Wednesday, March 14, 2012
A book about the first lady in architecture
Elizabeth Wilbraham (1632-1705). From http://www.independent.co.uk/a
How could I miss it? Well, of course I didn´t know anything about Mrs Elizabeth Wilbraham, who was Britain´s earliest female architect. And, it´s stated at John Millar´s book that she was ¨the right hand¨ of Christopher Wren. From The Independent, the review of the book ¨First Woman Architect¨, expected to be published in 2012:
Wotton House, is seen related to Buckingham House. Supposedly Wilbraham participated in the design. From http://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/
Lady Elizabeth Wilbraham was the first woman architect, and she not only tutored the young genius Christopher Wren, but helped him design 18 of the 52 London churches that were commissioned by him following the Great Fire of London in 1666. This apparently extraordinary claim is due to appear in a book, First Woman Architect, being prepared by the American historian (and ex-Charterhouse public schoolboy) John Millar.
Millar's claims will cause a furore among Wren scholars. "Some," Millar tells me, "have already said I can't be right, simply because they haven't heard of it." Neither, presumably, have Tony and Cherie Blair, who bought the South Pavilion of Wotton House in Buckinghamshire two years ago for £4m – Wotton House being one of Wilbraham's pieces de resistance, according to Millar.
Millar is putting Wilbraham on a pedestal at precisely the moment that British women architects are objecting to being stashed under their professional pedestal: the Royal Institute of British Architects' president-elect, Angela Brady, has launched a campaign to get architectural practices to employ women designers as 50 per cent of their staff; the figure is currently 19 per cent.
But Elizabeth Wilbraham remains a tantalising figure: now you see her, now you don't. She is not mentioned in substantial books about Wren's life and architecture by authors including Paul Jeffrey, Margaret Whinney, Bryan Little, Adrian Tinniswood or, most recently, the slab of research by Lisa Jardine titled On a Grander Scale.
"The Wren connection is problematical, of course," admits Millar. "There is no smoking gun. My book will show what connections there are. Wren had no time to learn architecture until he was 33. Of all the people who could have taught him – and there were very few architects in the UK in the early 1660s – Wilbraham's style is by far the closest to his, based on her documented buildings. The 18 City churches she designed for him share a number of unusual design features with other documented Wilbraham designs – details that don't show up on Wren's other buildings."
In a century when it was inconceivable that any woman should openly pursue a profession, Wilbraham managed to practise architecture more or less secretly, and was centrally involved in the design of up to a dozen houses for her wealthy family.
Keep on reading: