Prior’s Field and CFA Voysey
The private house in which Julia Huxley opened Prior’s Field School was designed by renowned Arts and Crafts architect Charles Francis Annesley Voysey. Originally called Prior’s Garth, it was built in 1900 for a colleague of Leonard Huxley’s who never occupied it. The Huxleys acquired it in 1901 and Julia obtained permission to use it as a ‘high-class school for girls’.
The rooms of the original house are still in use by Prior’s Field School and are fondly remembered by all who lived and worked in them. When Voysey designed Prior’s Garth, he was at the pinnacle of his career in creating attractive, homely, yet very modern houses for discerning clients. The building is typical of his work with cottage-style characteristics, roughcast exterior walls, steeply pitched roofs and prominent chimneys. Inside the house, the Oak Hall with its fine dominant staircase, panelling and deep tiled fireplace exemplifies his austere but cosy style. Many of Voysey’s favourite motifs of hearts and birds are evident on fire surrounds, air vents and door furniture throughout the building.
The garden laid out by Voysey which features dry stone walls and a dipping pond fed by rain water, was planted in a Gertrude Jekyll inspired design with roses, lavender and herbaceous borders. Both Julia and her husband were keen gardeners and Leonard brought many plants for his rockery back from his trips abroad with his sons.
The school quickly outgrew the house and an extension was commissioned in 1903 from Thomas Müntzer, a pupil of CFA Voysey. These additions were faithful to Voysey’s principles; Müntzer’s exteriors create a unified design and his interiors continue Voysey’s use of enclosing upright bannisters, green tiled fireplaces and exposed woodwork in the attractive and practical rooms. Müntzer did further work in later additions which carried on the established style. Later buildings of the twentieth century and those of more recent years have faithfully echoed and re-interpreted Voysey’s work to give Prior’s Field a particular charm and attractiveness, true to its arts and crafts roots.