OBITUARY: Philip Jebb

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The Independent Online
Philip Jebb did his best work as an architect when working for people with strong views on building and design; who might have preferred in another life to have been architects themselves. He never liked to start on a project unless he knew he was right for the client as well as the building. Indeed, a sequence of long-lasting creative partnerships with clients, builders and decorators tells his story. The architectural historian John Martin Robinson considers Jebb to have been the best traditional architect practising in post-war Britain.

In 1961, the young Mark Birley and John Aspinall had possession of 44 Berkeley Square, in central London, designed by William Kent. Aspinall took the upper part of the building to make the Clermont Club, a private gambling club, and Birley the lower to make a night-club, Annabel's. Jebb executed both: the Clermont with the distinguished decorator John Fowler, the genius behind the firm of Colefax & Fowler. The Clermont was an enormous work of restoration and reconstruction - since much altered. It set something of a post-war standard for the bold restoration of Georgian buildings, their mouldings, panelling and paintwork, and was the beginning of a working partnership with Fowler, with an emphasison restoring and redecorating private houses, which lasted until Fowler's death in 1978.

Downstairs, Jebb and Birley excavated the entire garden and built a concrete box through to the mews behind to create enough space for Annabel's. Birley was tickled when, two-thirds of the way through the project, Jebb said that he had never been to a night-club before. At the time, neither man expected that Annabel's would last so long, taking its own venerable place in London night-life. Jebb and Birley created two more clubs together, also in Mayfair - Mark's and Harry's Bar, both dining clubs. Jebb was energised by Birley's acute visual sense; while Birley appreciated the exactitude of Jebb's work, the felicity of an arch's relationship to its springing point, the precise elegance of his drawings. Jebb went on to design in 1983 the first of a series of sandwich shops in the City of London for Mark Birley's son Robin. Their glass cabinets and blue and white tiled walls have been much imitated since.

Through working on Annabel's, Jebb met the Spanish decorator Jaime Parlade, who opened doors to a career for Jebb in Spain which started with private houses in the country around Gibraltar in the late 1960s and culminated in 1983 with Las Irlandesas, a full-blown stucco town palace in the heart of Madrid. But perhaps his most remarkable work in Spain is Cuartn, a whitewashed village set in a cork forest near Algeciras, where the houses join to form a protective wall around its inhabitants. Cuartn was built in 1970 for the expatriate Hugh Millais as a car-free development of holiday apartments. It has long since become a village inhabited by locals like any other; something that pleased Philip Jebb enormously.

A figure in that Spanish milieu was Dominick Elwes, a member of the Clermont Club circle, but from the same artistic and intellectual Roman Catholic background as Jebb, who had introduced him to Millais and to John Aspinall. Apart from the Clermont, Jebb's principal works for Aspinall include a Gorillarium at Howletts, Aspinall's pioneering zoo for the preservation of endangered species, and the Curzon House Club, in Mayfair, whichJebb and the decorator David Mlinaric restored to its former grandeur in 1981 while turning it into a casino. Mlinaric was a collaborator of Jebb's in the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties and their projects together included extensive work on two properties held on long leases from the National Trust: Woolbeding House, in Sussex, and Ashdown House, in Berkshire.

Jebb's other work on National Trust properties included a long association with Chartwell, Winston Churchill's house in Kent, where the restaurant (which he first designed in 1966) had to be extended on at least two occasions, and buildings to process visitors at Claremont, in Surrey (started in 1970), and at Nymans, in Sussex. For the past 20 years he had sat on the trust's plans committee, which vetsproposals for additions to the trust's properties - on occasion having to withdraw when his own drawings came up.

Sir John Smith, a former vice-chairman of the National Trust, worked with Jebb on perhaps his single largest corpus of work: the restoration of small, historic buildings which had been acquired by the Landmark Trust to be made good and let to holidaymakers. Smith and his wife Christian founded the trust, and their first Landmark project with Jebb was Fort Clonque, a 19th-century fort on Alderney, in the Channel Islands, started in 1968. The most recently completed was the Pavilion at Ingestre, in Staffordshire, where new rooms were sympathetically added behind the shell of a pedimented 18th-century park building.

Jebb worked on private houses old and new. His new houses include North Port House (1978), a dower house for the Duchess of Hamilton at Lennoxlove, executed in a chaste Regency style; and No 12/14 Cheyne Walk (1970), in Chelsea. But his grandest new country house was in fact built in a city: La Caada (1987), a brick pedimented mansion, with a double-height hall, on a cliff overlooking Guatemala City.

