George Devey was born in London in 1820, the second son of Frederick and Ann Devey. He was educated in London; after leaving school he initially studied art, as his ambition at that time was to be an artist, before training as an architect.
He had a London office in Great Marlborough Street, specialising in domestic architecture, lodges, cottages and country mansions. He had worked extensively for the Duke of Sutherland at Cliveden in Buckinghamshire where he designed lodges and cottages in the vernacular style of the Sussex Weald. He often used tiles and timbers on external walls, in a way evocative or earlier periods, but always in a slightly differing way to the original. This style he adapted and personalised until it had his own distinctive stamp. Devey's style was later developed by other architects such as R N Shaw, George Voysey who both studied under him. Bothe Shaw and Voysey were to be founder members of the Arts and Crafts movement a generation later.
Despite having been in practice since the 1850s, business was slow until he was discovered by the Rothschild family. To Devey this family and their many rapidly expanding estate villages it must have been manna from heaven.
Two cottages at Mentmore designed to appear as one house, typical of thoses designed by George Devey for Hannah de Rothschild. The tall chimneys were to be a feature employed by Lutyens
thirty years later Photographed circa 1968.
Devey first appears in Rothschild account books as the architect for a new school at Hulcott, and the rebuilding of the parsonage there. In 1863 he came to attention of Sir Anthony de Rothschild when he designed Buckland School for the vicar Edward Bonus on a site donated by the Rothschilds. He succeeded Joseph Paxton's son-in-law George Stokes as Baron Mayer de Rothschild's architect for the estate village at Mentmore; he designed the stables and riding school there between 1869 and 1870. After the Baron's death in 1877, Devey continued in the employ of his daughter Hannah de Rothschild building cottages at Wingrave and Mentmore. His finest works on the Mentmore Estate are: Rosebery Arms at Cheddington, The School House at Cheddington, and The Thatched Lodge to Mentmore Towers. Standing at the end of a long avenue approach to Mentmore Towers, the Thatched Lodge is one of the prettiest cottages in Buckinghamshire, and has the dubious honour of having been featured on countless chocolate boxes and jig-saw puzzles.
The patronage of the aristocracy is fickle, and just as he had replaced Stokes, so in turn was Devey replaced by John Aspell, the Mentmore Clerk of Works who had worked under Devey. Aspell continued building at Mentmore, but in a prettified version of Devey's style.
Devey was largely responsible for Ascott House the neo-tudor extravaganza developed from a small half timbered farmhouse. He began work there in 1874 for Leopold de Rothschild. This house, conceived as a small hunting box, grew and grew, the intention was to make the house seem as though it had grown and developed over centuries. Devey designed half timbered extension after extension. He was still working on the house at his death in 1886, when his partner James Williams took over the project. Ascott House is probably Devey's greatest monument, although further half timbered extensions were still being added to this house as late as the 1930s.
Devey was also responsible for the large cottages, on the Green, near the entrance of Ascott House, (now the Ascott Estate Office); these are very similar to those he designed at St. Albans's Court, Kent in the late 1880s
Another Rothschild house he worked on was Aston Clinton, where he worked with George Stokes. Sadly the Italianate house with its huge porte-cochere is now demolished, a casualty of the huge country house demolitions of the 1950s. However the Lodge and stables by Devey still stand, as does his West Lodge at Aston Clinton.
Although the records were destroyed in World War II, Devey is also believed to have worked on the 'improvements' at Tring Park between 1874 and 1878. However, as this involved turning a house designed by Sir Christopher Wren into a 'dix-huitieme' French chateau complete with mansard roof, some may call this vandalism! Devey later built a house very similar to the transformed Tring in Lennox Gardens, London, for a Mrs. Hunloke.
George Devey was a man capable of working on more than one project at a time. In 1876, Miss Alice de Rothschild commissioned him to build her a house atEythrope in the Vale of Aylesbury. After the plans were drawn up, his patroness decided water at night was bad for her health Since the house was in a bend of the River Thame, rather than abandon the site, she decided Devey must design a house without bedrooms, and she would decamp every evening to her brother's home Waddesdon Manor. The result was the Eythrope Water Pavilion, one of the most charming of Rothschild houses, its design is an unostentatious complement to the great chateau four miles away at Waddesdon Manor. Today (with a bedroom wing added in the 1920s) it is the only Rothschild mansion still in private hands in the Vale of Aylesbury.
George Devey, was also interested in garden design and played an important role in not only the houses he designed, but also in garden buildings and folleys. At Ascott this included the thatched half timbered summer house, or skating hut overlooking the circular lily pool. He has also been credited with the design of the neo-grecian temple terminating the avenue of mirror herbacious borders, but this is in a very different style to that he normally employed.
Of Devey's personal life little is known. He never married; on the 1881 Census he is recorded living with an elderly aunt, cousin and elder brother at 12 Pelham Crescent, Hastings -- a far world from the wondrous places he created for his patrons. He died there in November 1886. While never a house-hold name, in the world of architecture he does have considerable standing. There is no doubt that his style was the forerunner of the arts and crafts school of design. It could be said he died before his time, but the world of rich patrons allowed the development of his visions; and architecture benefited as a result.