Batty Langley

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For the Liberal Party politician, see J. Batty Langley.

Batty Langley (Twickenham, Middlesex, baptised 14 September 1696 – London 1751) was an English garden designer, and prolific writer who produced a number of engraved designs for "Gothick" structures, summerhouses and garden seats in the years before the mid-18th century.

An eccentric landscape designer, he gave some of his numerous children names like Hiram, Euclid, Vitruvius and Archimedes, and attempted to "improve" Gothic forms by giving them classical proportions.

A garden plan

Life[edit]

Langley was the son of a jobbing gardener of Twickenham, and bore the name of David Batty, a patron of his father's. He inherited some of his father's clients in Twickenham, then a village of suburban villas within easy reach of London by a pleasant water journey on the Thames. An early client was Thomas Vernon of Twickenham Park.

For the Palladian house built at Twickenham by James Johnston in 1710 (later "Orleans House", demolished 1926), Langley, probably on his own endeavour, prepared and published a garden plan, which offered an encyclopaedia of the garden features that were swiftly becoming obsolete by the time the plan (illustration, right) was published in Langley's A Sure Method of Improving Estates (1728): here are several mazes, a "wilderness" with many tortuous path-turnings, cabinets de verdure cut into dense woodland, formal stretches of canal and formally shaped basins of water, some with central fountains, a central allée of trees leading to an exedra. His New Principles of Gardening, 1728 included designs for mazes, a feature he could never quite leave behind.

Batty Langley is best known for one of his confident self-promotions, Ancient Architecture Restored published in 1742 and reissued in 1747 as Gothic Architecture, improved by Rules and Proportions, a bit of cockscombry that thoroughly irritated Horace Walpole, whose Gothick villa at Twickenham, Strawberry Hill, gave impetus to the stirrings of the Gothic Revival:

All that his books achieved, has been to teach carpenters to massacre that venerable species, and to give occasion to those who know nothing of the matter, and who mistake his clumsy efforts for real imitations, to censure the productions of our ancestors, whose bold and beautiful fabrics Sir Christopher Wren viewed and reviewed with astonishment, and never mentioned without esteem. (Walpole, Anecdotes of Painting, 1798, p 484)

Langley's books were enormously influential in Britain's American colonies. At Mount Vernon, for example, George Washington relied upon plate 51 of Langley's The City and Country Builder's and Workman's Treasury of Designs as the source for the famous Venetian (or Palladian) window in the dining room; upon plate 54 of the same book for the ocular window on Mount Vernon's western facade; and upon plate 75 of Langley's The Builder's Jewel for the rusticated wood siding.[1]

Batty Langley was also thought to be an important Freemason; his naming of his son Hiram was a reference to the architect, prominent in Masonic tradition and symbolism, of Solomon's Temple, and many of his books were dedicated to his Masonic brethren. The frontispiece to The Builder's Jewel (1741), for example, contains many examples of Masonic symbolism found in the first three degrees of Freemasonry.[2]

He was imprisoned for debt in Newgate Prison and wrote an account of that institution, An Accurate Description of Newgate.[3]

References[edit]

  1. ^ The Center for Palladian Studies in America, Inc., "Palladio and Architectural Patternbooks in Colonial America."
  2. ^ See Eileen Harris, Batty Langley: A Tutor to Freemasons (1696-1751), The Burlington Magazine, Vol.119, No 890, May 1977
  3. ^ An Accurate Description of Newgate at Google Books

External links[edit]