Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 8/Inigo Jones and his work: York Gate

Once a Week, Series 1, Volume VIII  (1863) 
Inigo Jones and his work: York Gate
by John Wykeham Archer

Illustrated by the author


Inigo Jones, the English Palladio and father of English architecture of the 17th century, was one of the few of our eminent artists who have been born citizens of London. He saw the light in the neighbourhood of old St. Paul’s, that glorious fabric which he lived to disfigure with King James’s Gothic,[1] and which the great fire of 1666 happily graced with an act of oblivion as a per contra to the vast disaster which it involved. The feeling and sentiment of the painted style of architecture had ceased to exist in Inigo’s time as in that of his great successor, Christopher Wren: witness the towers of Westminster Abbey. Had Inigo been left to his original employment as a carpenter, doubtless he would have made a first-rate hand: but the patronage of the Earl of Arundel, or the Earl of Pembroke, it is not quite clear which—but probably the former—paved the way to a higher destination. Under the auspices of one of these noblemen, he was sent to Italy to study landscape painting. A specimen of his performance in this art is mentioned by Horace Walpole with some faint commendation, not unmixed with censure of his attainment as a colourist.

In Italy Jones studied the works of Palladio, and is said, but upon doubtful authority, to have designed the front of a church in Leghorn. To this his celebrated barn, the church of St. Paul’s, Covent Garden, bears a general resemblance, and it possibly may have procured him the credit of the former. Of his church at Covent Garden we have the following story. Jones was instructed by his patron, the Earl, to build as plain and convenient a church as possible, and but little better than a barn: to which the architect replied he would build a barn, but that it should be the best in England. A fire in 1795 destroyed this specimen of noble simplicity in style; but the Earl of Burlington’s re-edification preserves a general resemblance.

York Watergate 1862 (OAW).png

Inigo Jones had an opportunity of displaying his genius on a commensurate scale in the erection of the Banqueting House at Whitehall, which he began in 1619, and which was part only of a design for a palace of vast dimensions. Under the Court patronage he likewise had scope for the exercise of his versatile mind in the decorative accompaniments to Ben Jonson’s Whitehall Pageants, so much in vogue in the dissipated Court of King James. Ashburnham House, and the houses on the west side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, together with the Banqueting House and St. Paul’s, Covent Garden, have been instanced in evidence of Inigo’s emancipation from the Mesquin style which succeeded the decadence of the Tudor style of architecture, which ensued upon his second visit to Italy in 1612.

But without further enumeration of works which perhaps have been somewhat over-rated, a few words of hearty commendation may be bestowed upon the smallest but most perfect of his productions—the Water Gate of Buckingham Palace at York Stairs, soon to be demolished in furtherance of the great work of the new Thames Embankment. The site of York Place is now encumbered by several streets and alleys, which are known under the denominations of George Street, Villiers Street, Duke Street, and Buckingham Street, so designated in remembrance of the brilliant but eccentric and profligate George Villiers, second Duke of Buckingham of that family. It was originally the London residence of the Bishops of Norwich: but afterwards it passed to Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. Next it became the residence of Nicholas Heath, Archbishop of York, from whom it acquired the title of York House. It then lapsed to the Crown, and was successively tenanted by Lord Chancellor Egerton and Lord Chancellor Bacon. Charles the First bestowed the place upon his favourite, Villiers, who turned it into a magnificent palace. In 1648 the Parliament granted it to Lord Fairfax, whose daughter marrying George Villiers, second Duke of Buckingham, it reverted to his possession. Under the influence of schemers, and induced by necessitous circumstances, its demolition was commenced by the Duke with a view to a building experiment; but when the animus of his caprice had evaporated, the place remained in ruin, with its superb gardens a wilderness of dilapidation and a monument of the fickleness of their unsteady lord. Water Gate, Buckingham Street, Strand.

Of all this once sumptuous display the Water Gate is now the only relic. It is designed according to the Tuscan order of architecture, and it would be difficult to find a building with more harmony of parts, or one which displays the beauty of fitness in greater perfection, or with more propriety of decoration. The simplicity of the entablature is characteristic; and the rock rustic, an ornament that can be used only in peculiar situations, has here an admirable effect. This fine edifice must shortly succumb to the spirit of improvement; but it is to be desired that a site may be devised for its re-erection somewhere on the Thames bank. At Hampton Court or Twickenham a suitable place might be found for it, only let it be made the approach to some building worthy of such a preface, and it will not fail to do honour to its locality.

J. Wykeham Archer.

  1. “James, both for empire and for arts unfit,
    His sense a quibble and a pun his wit,
    Whatever works he patronised, debased,
    But haply left the pencil undisgraced.”

    Hayley. “Epistle to Romney.”