Houses in Leicester

Two important houses designed by Gimson are in the Stoneygate area of the city. Read their histories and see images of the exteriors and interiors.

Inglewood, Ratcliffe Road, Leicester, 1892

The leafy suburbs of Stoneygate and Knighton, south of the city of Leicester, were rapidly developed in the second half of the nineteenth century. Spacious villas with large gardens were built for wealthy professionals and industrialists. Isaac Barradale built a number of houses in the area in the 1870s and ‘80s including Carrisbrooke at 238 London Road and The Hawthorns at 12 Knighton Park Road for Wilmot Pilsbury, first principal of Leicester School of Art. Gimson would also have been familiar with Woodville in Knighton Park Road, the villa built by J B Everard for his own use in 1883. Everard was also the architect of the Vulcan Road Works for the family firm, Gimson and Company.

In 1884 Gimson entered the National Competition for art students. His design for a suburban house was awarded a silver medal and described in The British Architect as ‘very promising for the future of a designer who is only 18 years of age’. The design featured Tudor-Gothic motifs such as the use contrasting colours and textures, heavy arches and tall chimneys which can be found in many of the new Leicester villas. However on one occasion when Morris visited Leicester in the mid 1880s, Sydney and Ernest Gimson took him for a walk around Stoneygate. Morris suggested that this style of domestic building was pretentious and not to his taste.

In the summer of 1892 Gimson was dividing his time between London, designing furniture for Kenton and Company, and Hampshire, working on decorative plasterwork for a house being built by Lethaby. When Barradale died in July 1892 his estate included a substantial plot of land in Stoneygate. This was bought by Ernest Gimson with the financial support of his half-brother Mentor Gimson and another engineer in October 1892 and Gimson designed a house for the site that was to be an expression – and an advertisement – of his new approach to architecture. The house is said to have been intended for his own use although it could have been a purely speculative build as it seems too large for a single man. It is a four-bedroomed house with two reception rooms. In contrast his elder brother Sydney started his married life in a more modest house on the corner of Prebend and Glebe Streets.

The house, Inglewood, on the corner of Ratcliffe Road and Elms Road is dramatically plain in comparison to many of its neighbours. It was built on an extensive three-quarter acre site using warm red Leicester sand stock bricks and roofed with local Swithland slates, graded with the smallest ones at the top and large ones at the bottom.

The interior was decorated with his own plasterwork and Morris and Company wallpapers. The artist and writer, Freda Derrick, visited the house in 1947 and left the following description:

‘The room was quiet, restful and dignified; in 1892, when the crowding and fussiness of the Victorian period still lingered in many homes, it might have seemed almost austere. First one noted the proportions of the room, which measured ten by seven of my paces without the bay, and was lofty, the top of the door only coming about two-thirds of the way up to the ceiling. Then one became aware that the room was well lit by its two windows on the north and the bay on the south, but not over-lit, so as to give and unsheltered feeling; one should surely feel an interior as such, unless it is a kind of garden-room or a sun-bathing annexe of the house.

The fireplace, which was in the centre of the inner long wall, had a stone hearth, a mantelpiece of black and grey marble, slightly speckled not streaky, with little more than the decorative treatment of the jointing by way of ornament. The walls were panelled in wood … and painted in two shades of cream. The ceiling, faintly pink in colour, was quite plain; but at either side of the chimney breast, and across the bay, ran a supporting beam, plastered over, and around the top of the walls was a plaster frieze. The beams and frieze were enriched by free and simple ornament, the living quality of which seemed to link the interior with the world of the garden round the house.’

From 1913 the house was rented then bought by W A Evans, a wealthy corn merchant and chairman of Imperial Typewriters. He and his wife Nancy, a member of the Goddard family, were keen supporters of the Arts and Crafts Movement and commissioned furniture from Gimson and Peter Waals. A two-storey bay was added on to the garden side in 1930 by the Leicester architect, William Keay.

The White House, Leicester, 1897 for Arthur Gimson

In about 1897, Gimson was commissioned to design a house in Clarendon Park, Leicester for his half-brother, Arthur. It was an expensive plot costing £1000, about as much as the house itself. By this date Gimson had been living at Pinbury, Gloucestershire for three or four years and the White House has something of the feel of a Cotswold farm house.

The house was built with brick, the sides and ends of which were wire-cut and flush-jointed to give a subtle irregular texture. The exterior was then lime-washed. This would have been done on an annual basis. In contrast the chimney stacks are of red brick.

In addition the centre section of the two bays on the garden side were finished with rough-cast plaster and modelled with decorative panels of Keen’s cement. In 1891 Lethaby had designed and Gimson had executed a similar type of decoration for a large house, Avon Tyrrell, in Hampshire. Gimson’s oak tree design was carried out by George P Bankart. Bankart had also been articled to Isaac Barradale with Gimson and he subsequently taught plasterwork at Leicester School of Art. The decorative cast-lead rain water hoppers were made to Gimson’s design by Haskards of Leicester.

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Cottages in the Charnwood Forest