Garden city movement

Interior of Hilltop, Caterham

Hill Top, Caterham_530x337

Interior of Hilltop, Caterham
Architect: Parker & Unwin (c. 1909)
Watercolour: R.B. Parker (c. 1909)
Source: RIBA British Architectural Library Drawings & Archives Collection

Thanks to the railways, in the later Victorian period Caterham became a commuter and dormitory town. Set on the edge of the North Downs, it was an ideal place to retreat from the bustle of London, and became dotted with run-of-the-mill middle-class villas. However, one house in the area, Hilltop, was exceptional, created for the extraordinary scholar W.E. Steers. Having spent a long time in Japan and the Far East, he commissioned the architects Parker and Unwin to design him a most individual house, a mixture of Arts and Crafts and Japanese architecture.

Hilltop had all the modern amenities – a motor house, outdoor swimming pool and even a gymnasium, where Steers practised his jiu-jitsu. The largest space, however, was the living room, so large that it had two inglenook fireplaces, one of which is shown here. L-shaped, it had many windows, in line with Parker and Unwin’s belief that English houses needed plenty of sunshine. Here we can see the magnificent bay window, facing south east. Beyond are a series of spaces, all linked, so that the whole building would be lived in, not one room at a time.

This delicious watercolour was produced by Richard Barry Parker (1867-1947). This may be for a project, but is a delightful piece of art in its own right. The simple furnishings were all designed by Parker, as noted on the back of this drawing, and we can see a definite reference to Japanese interiors, with the low seating by the inglenook, the plain wood beams and the play on geometry.


About the online exhibition

'How We Built Britain' is a major collaboration with the BBC


Images in the exhibition are from RIBApix, a growing database dedicated to providing you with exceptional and unique images from the RIBA British Architectural Library's collections.

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