Perrycroft – An Arts and Crafts House
Colwall, near Malvern
Perrycroft was designed by Charles Francis Annesley Voysey in 1893, for Midlands industrialist John William Wilson MP. Completed in 1895, the house and garden in its hillside setting encapsulate the romantic ideals of late Victorian and Edwardian country life.
John Wilson was one of the early enthusiasts for the magnificent splendour of the Malvern Hills, and in 1893 he bought a stretch of land on the western slopes, commissioning Voysey to design a small country house with lodge, stables and coach house in this remote and then rather inaccessible place. Perrycroft was the first major commission for Voysey, and one which helped him to develop his style as an architect and establish his reputation.
Voysey was born in Yorkshire where his father, the Rev Charles Voysey, ran a school. Charles Voysey senior was himself the son of an architect and was descended from John Wesley’s sister, which may explain the tradition of dissent which ran in the family. When Voysey was fourteen his father was expelled from the Church of England in one of the great ecclesiastical scandals of the nineteenth-century. His heresy was that he did not believe in the doctrine of eternal damnation or, as his son put it, ‘he believed in a good God rather than an angry one.’ After a trial in the House of Lords, where Voysey’s father was defended by some of the nation’s most respected figures – Charles Darwin, John Ruskin and Thomas Huxley among others – he founded what he called the Theistic Church in Piccadilly, and for forty years was regarded as a pioneering preacher whose sermons were published and widely distributed. The message was one of ‘sweetness and light’ – God was Goodness. The influence of his father’s experiences on the young Voysey were profound. As John Betjeman said: ‘What his father preached to thousands in London, Mr Voysey has interpreted in stone and colour.’
‘Never look at an ugly thing twice,’ Voysey wrote, ‘it’s fatally easy to get accustomed to corrupting influences.’ According to actor Robert Donut, who married Voysey’s niece, Voysey ‘had a rooted objection to anything that harboured dust or dirt of any description. Therefore there were no unnecessary nooks or crannies in his clothing, not even cuffs to his trouser bottoms. He was clean and prim and gentle, but of firm disposition.’ Just as with his clothes so too with his buildings, Voysey designed houses free of Victorian nooks and crannies and any unnecessary ornament that was likely to gather dust. His influence was far reaching into the 20th Century.