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Victorian Ilfracombe

Brookdale Lodge

Brookdale Avenue

Of all the buildings that W. M. Robins gave us during his six years in Ilfracombe (1878 - 1884), Brookdale Lodge is the most distinguished. He built it for himself and had a monogram of his initials, as well as the date (1881) carved into the stonework near the main doorway. An added conservatory all but hides these from view, but though it cuts into the bay window at its side and covers a fine Gothic doorway, it is of discreet design and does not detract from the building as a whole.

Robins was always trying out new styles in his designs. Here he shows his awareness of the contemporary 'Arts and Crafts' movement which revived interest in vernacular architecture, in cosy domestic features and irregularities, and hand crafted brick and timber-work in reaction to the smooth sophistication of the Italianate villas of previous generations. There are echoes of the "Red House", Bexleyheath, Kent (c1860) by Philip Webb in Brookdale Lodge and the overhanging roof on the bay in the Avenue, with its sturdy black wooden brackets, is almost an exact replica of one of Norman Shaw's "Craigside" mansion at Rothbury in Northumberland (1870 - 80).

If this bay window is unusual, the one facing down towards Wilder Road is even more so. The Lodge stands in a narrow fork between two roads (like a number of other Ilfracombe buildings) and Robins has made the most of this awkward site. In the apex he has placed this bay window, which has a 'V' shape, (rather like the prow of a ship) on the ground floor, and canted out above this on brackets is a half hexagon, galleon-fashion, verandah, its delicate white woodwork contrasting with the dark tiles of its roof. This last, like the bay in the Avenue is crowned with a beautifully worked wrought-iron finial. Within the verandah one can see a shallow bay with a central bay window.

The windows on the ground floor reveal Robins' continued respect for the Gothic tradition. They are all pointed, and this is emphasised by mouldings of buff brick surrounding them. Within the arches there are delicate leaded lights with roundels depicting heads and floral designs. Above on the first floor there are square headed casement windows, most of them in patterned lead-work, tucked in under the eaves. The sweep of the roof is broken by low, square-headed dormers in a rather continental fashion. The whole emphasis of the building is on the horizontal, again, rather ship-like. The Church Road side of the house is much more irregular, but full of interest and surprises, carefully moulded chimneys, terracotta panels and unexpected bays.

Robins always shows interesting colour arrangements in his buildings. Here they are beautifully restrained. The warm red brickwork is set off by the white and black paint-work, and the dark tiles of the roof contrast with this, separated from the brick by the white band of painted coving under the eaves.

Robins was closely involved in the development of Brookdale Avenue and most of the houses there are of his design. Previously the area was known as 'Bloody Meadow' after a skirmish which took place there in August 1664 during the Civil War when the Royalists attempted to burn down the town but only set 27 houses alight before the townspeople and sailors beat out the fire and drove them off. The developers no doubt felt that the name needed changing if buyers were to be attracted. The name they chose comes from the fact that the West Wilder Brook flows here to meet its sister at St. Michael's (formerly Watersmeet) in Wilder Road.

Jim Bates - November 1998

Created 20/4/99