Hugh’s second building project wasto build a house for himself. Hugh’s conception of what he wanted was a place where he could live in accordance with his new ideals. These were ideals taken from his reading of Ruskin and Edward Carpenter and his work in social action in the East End of London. This house embodied all that Hugh wished to do with his life, to live simply, close to nature, surrounded by the beauty of honest labour. Hugh had visited Carpenter’s house at Milthorpe, near Sheffield, where Carpenter had established a centre to reflect his social philosophy.
Crucially, Mill Hill was to have no drawing room; it was Hugh’s stated aim to ‘do away with drawing room society’. Hugh chose a site in the midst of the village, on what had previously been a tree nursery. He conceived of the house as a ‘cottage’ with an Estate office reflecting ideals of simplicity, honest work and classless society. The design of the house was formulated out of discussions between Hugh and his architect friend Detmar Blow.
Central to the house was what Hugh called a “Family room”, the heart of the house. This was a kitchen, living room which one entered via a door from outside. The room reached up to the beams and rafters and the walls were wood panelled. Hugh, friends, visiting family and servants were all to use this as their main space and they were to dine together. There was a room for use as an Estate office, a coach house and stable. There were bedrooms above these and a hayloft. The staircase was to ascend from the kitchen. Blow also drew on building ideas from the Jura country in his design. This house was of some importance to the Arts and Crafts movement. Blow’s plans were discussed and modified by all the Sedding set and Philip Webb assisted and modified the plans considerably.
Mill Hill was Detmar Blow’s first original building. Philip Webb recommended a mason, whom he knew had worked on worked to the standards Hugh and Detmar were looking for; he was John Ward of Saltburn and it was agreed that he would bring his men with him and they would be paid the Trade Union rate of wages.
‘…A large kitchen/living room entered by the front door from the South, with a staircase at the Westend of the present dining room, the remainder of the dining room being intended for an estate office. There was a small scullery and two larders on the ground floor and a coach house and stable continued the house where are now the parlour and library.’*
The old family room, now a dining room. A ceiling has been put in, but the wooden panelling is retained.
An integral part of the design was the use of traditional handcrafted methods; its beauty to reside in evidence of the craftsmanship employed.
‘The building of Mill Hill brought numerous expensive experiments in working timber and iron. Every man on the place seemed to conspire against proper work being done especially in the matter of foundations, damp course, mortar mixing, the use of proper sized timbers and other structural essentials.’*
An important feature of the building of the house was the use of hand crafted methods and little ornamentation. The design of the still existing stairs illustrates this, plus the use of traditional local methods of stone work shown on the garden frontage.
photo of staircase.
The stairs and bedroom door fastening.
Alfred Powell who later worked for Hugh was also in on the early discussions. Furniture for the house was designed and made by Alfred Powell, Ernest Gimson, Ernest and Sidney Barnsley and William Lethaby.
In later years, to accommodate Hugh’s growing family, Alfred Powell extended the house, making it more comfortable, adding a sitting room with an ornamental fireplace and other features. His architectural treatment was extended to the gardens, designing walkways, terraces, yew hedges, gate posts, the kitchen gardens, the entrance and gates. In 1912 he did substantial alterations to the kitchen end, added an extension and created the frontage which made it an elegant house.
However, Hugh was obliged to let out the house in 1912 and not long afterwards he felt obliged to sell it. The house has subsequently undergone other developments, but though it has lost its rusticity, it retains much of its original charm and simplicity.
*from memoirs of HCFC