Sir Herbert Baker: a great British architect

Black and white photo of Sir Herbert Baker

Born here at Owletts in Kent, Sir Herbert Baker loved this house and was influenced by its fine late 17th century architecture.

From the outset, Sir Herbert was exposed to a tradition of good craftsmanship preserved in the local area. He later gave the house and a large collection of its contents to the National Trust in 1938.

" This small but typical homestead of the seventeenth century squire-farmers of Kent is not unworthy of preservation."
- Sir Herbert Baker

After completing his architectural apprenticeship, Herbert began working for Ernest George and Harold Peto. With them from 1882 - 1887, he then opened his own office in Gravesend in 1890. Two years later, his colonial adventures began when he embarked for South Africa to seek his fortune.

 

Travels across the Empire

After receiving the patronage of Cecil Rhodes, Prime Minister of the Cape colony and leading imperialist, he began his work in South Africa. He remained here for the next 20 years, designing many public and religious buildings, as well as private houses.

In 1912, Sir Herbert joined Edward Lutyens in India, where they began to work on the government buildings in New Delhi. He was to design the Secretariat buildings on Saisina Hill, flanking Lutyen's Viceroy's House and Parliament House.

 

The 'Bakerloo' affair

A row developed between Baker and Lutyens when it became clear that the Baker's design, with its steep gradient for the central axis, obscured the view towards Lutyen's buildings. The 'Bakerloo' affair soured relations between the two architects for the next two decades.

 

We will remember them...

After Delhi, Sir Herbert worked for the Imperial War Graves Commission. His designs included the huge cemetery at Tyne Cot, Belgium; the Delville Wood South African Memorial and Neuve Chapelle Indian War Memorial, both in France. He also designed the highly regarded War Memorial Cloister at Winchester College (1922 - 24).

Have a close up look at the architectural drawing of Winchester cloisters
A wooden architectural design of Winchester memorial cloisters

The damage is done

Although he had been praised for many of his other buildings, some of his buildings such as India House and South Africa House (both in London) were considered to be 'variable' in quality. His reputation was damaged by his rebuilding and enlargement of Sir John Soane's Bank of England, in which much of the earlier structure was destroyed. However, following his death in 1946, his ashes were buried in Wesminster Abbey, indicating the regard felt for his lasting contribution in England and beyond.