From September 1890 until the end of that year, Sir William S Gilbert supervised the various internal alterations he wanted to be completed at Grim’s Dyke. He employed architects Ernest George and Peto to do the work, as they had a prominent reputation in London and had also designed his London home in Harrington Gardens. Various changes were made, including a new suite of bedrooms over the billiards room, as well as conversions in the dairy and the studio.
Ernest George was born in London on 13 June 1839. At seventeen years of age, he began his architectural training under Samuel Hewitt, whilst also studying at the Royal Academy Schools.
The architectural style that made him famous was born, when he went on a sketching tour of France and Germany. Upon his return in 1861, he set up an architectural practice with Thomas Vaughan. Their breakthrough came eight years later, when MP and tea and spice importer Henry Peek, wanted them to build a large mansion house and several other buildings, for his newly acquired village – Rousdon in Devon.
Following Vaughn’s sudden death in 1869 George had to find a new partner. He chose Harold Peto to be his new partner and the partnership began in 1876. Peto’s family had a vast network of contacts in the building industry, making it a shrewd and sensible move on George’s part.
Harold Ainsworth Peto
Harold Ainsworth Peto was born in London on 11 July 1854. His father was a prosperous builder, engineer and railway-contractor. Peto was sent to board at Harrow School in 1869, but left at the age of seventeen in 1871, without pursuing higher education.
Peto went on to apprentice as a joiner for a year, before entering the practice of architects J Clements of Lowestoft. A year later he joined Karslake and Mortimers of London.
The partnership of George and Peto
The partnership continued until 1892. During the 1880s, their firm was one of the most successful in London, where they enjoyed spectacular success. Their designs were inspired by old Flemish and German townhouses that George had beautifully captured in his sketches and watercolour paintings. Two small developments in Harrington and Collingham Gardens beautifully illustrated their work. Twenty-nine dwellings on these developments were built from their designs, and subsequently, show their love for elaborating domestic architecture with grafted motifs from the old northern European dwellings. And of course, one of these dwellings in Harrington Garden was the former London home of W.S. Gilbert!
Post partnership both George and Peto went onto achieve further successes
In 1892 Peto resigned from the partnership for health reasons. He based himself in initially in Kent (1892-1895) and then Salisbury (1895-1899) whilst he spent time travelling around Egypt, Italy, Germany and France, before making a round-the-world tour in 1898. Peto then moved to Iford Manor in Wiltshire in 1899. It’s here where he tried out new ideas and incorporated the artefacts from his travels. He went on to become an influential garden designer, with his major commissions being created between 1900 and 1914. These included the gardens at West Dean House in Sussex (now housing West Dean College), Hartham Park in Wilshire, Heale House in Wiltshire and a series of gardens at Cannes, along with villas at Cap Ferrat, France.
George went on to partner with a former pupil – Alfred Bowman Yeates. He continued to design large country houses and London buildings – including the Royal Academy of Music, Southwark Bridge, and the Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice in Postman’s Park, London. He later became the president of RIBA from 1908 to 1910 and was knighted for his contributions to art and architecture in 1912. His London office was nicknamed ‘The Eton of architects’, and one of his pupils, Ethel Charles, becoming the first woman to be elected a member of RIBA.