BIGGERSTAFF WILSON RESIDENCE

Biggerstaff Wilson (1874-1925), a son of a well-known English-born clothier, commissioned a home from Samuel Maclure (1860-1929) in 1905. The Biggerstaff Wilson home is considered to be Maclure’s most successful and powerful Tudor Revival design.

It was a natural choice to become the first house model build for the new Architectural Heritage Museum and the focal point of the exhibit organized around it. The model and the exhibit can now be viewed by the public.

Upcoming Exhibition

THE MUIRHEAD RESIDENCE

The Architect

As one of Canada’s greatest, most prolific, and best internationally recognized architects of his time, Samuel Maclure deserves more acclaim in contemporary Canada. In fact, for years before Wentworth Villa was chosen as the site of the Architectural Heritage Museum, the plan was to locate the museum in one of the many houses Maclure designed in Victoria.

There was never any doubt that the first architectural model built for the new museum in Victoria–the architect’s home town–would be a Maclure. The Biggerstaff Wilson residence (1905) was selected as the museum’s first model not only for its architectural grace and grandeur. In many ways, the building marked the peak of Maclure’s architectural and artistic career, becoming his most recognizable and probably most celebrated building. Likewise, it marked an important step in the development of his theoretical thought about architecture as well as art and culture in general.

This vision, supported by tireless artistic activity, lead him to become co-founder and one of the most articulate voices of the Arts and Crafts movement in the Pacific North West. Biggerstaff Wilson residence became a flagship for Maclure’s concept of Arts and Crafts garden which he developed in the second part of his career, designing both gardens and elements of garden architecture.

The Residence

The Biggerstaff Wilson timber style manor house, represents Maclure at the height of his medieval Arts and Crafts period. Although the house has a strong Tudor flavour, it projects an asymmetrical effect. The first level of the Wilson residence is composed of irregular masonry which was a favourite material of Maclure’s. Above the masonry, Maclure used stucco rectangles and dark woodwork in his exterior design.

The half-timber elevation of the house is dominated by a massive roof and gabled entrance bay. Random ashlar of the first floor blends with the surrounding rock gardens, creating an atmosphere true to the Arts and Crafts style of harmonizing the house with its natural environment. The Elizabethan Revival scheme is not continued to the rear of the house. Instead, it is replaced by shingled wall surfaces and flat and hipped roof dormers.

Maclure always tried to ensure that residents of his homes enjoyed spectacular views. In the Wilson home, the south porch opened into an extravagant garden. The balconies on the second floor and the entrance featured handcrafted work of the Arts and Crafts movement. In the Wilson home, Maclure created a stately mansion complete with a grand baronial hall, richly panelled with unpolished local woods and complimented with Art Nouveau delicately patterned glass.

With the Wilson residence, Maclure set the standard for gracious living in Victoria. This style would be emulated by the upper class in Victoria for the next decade. The house is representative of Maclure’s pre-World War I phase which is generally considered to be the most innovative and vigorous period.

To this day, the Wilson residence remains in use as a single-family dwelling. Despite significant changes to the interior and the garden, the house is still considered one of Maclure’s most impressive surviving houses.

Adapted from an essay by Martin Segger

The Garden

By the late 1870’s in Canada, proponents of full, natural gardens were delivering their message throughout the country. Neatly bedded and sparsely decorated gardens were being rejected for a more full, comprehensive garden which fused lawn, trees, shrubs and flowers into an artistic whole, with nature as teacher and example.

Samuel Maclure was greatly influenced by this movement and formalized the classic English garden in Victoria. He had a life-long interest in gardens and in the conserving of nature.  It is said that when Maclure designed properties, he would go to great lengths not to have to cut down a single tree if it was not absolutely necessary.

The turn of the century was a watershed period for Victoria landscape design. Private gardens were regularly open to the public, large scale nurseries were established and many publications, guides and catalogues were produced. Gardens were very much an integral part of the social life of the middle and upper class in Victoria. To have a beautiful garden in the latest mode, using the proper furnishings was a “socially enhancing” activity which was considered to be civilized to the utmost.

To designers such as Maclure, gardens completed and enhanced the natural environment. Gardens were seen as an extension of the living space of the house and not just an ornament. This concept of the fusion of house and garden was carried through to the need for fresh cut flowers to adorn the interior of the house in the spring and summer months.

The garden and house needed to create a sense of harmony and balance. The function of the garden as an extension of the residence was to assist in the transition from the natural environs to the exterior of the house, to the interior. The most published Arts and Crafts gardens of Samuel Maclure were that of Miraloma, the summer residence of Lieutenant-Governor William Nichol in Sidney and that of Biggerstaff Wilson’s residence in the Rockland area.

Similar to his architectural designs for his houses, Maclure’s gardens reflect the architect’s same sense of spatial acuity, his penchant for the complex spatial interrelationships, the subtle tensions between the formal and informal, constricted and open space.

Adapted from an essay by Martin Segger

Biggerstaff Wilson

Biggerstaff Wilson was a fourth son of a successful Victoria clothier and politician, William Wilson. He received his early education in Victoria before leaving for England where he attended Christ Church College near London. Upon completion of university education, he returned to Victoria where he has since resided.

Following in the steps of his English-born father, he established himself as one of Victoria’s leading businessmen. As head of B. Wilson Company Ltd. and founder of the Ice and Cold Storage Company, he pioneered many forms of food preservation and storage that had a significant impact on everyday life of Victorians. He was also a prominent golfer and vice-president of the Northwest Golf Association. In 1905 Biggerstaff Wilson commissioned Samuel Maclure to build a large residence at Rockland. Biggerstaff’s son, Richard B. Wilson, served as mayor of Victoria in the 1960s.

Biggerstaff Wilson’s unusual first name is, in fact, the last name of the Wilson family’s friend, a wealthy London bachelor, who left his fortune to baby Wilson in exchange for perpetuating his last name. To friends and family he was known, simply, as “Big”.

Biggerstaff Wilson Gallery

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