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Normansfield (Velma) Boathouse, Richmond upon Thames

Description: Normansfield (Velma) Boathouse

Grade: II*
Date Listed: 11 July 2014
Building ID: 1418051

OS Grid Reference: TQ1781170355
OS Grid Coordinates: 517811, 170355
Latitude/Longitude: 51.4200, -0.3071

Locality: Richmond upon Thames
County: Greater London Authority
Postcode: TW11 9RT

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Listing Text


Boathhouse and summer house, 1884, probably by Rowland Plumbe for Dr John Langdon Haydon Down.

Reason for Listing

Normansfield (Velma) Boathouse, a boathouse and summer house, 1884, probably by Rowland Plumbe for Dr John Langdon Haydon Down, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

* Architectural interest: particularly ornate example of a riverine boathouse, providing an insight into late-C19 taste and decorative arts, here applied most unusually to a summer house and boathouse, and closely associated with the highly significant Grade II* Normansfield Theatre or entertainment hall (part of Normansfield Hospital NHLE 1065379);

* Intactness: very good survival of the external and internal plan of the summerhouse, of its external and internal decorative scheme; and a high proportion of its fixtures and fittings;

* Historic interest: built for Dr John Langdon Haydon Down, in the grounds of his home and pioneering hospital for the disabled at Normansfield;

* Architect: almost certainly by Rowland Plumbe, also architect of Normansfield entertainment hall.

* Group value: one of a group of picturesque private boathouses in the immediate vicinity and part of an important group of late C19 private and commercial boathouses on this stretch of the Thames that illustrate how the river was served by boat. In addition the boathouse has group value with Normansfield House, listed at Grade ll*.

* Association: rare survival in this area of the principal building, Normansfield Hospital, and much of the grounds, providing context for the boathouse.


The popularity of boating for pleasure in the later C19, typified by Jerome K Jerome's 'Three Men in A Boat' (1889), prompted an increasing number of commercial and private boathouses to be built along the River Thames. Being one of the larger estates bordering the non-tidal Thames upstream from Teddington Lock, Normansfield also acquired a boathouse, probably designed by the architect Rowland Plumbe in 1884 for the pioneering physician Dr John Langdon Haydon Down (1828-1896). It was known as Velma boathouse, apparently named after the family dog. Late C19 and early C20 photographs record the Langdon Down family, with friends and members of the sanatorium staff, in boats and ice skating in front of the boathouse. Historic maps indicate the extent of the estate, which is still evident on the ground in the mature trees and boundaries and in the surviving footpaths which crossed it.

After ten years at the Royal Earlswood Asylum, where he specialised in the condition he named Mongolism (now known as Down's Syndrome), Langdon Down chose to open his own private institution, which he was to name Normansfield, in 1868 buying the White House, Teddington, a substantial house built in 1866 and standing in 40 acres of grounds, but never occupied. From the 1860s to 1890s he extended it, acquiring adjacent land and buildings, such that by his death in 1896 he had 160 patients in his care, housed in non-institutional accommodation and surroundings. They were trained and encouraged in a variety of activities, rather than simply being confined and treated. The entertainment hall or private theatre, certainly designed by Rowland Plumbe, was added in 1877-9 and it is likely that he was responsible for other buildings at Normansfield.

Proposals for a boat and summerhouse designed by Plumbe for the River Meadow, Normansfield, dated 1879 [RIBA PB276/34(1-2)], illustrate a timber superstructure, with Gothic detail in the windows and in its almost aisle-like verandah. Typical of his generation, Plumbe was associated with a group of like-minded revivalist, Arts and Crafts inspired artists and craftsman and the completed boathouse is unusually lavishly decorated for a building of its type, where the majority are picturesque vernacular revival structures, with at most, applied and moulded timber decoration. Although there are no known drawings to confirm attribution to Plumbe, the interior of the boathouse closely resembles his theatre at Normansfield, echoing its carved and pierced pine ceiling. The external incised plasterwork - deeper than usual sgraffito - is more usually typical of decoration applied to larger or more elaborate buildings.

Rowland Plumbe (1838-1919) was the youngest son of Ann Serena Plumbe, who had become interested in the plight of the mentally handicapped, because of the difficulties faced by her son Andrew Reed Plumbe (1835-1881). He was admitted to the Asylum for Idiots in Highgate, London, founded in 1848, and the first institution in Britain to provide ‘for the remedial care and education of the feeble minded’ (Knight, Now There is Hope, undated). The Asylum moved to Redhill, Surrey, later becoming Royal Earlswood Hospital. Through this connection Plumbe would have met Dr John Langdon Haydon Down.

