George Devey was an influential Victorian architect with a particular link to Leigh. This article concentrates on his work in the Leigh and Penshurst area. For more detailed information see “George Devey” by the late Jill Allibone 1991; and a forthcoming book by Professor Andrew Ballantine and Dr Andrew Law. Wikipedia also has an entry, although currently it includes little about Devey’s work in Leigh/Penshurst. Much of the Penshurst information in this article comes from Dr Jonathan Fenner – architect, historian and lecturer and from Lawrence Biddle’s “Leigh In Kent”. The Historical Society owns a digital collection of 500 pictures of Devey’s buildings, provided by Dr Andrew Law which is available to view.
Devey was born to a well-to-do family in London in 1820. His initial ambition was to become a professional artist and he studied art before later training as an architect.
One of his first commissions around 1850 came when a friend, the Rev. G R Boissier, the Penshurst vicar, introduced him to Lord de Lisle. This meeting led to the building of Leicester Square where Devey added the Post Office on the left and the row of cottages on the right. By joining the old Guildhouse on the left to the existing cottages at the top right by adding a top floor with an arch underneath, he created the present Square. He also built the Lodge near the Square and worked on a good deal of restoration of Penshurst Plce itself and in 1861 on the new chancel of St Mary’s, Leigh, paid for by Lord de Lisle as Leigh’s Rector. He also added the octagonal tower on the south side of the Church. At this period Devey also designed the four Lightfoot cottages in Leigh for Penshurst Estate.
Devey’s other early patron was also in Penshurst. Viscount (Henry) Hardinge had been Viceroy of India. His home was South Park and in 1852 he asked Devey to build him a ‘model farm’. The result was South Park Farm which originally had only a 16 th century barn on the left of the entrance which he converted into a house; and a 17 th century building at the top which Devey incorporated into the current building with a balcony. The completed farm had cow byres, cart sheds, dung heap enclosures and so on, all designed to make a practical farm but entirely in Tudor style.
Other work in Penshurst ranges from large mansions – Swaylands and Hammerfield House – to a good number of cottages.
Although Devey never married, he was rumoured to have loved Flora Streatfield (of Chiddingstone) for many years, whom he presumably met in this period.
His work in Leigh for Samuel Morley came considerably later after he had done a large amount of work for the Rothschild family in the 1860s (and in the later 1870s).
George Devey’s clients were often Liberals and from the rich manufacturing classes. Samuel Morley was typical. When he bought the Hall Place Estate in 1870, he decided the existing Hall Place was too small and too run down. He, therefore, commissioned the new Hall Place from Devey, a natural choice bearing in mind his work around Penshurst and because he had already designed a number of buildings in Leigh not only for the Penshurst Estate (see above) but also for Thomas Baily around 1864 – Park Cottage; and Hilden House (opposite Hildenborough Station, now demolished), as well as Park House. Devey’s work in Leigh for Samuel Morley – apart from Hall Place – are not entirely clear. He designed the cottage at West Lodge – now hidden behind the later gateway; the School – apart from the central block; and possibly a few other buildings including Church Hill House. Whether he had some input into others such as the gas and waterworks building, and the Small Village Hall/Legion Hall is not clear. For further details, see Lawrence Biddle’s book “Leigh in Kent”.
Devey proved able to design and oversee a number of projects at once. For a good number of years his practice had ten people working for him – mainly draughtsmen but including a model maker and young apprentices.
He died in Hastings aged 66 of pneumonia just as he was planning to retire. He was not particularly highly regarded by his immediate contemporaries but by the end of the century it is clear that he influenced a large number of well-known British architects including Sir Ernest George (of George & Peto) who built The Square, Forge Square and South View in Leigh); Norman Shaw (Scotland Yard) and Sir Edwin Lutyens (“The greatest architect since Sir Christopher Wren”…).
Parish Magazine Articles: Sept 2011: by Chris Rowley
Further information on George Devey’s work by Professor Andrew Ballantyne and Dr Andrew Law can be found at http://research.ncl.uk/mocktudor/