architectural practice (in partnership with H.C. Hughes, whom I don’t know anyting about).  Bicknell sounds pretty extraordinary: he was a very fine rock climber, the first person to traverse the whole of the Cuillin Ridge on Skye in one day, and twice invited to join expeditions attempting to conquer Everest in the 1930s (apparently he said ‘no’).   Unusually for a modernist architect, he collected lustre ware and 18th-century topographical books and prints, and wrote about the Lake District.

Matthew Saunders (Secretary of Ancient Monuments Society) was one of Bicknell’s students in the late 1970s, and notes “how interesting that this scholarly exercise in “keeping in keeping” took place as early as 1965 ( before the introduction of Conservation Areas in 1968 ) and that the designers were otherwise committed Modernists.”   He drew my attenntion to Pevsner’s praise for Fen Court (1939, bottom right)  ” a great rarity then in Cambridge, frankly in the style of its date” (see “Cambridgeshire” page 133 ).

Just goes to show that history is almost always more complicated than one initally thinks–in fact the  firm also did much work for the Dean and Chapter of Ely Cathedral, and  look at that diaper brickwork, bottom left…  I also like the fact that one of their early commissions was from Caius College to divide “Finella” into two.  We’ve had several trips to this house designed by Raymond McGrath for Mansfield Forbes. At the beginning of the Second World War, the Bicknells themselves moved in, and had a reputation for fabulous  fireworks parties.  When  Pevsner came to see that however, he apparently commented, “Vot a tragedy!”

A final point, Nick Ray (who taught me a decade or so later), worked for Hughes and Bicknell, before forming his own practice, and worked on  Clare Hall, Cambridge for them when  they were acting as executive architects to Ralph Erskine.  Hence I guess Bicknell has had an impact on me somewhere along the way, and Nick Ray was able to give C20 members a unique view of the college when I organised a trip to the City about ten years ago.

Still, not really reason enough to list the house in Long Melford yet.



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