Re: Re: ‘Dutch Billys’

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Boooooog, as it happens, the Dublin Civic Trust, in addition to everything else they’re doing, are believed to be beavering away on a typological study of gabled houses at the moment precisely for the purpose of finding the answers to those kinds of questions and anyone with an interest in the subject is being encouraged to chip in their tuppence worth.

gunter has personally put in six-pence worth and is watching closely to make sure that ‘narrow-plot-twin-Billys’ make it through to the final draft.

One important strand of any in-depth study of gabled house typologies is going to be the wider context, particularly in terms of Britain and mainland Europe.

With that in mind, places like Covent Garden are especially interesting because they represent the interface between the emerging academic classicism of an architectural elite who enjoyed court patronage and the artisan mannerism of the more merchant classes and also because the development and evolution of Covent Garden has been pretty thoroughly recorded in maps, prints and paintings over the years.


that Hollar print of Covent Garden dating to circa 1637 again

Some doubt has been cast on the accuracy of the Hollar print, because a number of important details of the Church have been slightly misrepresented [the portico has Tuscan columns, not Ionic and the windows are round headed not square], so there is a suspicion that the houses depicted may be a notional rather than a literal representation. Add into the mix that Hollar was apparently based in richly gabled Antwerp at the time that this print was produced and it becomes difficult to be certain if the terraces of King St. and Henrietta St., as depicted, can be considered an accurate representation of 1630s London streetscape. On the other hand, Hollar brought a high level of precision to his celebrated 1658 ‘Bird’s Eye View of the West End’ and this engraving [which I can’t find a high resolution copy of] also appears to show King St. and Henrietta St., together with much of the recently developed adjoining townscape, as gabled fronted, much of it in the ‘Holborn’ tradition.


one of the scenes from the well known broadsheet by John Dunstall depicting the lamentations brought about by the Great Plague in 1665

The next good representation of Covent Garden is probably the Dunstall image, although it may be even less concerned with architectural accuracy. Nonetheless what is depicted by Dunstall is likely to be representative of contemporary fashionable London street-architecture, if not perhaps a literal representation of the houses flanking Covent Garden. Its interesting that the pairs of houses depicted flanking the church are very close to what became the standard Dutch Billy formula over here with shared central chimney stacks, cruciform roofs and string courses, except that here the gables are of that scrolled ‘Holborn’ type.


Covent Garden painted by Balthasar Nebot in 1737 [with later copies]

When Balthasar Nebot painted the square again in 1737, it had undergone considerable rebuilding. The last three bays of the original Inigo Jones designed north-west arcaded range [and possibly also the first plot on King Street] had been redeveloped as a large mansion for an ex admiral relative of the original developer and the design is attributed to Thomas Archer and built about 1715.


the Archer house, no. 43 King Street, in the ‘80s and recently

This house, which survives with an altered top storey and some inexplicable meddling with fake painted-on pilasters between the original grand Corinthian pilasters, originally had a sort of curvilinear gable/parapet feature and possibly an interesting roof configuration, but the more interesting structure from a gabled point of view is probably the five-bay house flanking the church where Dunstall drew the pair of gabled houses.


an extract from Hogarth’s ‘Morning’

Hogarth shows the same houses in his painting of the following year [1738] entitled ‘Morning’ and in this more angled view the five-bay flanker is clearly depicted as having the simple eaves and ‘M’-shaped roof profile we that saw over in Spittalfields a while back. Although the building was clearly intended to front onto the ‘Piazza’ at Covent Garden, being on a corner site and with this particular roof profile, the house can only have presented twin gables [triangular, close-coupled] to King Street, where the rest of the streetscape, as the earlier prints show, was originally gabled. The Nebot/Hogarth house may not fit either of the earlier representations [Hollar: 5 bay hipped roof; and Dunstall: 6 bay pair of Holborns], but it might be consistent with the kinds of houses appearing in the streetscapes that William Morgam’s panorama of London of 1681-2 depicts, particularly in areas not required to be completely redeveloped after the fire.

In England, these ‘M’-shaped roofs can be traced right back to the half-timber tradition where the twin gabled profile was often exploited as a feature of the elevation, as at no. 9 High Petergate in York, or the old Custom House in Bristol.

. . . . . . .

It is certainly tempting to see a direct connection between these English 17th century, and earlier, twin-gabled structures, coming as they do from a very broad geographic base, and the apparent popularity of ‘twin-Billys’ here in the first half of the 18th century, but on the other hand, there appears to be a noticeable hiatus between the two traditions and the similarity of approach may simply derive from the practice of artisan craftsmen resolving similar head-room challenges in similar ways.

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