With John Fowler he executed the extensive restoration and modernisation of Cornbury Park, in Oxfordshire, for Lord Rotherwick, starting in 1967, which was matched in scale by the work on Badminton House, for the new Duke of Beaufort, in 1984. In both cases, unwieldy houses that were still set up for the pre-war order were made to work for a new generation and for their ideas of comfort and plumbing.

Jebb's work on the house proper at Chatsworth, in Derbyshire, was on a small scale, but his working relationship with its owners, the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, was one of the most productive and satisfying in his career. In the early Seventies they created together the Cavendish Hotel, at Baslow, and in 1978-79 the Devonshire Arms, at Bolton Abbey, which included the creation of 35 new bedrooms. But their most tantalising project was the first, and one that remained unexecuted: a scheme for a new Devonshire House in London. Jebb produced two designs: an austere building with glazing reminiscent of Hardwick Hall, another Cavendish seat in Derbyshire; and a classical palazzo with a piano nobile.

Jebb was born in London, in 1927, the son of Reginald Jebb, a classicist and schoolmaster, and Eleanor, the daughter of the writer and Catholic apologist Hilaire Belloc. His upbringing of religious observance and intellectual Christianity (Reginald Jebb was a convert) was the key to Philip Jebb's life. In the mid-Thirties the family moved to live with Belloc at King's Land, in Sussex, wherethere was a chapel, and the leading Catholic writers and thinkers of the day were familiars of the house. Philip's sister is a nun, and his brother Anthony a monk of Downside Abbey, in Somerset, and its former headmaster. When Anthony joined the community at Downside he was given the monastic name of Dom Philip, guaranteeing a lifetime of confusion for both brothers. A second brother, Julian, made a brilliant reputation as a literary critic, broadcaster and producer of arts programmes at the BBC. His suicide in 1984 was an enormous blow.

Philip Jebb retained an abiding affection for Belloc,and had a sharp sense of the prophetic nature of much of his political writing. He had in the late Seventies and early Eighties care of Belloc's literary estate.

There was a strong constructive and visual tradition in Jebb's family. His paternal grandfather, George Jebb, was a civil engineer, who created the Shropshire Union Canal and railways and canals all over the world; and the wider Belloc family had included the portraitist Hilaire Belloc grand-pre, who taught Rodin to paint, Thodore Chasseriau (Ingres's most brilliant pupil) and the architect Baron Chasseriau.

Jebb was educated atDownside Abbey and, after national service in the Royal Marines, went up to King's College, Cambridge, in 1949, to read architecture.He wrote his dissertation on Nicholas Hawksmoor. The architects he most admired in his own time included Philip Dowson, the star of his Cambridge generation and, some years their senior, Raymond Erith. Such was Jebb's respect for Erith that, when offered the commission to design a new house at King's Walden in Hertfordshire, in 1967, he recommended they see Erith before choosing their architect. The commission went to Erith, whose partner Quinlan Terry made his name on the project.

Jebb's first sustained architectural experience was in 1954 in the building explosion of post-war New York, where he and his colleagues often worked all night to finish the next set of detailed drawings. By 1955 he was working in San Francisco, where he was married in the church in which Hilaire and Elodie Belloc had been married nearly 60 years previously, to Lucy Pollen, a sister of Francis Pollen, with whom he had studied architecture at Cambridge.

Back in London in 1956, Jebb went into private practice, for a while with his brother-in-law Francis Pollen, and then on his own account. He had for nearly 20 years an office in a basement in Sloane Street. After the fringe banking collapse of the mid-Seventies Jebb was forced to lay off all his architectural assistants, and moved his office to his home in Brentford. In the early Eighties, when building was booming,he was tempted to expand again the size of his office. Enticing work had to be turned away, but he resisted the temptation; which proved wisdom when a recession arrived three years ago and the building industry went into decline.

Jebb had a slight figure and fine features - in his youth a look of Gregory Peck. His greatest pleasure in architecture was the act of drawing. In every house he lived in, there was a room with a drawing-board for evening and weekends. As children he let my brother and sisters and me interrupt him to see what he was drawing. In the last 10 years of his life he made his office across the yard from the house, in an old studio, where his Jebb aunts had painted water-colours. There, with two of his associates, he sat surrounded by mementoes of his working life. A commission that emerged from this time was one for substantial additions to Glympton Park, in Oxfordshire. Such was its scale that Jebb brought another firm into the project, that of Nicky Johnston, a man who had followed a similar course in the field since they were students together 40 years before. Philip Vincent Belloc Jebb, architect: born London 15 March 1927; married 1955 Lucy Pollen (two sons, two daughters); died Bucklebury, Berkshire 7 April 1995.