When I first started researching the work of the Edwardian architect Horace Field
(1861–1948), I soon realised that this was a man whose achievements
could best be measured in terms quite antithetical to those conventionally used
by architectural historians. Nearly all buildings are judged on the basis of
their originality; and, if they are old, on the basis of their influence or
their relationship to what subsequently became a significant direction in the
arts or culture of their time. Even in a field such as the history of Victorian
and Edwardian architecture, transformed by Mark Girouard and Alistair Service
forty or more years ago, a story has only been worth telling when it is a story.
If a collection of buildings adds up to very little, what then?
Field's buildings are mostly incidental to other more interesting,
more imaginative stories. Was he a failure, then, in designing buildings which
fail to appear in their own right as part of a critical canon? Was he a failure
too, in that his career started so promisingly and tailed away to nothing; that
he was tucked away in rural Sussex, in Rye, fiddling about with old buildings
and designing garages and cheap villas, while other architects of his generation
spent their final years on some of the most enthralling projects of their lives?
Or does the story of Field's career suggest that there are other ways
to evaluate an architectural career than to tell the story of its