Charles Voysey (architect) bigraphy, stories - British architect

Charles Voysey (architect) : biography

1857 - 1941

Charles Francis Annesley Voysey (1857–1941) was an English architect and furniture and textile designer. Voysey's early work was as a designer of wallpapers, fabrics and furnishings in a simple Arts and Crafts style, but he is renowned as the architect of a number of notable country houses. He was one of the first people to understand and appreciate the significance of industrial design. He has been considered one of the pioneers of Modern Architecture, a notion which he rejected. His English domestic architecture draws heavily on vernacular rather than academic tradition, influenced by the ideas of Herbert Tudor Buckland (1869–1951) and Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812–1852).

Architectural work

Voysey's first design was for a house at Loughton for Octavius Dixie Deacon. A house was erected on the site, but whether it bore any relation to Voysey's design is not known. By 1894 Voysey had moved his practice to Melina Place, St John's Wood, London, next door to the influential Arts and Crafts architect Edward Schroeder Prior, resulting in the development of a long term friendship and exchange of ideas between the two men.

Voysey designed every detail of his houses, including the furniture. His houses were inspired by English vernacular sources of the 16th and early 17th centuries, featuring white roughcast walls with horizontal ribbon windows and huge pitched roofs, and used rough plaster, slate and other materials typical of English farmhouses.Chambers 1985, pp. 255, 270Curl 2000.

Examples of his completed architectural works are: Perrycroft, Colwall, Herefordshire 1893; Annesley Lodge, Hampstead, London, 1896; Merlshanger (later Greyfriars), Hog's Back, Puttenham near Guildford, 1896; Norney, Shackleford, 1897; Spade House, Sandgate, Kent (the home of the writer H.G.Wells); Voysey House (a Sanderson's wallpaper factory, building now offices), Chiswick 1902; The Pastures, North Luffenham, Rutland 1903; The Orchard, Chorleywood, 1900, which he designed for himself.

There are several examples of Voysey's design near Bowness-on-Windermere, Cumbria, with roughcast walls and massive rendered stacks on sweeping slate roofs. Architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner greatly admired the Orchard and identified Broadleys as Voysey's masterpiece, seeing in them seeds of the modernist movement.

In fact, Voysey himself, who was Master of the Art-Workers Guild in 1924, had a strong dislike of modern architecture, and was irritated by Pevsner's identification of his work with the movement.

Broad Leys (1908) is now the headquarters of the Windermere Motor Boat Racing Club, and featured in the film The French Lieutenant's Woman. It is the only Voysey house open for the public to stay in.

Voysey died in Winchester in 1941.



Born at Kingston College, at Hessle, Yorkshire on 28 May 1857, the eldest son of Rev. Charles Voysey, a schoolmaster who become Vicar of Healaugh but was deprived of his living. Voysey was educated by his father, then briefly at Dulwich College. In 1874 Voysey was articled to J.P. Seddon, he studied for a year under George Devey and established his own practice in 1882.


At the suggestion of his friend A. H. Mackmurdo, Voysey began designing wallpapers in 1883 under contract for Jeffrey & CoJackson 2007, p. 13 while waiting for architectural commissions to come in.Parry 2005, pp. 150-151. He joined the Art-Workers' Guild in 1884, and displayed both printed textiles and wallpapers at the inaugural Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society show at the New Gallery in 1888.V&A website In 1893 he began designing wallpapers for Essex & Co., for whom he executed several hundred patterns.

Distinct stages can be identified in Voysey's wallpaper and textile designs. His earliest works, through the late 1880s, have historically-influenced traditional repeats. By the mid-1890s, he was creating his most characteristic and original designs, flowing patterns in pastel colourways with flattened silhouettes of birds, florals, and hearts. Designs were used for both wallpaper and textiles, which were often executed as wool double cloths for furnishing. Typical patterns of this period include The Saladin wallpaper, 1897 () and The Owl jacquard-woven woollen textile, 1898 (.) From 1910 onwards, his patterns became more narrative, with isolated motifs, and were often meant for the nursery. The Alice in Wonderland furnishing fabric, c.1920 (), is typical of this phase. His last recorded wallpaper commission was dated 1930.

In 1896, The Studio confirmed Voysey's place in the decorative arts, writing "Now a 'Voysey wall-paper' sounds almost as familiar as a 'Morris chintz' or a 'Liberty silk'." Voysey also designed for Donegal Carpets and many other firms over a fifty-year career in design.


Voysey was influenced by the work of William Morris, the Arts and Crafts Movement and Art Nouveau, and was concerned with form and function rather than ornamental complexities. He felt that "simplicity in decoration is one of the essential qualities without which no true richness is possible" and often worked in a limited colour palette, "emphasizing outline, eliminating shading, and minimizing detail."

His furniture designs were simple and functional, and only sparingly decorated. He particularly advocated that wood should be left with its natural finish, contrary to the popular techniques which covered wood with paint and stain. He eschewed the complexities identified with late Victorian design.

Many modest houses built in Britain in the 1920s and 1930s were inspired by Voysey's simple vernacular country houses, although Voysey himself built no houses after 1918.Chambers 1985, p. 279

The Victoria and Albert Museum has an extensive collection of Voysey's work, including design drawings, fabrics, carpets, and wallpapers.

2011 saw the formation of The C.F.A. Voysey Society , dedicated to the life and work of Voysey.

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