Detmar Jellings Blow (24 November 1867 – 7 February 1939) was a British architect of the early 20th century, who designed principally in the arts and crafts style. His clients belonged chiefly to the British aristocracy, and later he became estates manager to the Duke of Westminster. The fiction that he was a descendant of the English restoration composer John Blow was started in 1910 by Detmar Blow’s wife Winifred, a member of the aristrocratic Tollemache family, as a means of obtaining a licence from St. Paul’s Cathedral for the marriage of herself and Detmar.
Life and career
Blow was one of the last disciples of John Ruskin whom as a young man he had accompanied on his last journey abroad. Blow was patronised by the Wyndham family, who at their country house Clouds in Wiltshire created a salon frequented by many of the leading intellectual and artistic figures of the day, known as The Souls, who welcomed Blow into their midst admiring his romantic socialist views.
Blow’s architectural work was very much influenced by his mentors Ruskin, William Holman Hunt and Philip Webb, the architect of Clouds (1886). In his early career he adopted the role of the wandering architect, travelling artisan-like with his own band of masons from project to project. He married the aristocratic and intellectual Winifred Tollemache, and began to be patronised by the higher echelons of the British aristocracy. While much of his early work was, like that of his contemporary Lutyens, in the Arts and Crafts style, his later work was dictated by the whims of his aristocratic patrons. At one point during his career he and Lutyens contemplated entering together into an architectural partnership.
Amongst the buildings designed by Blow were Hilles, near Stroud in Gloucestershire, the mansion he built for himself after 1914, very much influenced by the ideals of Ruskin, Webb and William Morris (Blow was present at Morris’s death and organised his funeral procession, driving the flower-strewn hay-wagon carrying the coffin, dressed in a farm worker’s smock). In 1908 he rebuilt Bramham Park for the Lane Fox family; however, this commission was a restoration of the former Baroque house which had been severely damaged by fire in 1828.
Detmar Blow’s grandson, also Detmar Blow, was married to the fashion stylist Isabella Blow, and lives at Hilles, Harescombe, Gloucestershire.
Patronage of the 2nd Duke of Westminster
Blow designed various properties for Hugh “Bendor” Grosvenor, 2nd Duke of Westminster, including Château de Woolsack, a hunting lodge in Mimizan, France, near Bordeaux. In due course he became a great friend of Westminster’s, which led to his appointment in 1916 to manage the Westminster estates. These covered vast tracts of Belgravia and Mayfair in central London, and the position was one for which the quixotic Blow was completely unsuitable. As a result of the demands of overseeing the properties, Blow allowed his architectural career to decline. This proved to be a catastrophic mistake, and his reputation was later destroyed.
The popular and inaccurate version of Blow’s fall from service with the 2nd Duke of Westminster is that the architect became the target of the jealousy of the duke’s third wife, the former Loelia Ponsonby, who convinced her husband that Blow was embezzling money from the estate, a claim Blow vigorously denied. Following a vindictive campaign of hatred by the Westminsters, the architect and his family were shunned by society. He was driven by the scandal to insanity.The truth of the matter is that the Duke tasked a Grosvenor trustee, Sir Vincent Baddeley and a leading solicitor, Arthur Borrer of Boodle Hatfield, to look into Blow’s conduct as the Duke’s secretary. They found such strong evidence that Blow had been defrauding the Grosvenor Estate that Blow offered to pay some of the money back.He defaulted on this promise and was dismissed.
- Lake House, Wiltshire (1898). Restoration of an Elizabethan house near Salisbury, with oversight by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB). Lake house was gutted by fire in 1912, and Blow returned to re-instate and secure the ancient walls for a second time.
- Stoneywell and Lea Cottages, Ulverscroft, Leicestershire (1898-9), to Ernest Gimson’s designs. A 2012 appeal aimed to bring Stoneywell into the care of the National Trust.
- Clare Church, Clare, Suffolk (1899). Restoration of the Church tower, again under SPAB oversight and guidance from Philip Webb.
- Happisburgh Manor: Happisburgh, Norfolk (1900). Blow’s first major work, although the butterfly plan design was inspired by Ernest Gimson. Built as a seaside villa, it is now a Holiday rental property.
- Stonehenge, Wiltshire (1900). When a trilithon fell over on 30 Dec 1900, Blow was engaged by SPAB both to re-erect and repair the lintel, and consider measures to prevent further erosion from the number of visitors.
- Amesbury Abbey, Wiltshire. Dates uncertain, but appear to be contemporary with his Stonehenge involvement.
- Lavington Park: West Sussex (1903) Elizabethan house built by the Garton Family, enlarged by Blow for Lord Woolavington. Now Seaford College.
- Little Ridge, Fonthill, Wiltshire (1904-6). Built for Hugh Morrison, is was constructed from the stones of Berwick St Leonard manor house, three miles away. Massively enlarged in 1912 and renamed Fonthill House, it was demolished in 1979.
- Wilsford Manor, Wiltshire (1906) for Edward and Pamela Tennant, 1st Baron Glenconner, with internal woodwork by Ernest Gimson.
- All Saints’ Chapel, Avon Tyrell House,Sopley, Hampshire, (1906), for Lord Manners, with murals by Phoebe Traquair.
- Bovey Castle, Devon (1907) for the second Viscount Hambleden.
- Bramham Park, Yorkshire (1908) restoration for the Lane-Fox family.
- Breccles Hall, Norfolk, (1907-9). Rebuilt from a substantially ruined Elizabethan manor, with considerable care over the conservation and archaeological evidence.
- Billesley Manor, Warwickshire (1906–13). Now a hotel.
- Hatch House, Newtown, Wiltshire (1908).
- Heale House, Woodford, Wiltshire (1910). Blow added a new wing for the Hon. Louis Greville.
- Horwood House, Little Horwood, Buckinghamshire, (1912) with Fernand Billery.
- Château de Woolsack, Mimizan, France (1912). A hunting lodge for the 2nd Duke of Westminster.
- Hilles, Harescombe, Gloucestershire (started in 1913). Built for himself and still occupied by the Blow Family.
- Stanway House, Gloucestershire (1913). Blow built a new wing for Lady Mary Elcho, later Lady Wemyss, sister of Pamela Tennant, and one of the founders of The Souls.
- Schloss Kranzbach, Krün, near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany (1915). Blows plans, in Arts and Crafts style, were drawn up in 1913 for The Hon. Miss Mary Portman, who intended it to be an artist’s retreat. Building work was completed in 1915, but the war meant neither Blow nor Mary Portman saw it. Used as accommodation for the 1936 Winter Olympics, it is now a hotel.
- Wootton Manor, Polegate, Sussex (1915?) 17th century manor house, with 14th century elements, greatly enlarged by Blow for the Gwynne Family.
- Holcombe House, Stroud, Gloucestershire (1925), leased by Blow to Lady Plymouth, formally Gay Windsor, another of The Souls.
- Broome Park, Kent (1915–16). Lord Kitchener had bought it in 1911, and involved Blow in its renovation. One of the few building commissions he had during the Great War, it was unfinished when Kitchener died in 1916.
From 1916 to 1933 Blow was almost exclusively working for the 2nd Duke of Westminster, as manager of the Grovesnor estates, and as private secretary. (or as Lutyens described it in 1917, working as “a sort of bailif and Maitre d’Hotel! as far as I can make out!”) During this time he worked on Eaton Hall (Cheshire)