Plumbe was articled to NJ Cottingham and Frederick Peck, and in America to FC Withers, before setting up in practice in London, working in partnership with FM Harvey, CL Fleming-Williams and JCS Mummery. An eclectic architect, his output ranging from country houses to churches, he developed a particular interest in socially improving projects such as philanthropic housing - Queen's Park Estate, Paddington (1880, listed Grade II) for the Artisans, Labourers and General Dwellings Company - and hospital design - for example, Springfield Hospital, Wandsworth, built for 'Idiot' children (1895, listed Grade II) - gaining the reputation as a sound and competent architect.

Normansfield Hospital remained privately run by the Langdon Down family until 1948 when it was sold to the NHS. Part of the hospital, including the theatre, is occupied by the Langdon Down Centre, the remainder has been converted to apartments.


Boathouse and summerhouse to Normansfield House, 1884 probably by Rowland Plumbe for Dr John Langdon Haydon Down.

MATERIALS: red brick basement, timber-framed superstructure with rendered panels, timber platform supported on cast-iron column, plain tile roof with terracotta crested ridge tiles and moulded finials.

PLAN: single boathouse at river level with wide entrances on the river and landward sides. Upper level accommodation divided into a main chamber overlooking the river and a smaller service room or lobby to the west, surrounded on all sides by a wide platform or deck reached by stairs from the landward side.

EXTERIOR: aligned east-west, the eastern elevation opening onto the river. The basement or boathouse level is in red brick and on the north and south elevations has cast-iron fixed light windows beneath segmental arches and an entrance with a ledge and braced door in the easternmost bay of the north elevation. The wide opening to the river is enclosed by temporary doors; the wide opening to the west has C20 part-glazed doors. Cast-iron shafts and ornate cast-iron brackets on the riverside support a timber superstructure which projects over the river and has mostly renewed timber decking. Timber stairs to the west and the balustrade to the deck have square newels, some with ball finials, and a largely renewed timber lattice balustrade.

The upper structure is richly decorated reflecting its riverine position and association with Normansfield House. The timber frame is infilled with plain rendered panels, within which, on the north and south elevations, is a frieze of decorative panels in incised plaster depicting plants and abstract foliage. The north elevation has a pair of two-light casement windows, the westernmost window beneath a richly decorated gablet with an incised plaster foliate pattern and bargeboards of alternating rosettes and leaf patterns; the windows have leaded coloured glass panes. The south elevation is similar but less ornate, the gablet above the main casement window having applied timber framing and simple moulded bargeboards while the window has clear glass.

On the riverside elevation glazed doors with moulded frames and glazing bars are flanked by similar windows beneath overlights in coloured glass. The timber-framed gable above is richly moulded. A deep coved frieze is decorated with incised plaster panels depicting plants and abstract floral patterns. The central incised plaster panel of the gable depicts a ship, flanked by foliate motifs. The roof is deeply oversailing with a boarded soffit and is supported on cusped moulded brackets suggesting waves. The west-facing gable is similar, but with a moulded timber bressumer with scrolled cresting, again resembling waves, as if forming a base to the boat depicted in the gable. The western entrance has a pair of doors each divided into three panels filled with leaded coloured glass lights. Within the upper and central panels of the left hand leaf are painted glass roundels, at the top of a pair of birds on a japonica bush, the central panel of a fish swimming in reeds. The right-hand leaf has been damaged but appears to have been similarly decorated.

INTERIOR: divided by a panelled partition with a wide central doorway to create a lobby, now accommodating a kitchen and bathroom. The interior is lined throughout in moulded pine boards set diagonally above the dado rail and lining the roof, while the dado is lined in vertical boards. Closely resembling the interior of Plumbe's entertainment hall or theatre at Normansfield, the principal room has an elaborate frieze of incised timber panels of alternating fleur de lys and fern-like patterns above a deep moulded cornice supported on moulded brackets. The roof has a single king-post truss. Within the lobby is a built-in panelled cupboard. The stained glass in the northern window, within the lobby, is similarly decorated to the entrance doors, and has two painted glass roundels depicting birds.

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.