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Eighteenth Century Architectural Styles at Preston Manor

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Many visitors have fallen in love with the beautiful Edwardian interiors of Preston Manor. For RPM Visitor Services Officer Naomi Daw, it is the influence of Palladianism and sense of balance of the exterior which has captured her attention.

Preston Manor is located on the outskirts of the city of Brighton and Hove, on Preston Drove. It is set on the edge of the grounds of Preston Park, a public park and focal point for local events. Inside the building, the beautiful Edwardian interiors have been restored so visitors can experience what everyday life was like during the Edwardian period.

My interest is in the exterior of the building, which shows the influence of Palladianism, and the garden spaces around the building. I will be exploring both the exterior of the building and the gardens around Preston Manor in this piece.

The building has been owned by Brighton and Hove City Council, previously the Brighton Corporation, since 1932. It was left to the people of Brighton ‘by deed of gift, dated 30th March 1925’, by Sir Charles Thomas Stanford, who owned the house. The first record of Preston Manor is in the Domesday Book of 1086, where it is recorded as one of eight manors belonging to the Bishopric of Chichester. It then passed to the ownership of the Elrington family in 1510, and then to the Shirley family in 1569. The Western family acquired the property in 1712, and kept it until 1794 when it was bought by William Stanford for the sum of £17,600. The Manor building has changed drastically since its mention in the Domesday Book. Thomas Western completely demolished the original building in 1738, rebuilding it according to the fashion of the time, and adding two small wings in 1750. Few additions or changes were made to the building in the nineteenth century, other than the building of a stone tower in 1880. The tower has since been destroyed, although the base remains. In 1905, Ellen Stanford made significant additions to the building, including a new servants’ and visitors’ wing, and a ‘Regency-style veranda’. After passing in to the ownership of Brighton and Hove City Council in 1932, the building has not been changed at all, and ‘Preston Manor has remained a living testament to the Stanford family and a reflection of their daily lives at Preston Manor’.

Photograph showing the rear elevation of Preston Manor from the lawn. Image © Royal Pavilion and Museums

When you observe the exterior of the building, the balance and symmetry of the building is particularly noticeable. This has been achieved by Thomas Western’s 1750 addition of two smaller wings. The use of balance and symmetry shows the influence of Palladianism, an architectural style that was popular in Britain in the period between 1715 and 1760. Palladianism was a style based on the designs created by Andrea Palladio (1508-1580), a sixteenth century Venetian architect who was inspired by Roman and Greek architecture and its emphasis on perfect proportion. In Britain, neoclassicism developed into a distinctively British style with plain exteriors that highlighted the rules of symmetry, perspective and proportion. The neoclassical style was most famously applied to British architecture by Inigo Jones. At Preston Manor, you can clearly see the neoclassical influences on the portico and the pilasters on the front and back of the building. Thomas Western’s addition of the two wings give the building a sense of balance, an element that Johann Joachim Winckelmann thought was essential for buildings in the neoclassical style. Winckelmann argued that buildings in the neoclassical Palladian style – like Preston Manor – should display ‘noble grandeur and sublime symmetry’.

There are similarities between the architecture of Preston Manor and other stately or manor homes created in a neoclassical style. For example, there are notable similarities in Colen Campbell’s (1676-1729) designs for the façade of Stourhead Castle and that of Preston Manor. Both buildings have a central wing flanked by two smaller ones. As in the designs for Stourhead Castle, the porches at the front and back of Preston Manor are positioned centrally, and help to establish the symmetry of the building.

In the grounds at Preston Manor, there are walled gardens that date from 1600 and the layout of the gardens is in the style of this period. The Walled Garden is divided into four main sections around a central fountain and directly contrasts with the more open, sculpted land of Preston Park. The landscaping of Preston Park is reminiscent of other areas of landscaped parkland around the city, such as Stanmer Park. Landscaping wider areas of parkland was made fashionable in the eighteenth century by designers such as Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (1716-1783). Both the landscaping of the gardens and the symmetry of the house can be seen clearly in sketches of Preston Manor from the early nineteenth century. Later additions to the Manor, like the Regency-style closed veranda added by Ellen Stanford in 1905, represent changing attitudes to the use of the house and a nostalgia for earlier styles experienced in the Edwardian era.

Naomi Daw, Visitor Services Officer