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Architecture & design

House and garden – the guiding spirit of Country Life

— December 2012

Article read level: Art lover

Associated media

© Val Corbett/Country Life: 'The intrusive 1990s swimming pool removed and herbaceous borders recreated'

Edwardian Country Life: The Story of H. Avray Tipping

By Helena Gerrish

'...he was certainly master of everything he undertook. His versatility was amazing.'

                                                                                              Lady Celia Congreve

The multi-talented Henry Avray Tipping (1855–1933) was an influential and significant figure in the historical, architectural and gardening worlds of the day. Why then is his name so little known? One reason may be that on his death all his papers were destroyed and, having no family, he left his fortune to his gardener.

He came from a family of four sons born to William and Maria Tipping.  Henry himself was born in the Chateau at Avray near Paris where his parents, much attracted to French culture and design, were living at the time.  On moving back to England they acquired Brasted Place in Kent, where they lived in grand style with magnificent coaches and footmen in scarlet and green livery.  William served in Parliament and at the same time pursued his interest in the railways. By 1876 he was a director of 13 railway companies. On the death of his third brother in 1911, however, Henry Avray became the last of the Tipping family. Gerrish considers that he inherited from his parents a love of fine things, social responsibility and a considerable fortune, which increased on the deaths of each of his brothers.

In 1878 he graduated with a first in Modern History from Christ Church Oxford , toured in France for a while and then returned to Oxford for a short period as a lecturer.  Moving out into the wider literary world he joined the team who were working on the Dictionary of National Biography and was responsible for the entries for the Baldock and Beaufort families.

During this period he was developing the interests that would mature throughout his life.  He studied art, architecture, furniture and garden design and planting.  From the 1890s onwards he began to experiment with his ideas by buying and developing a succession of estates in Monmouthshire.  He began with the restoration of a mediaeval bishop's palace, Mathern Palace; he then moved onto a new-build project, Mounton House, and then another new-build house, High Glanau Manor. Helena Gerrish, author of this volume, is the present owner of High Glanau Manor and she is the acknowledged expert on Tipping. 

Tipping's main career position, which he was to hold for over 28 years, was staff architectural writer for Country Life magazine.  He travelled the country visiting country houses then writing up his visits as articles for the magazine. Wise choice of collaborators, particularly in architecture, gardening and photography, ensured that standards were high. Gerrish opens up the world of late 19th- and early 20th-century England to us in an engaging way, with an array of characters who contributed to shaping the culture of the age.

At the same time, Tipping edited and wrote books about English houses and gardens, domestic architecture and  gardening.  In demand as a consultant on architecture and garden design, he was involved in projects such as developing the gardens at Chequers and Dartington Hall.  In all he wrote 21 books and hundreds of Country Life articles and from 1928–33 he wrote a weekly practical gardening column for The Observer.

Through his writing and occasional lectures Tipping was involved in educating his audience and thereby setting the standards of taste.  He encouraged his readers to get 'a thorough knowledge of the rich past' but also to' look around at the present in order to tastefully and intelligently create new forms'.  He had not only knowledge of the design and history of the great houses of England, their gardens and furniture but also practical experience gleaned from his own building, restoration and gardening projects.

Summing up Tipping's influence, Gerrish considers him to have had a significant effect on the history of taste to the point where he can be considered  a major figure  in what is known as the 'heritage industry' today.  His influence on the style and contents of Country Life magazine was significant. It turned from being more of a country sports publication to one that even today gives high priority to historic houses and gardens.  Tipping himself was aware of this legacy, writing in Country Life in 1916:

About 700 country houses have been passed in review.  But each one has been so treated as to show some merit, teach some lesson and exercise some influence on the taste of today.

As well accessing the Country Life archives and papers belonging to Tipping's contemporaries, Gerrish has uncovered unknown paintings, photographs and sketchbooks. Lavishly illustrated with many historic photographs and plans, well-designed and formatted, this is a most attractive, well-researched, well-written and fascinating hardback volume.

Edwardian Country Life: The Story of H. Avray Tipping by Helena Gerrishis published by Frances Lincoln Limited, 2011. 208 pp. 150 colour and mono illus. ISBN 978-0-7112-3223-5


Susan Grange
Independent art historian

Media credit: © Val Corbett/Country Life:

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