History of Voewood

Voewood is one of the great achievements of the Arts and Crafts movement and is one of the most important houses of the period in England. Designed by the architect Edward Schroeder Prior it was built as Voewood between 1903 and 1905 for the Rev Percy Lloyd and his family. For reasons that remain somewhat mysterious the Lloyds never moved in and the house was rented to the Meyrick-Jones family who founded a school named Home Place. There are two main theories as to why the Lloyds abandoned the house; the first being that Mrs Lloyd was unhappy with the house’s proximity to the neighbouring TB hospital and the second that the house wildly exceeded its budget with rumours of the total spend being close to £60,000. Although the vast majority of the materials used to build the house were quarried from the site itself it certainly is probable that it was not cheap to construct. Records show that the cost of quarrying the flint onsite was £965 per tonne whilst it could have been purchased elsewhere for far less.

When Percy Lloyd purchased the land it was a completely flat turnip field which was gradually transformed into sunken gardens, terraces and the house itself as material was excavated and utilised. The house was built on a butterfly plan with two wings projecting from a central block. The method of construction involved using wooden shutters to create voids which were studded with steel reinforcing rods and then filled with poured concrete. Wooden moulds were used to create beams, domes and barrel vaults for various ceilings, and evidence of the planks can still be seen pressed into the structure today.

The way in which Voewood was constructed was very much in keeping with the ideals of the Arts and Crafts movement with the concept of a house growing from the ground on which it was built being particularly relevant here. The movement was founded in the 1850s by William Morris and John Ruskin as a reaction to the Industrial Revolution and it saw a return to the creation of objects by hand using local materials and craftsmen. Morris said that everything should be both ‘…useful and beautiful…’ hence the careful design and practicality of many of the buildings of this era.

During the First World War Voewood was requisitioned and used as an army base and hospital before being sold to the Leicestershire Health Authority who utilised the house variously as a hospital, rest home and centre for convalescence. By the 1990s the house was under private ownership and was being run as an old people’s home, and in 1998 it was purchased by rare book dealer Simon Finch. At the time may of the rooms and been partitioned into smaller spaces, there was a lift shaft in the Main Hall and a large conservatory had been added to the front of the house which covered the entire terrace. The restoration of the house and gardens took 8 years with artists living and working on site, transforming every inch of the building from top to bottom. Mosaics and bespoke wall finishes were added by Annabel Grey and an entire room was painted by American still life artist Chloe Mandy. Textile artist Kirsten Hecktermann created exquisite hand-sewn curtains for the dining room and finally Simon added his incredible collection of art, retro objects and arts and crafts furniture to the house, resulting in a uniquely eclectic interior that is very much a product of the bohemian way in which it was re-invigorated.

During the 17 years that Simon has owned the house it has been voted England’s Favourite House in the Eastern Region by Country Life, has featured in Dominic Bradbury’s The Iconic House and has been included in numerous publications such as The Telegraph, Tatler and Country Living. Simon and Voewood starred in the series ‘I own Britain’s Best Home’ and more recently featured in ‘Salvage Hunters’ with Drew Pritchard.

The famed architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner described Voewood as ‘…far and away the most interesting building in Holt… seen by few and can only be seen if one looks for it… a violently idiosyncratic house… the inventions sometimes remind one of Gaudi's work in Barcelona…’ More recently Dan Cruickshank wrote in The Architect's Journal that Voewood ‘…is an expression of Prior's key thoughts on the theory and practice of architecture. It reveals his attitude to the use of architectural history and precedent in contemporary design, and is a powerful demonstration that the process by which a building is constructed is as important as the way in which it is designed.’

An early Country Life article noted that: ‘Everywhere there is sweetness and light…’ and though a large house, Voewood exudes a warm and welcoming feel with careful thought put into every aspect of its design and construction. It was Prior's domestic masterpiece and a unique building in British Architecture.

“A visit to such a beautiful house is balm for the soul. Thank you for sharing your home with us.”

Geraldine

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