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Sir Herbert Baker: the great British architect born at Owletts

Watercolour by Sir Herbert Baker of the secretariat buildings in New Delhi
Medical Research buildings, New Delhi by Sir Herbert Baker | © National Trust / Andrew Fetherston

Born at Owletts in 1862, Sir Herbert Baker loved the house at Owletts and was influenced by its fine late 17th-century architecture. Find out more about his life and how he became such a celebrated member of his profession.

Early days

From his early years, Baker was exposed to a tradition of good craftsmanship preserved in the local area. After completing his architectural apprenticeship, he began working for Ernest George and Harold Peto before opening his own office in Gravesend in 1890.

Two years later, his colonial adventures began when he embarked to South Africa to seek his fortune.

Travels across the Empire

After receiving the patronage of Cecil Rhodes, Prime Minister of the Cape colony, Baker 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 he joined fellow architect Edward Lutyens in India, where they began to work on the government buildings in New Delhi. He went on to design the Secretariat buildings on Raisina Hill, flanking Lutyen's Viceroy's House and Parliament House.

Pen and wash ink drawing of Sir Herbert Baker by Alfred Kingsley Lawrence, RA
Sir Herbert Baker by Alfred Kingsley Lawrence, RA | © National Trust / Andrew Fetherston

The 'Bakerloo' affair

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

We will remember them

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

Damage, death and legacy

Although he had been praised for many of his other buildings, some of his works 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 Westminster Abbey, indicating the regard felt for his lasting contribution in England and beyond.

Children looking at roses in the Rose Garden in June at Morden Hall Park, London

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