Freake & Basevi

Length Closure Ratio (B): 10.4:1

Width Closure Ratio (B): 6.5:1

Green: 247 ft. x 438 ft. (75.3 x 133.5 m)

Ratio Width to Length (Face to Face): 1:1.9

Face to Face: Width: 350 ft. (106.7 m)

Face to Face: Length: 650 ft. (170.7 m)

Height A: 50 ft. (15.2 m)

Height B: 54 ft. (16.5 m)

Onslow Square in 1851

Partially designed by Basevi and developed by the enterprising Charles James Freake, the first phase of Onslow Square was one of Basevi’s last commissions prior to his death in 1845. On long term leases from the Smith’s Charity Estate, Freake initially agreed to Basevi’s general elevations and specifications, and further to a restriction that protected the existing trees from removal without permission. Basevi had envisioned a square of smaller size in his plan of 1833, but Freake enlarged the square, pushing it somewhat westward at the same time. The distance to Basevi’s Pelham Crescent, begun 12 years earlier, was only 350 feet away.

Onslow Square in 1865

Basevi’s design from Egerton Crescent clearly influenced Freake’s initial buildings; the short stuccoed homes along Sydney Place closely followed the Egerton design with the exception of the balcony railings.  The first four houses on the Square itself were underway by 1845. As Freake continued to add to the Square, Basevi’s influence diminished – the final homes were not completed until twenty years following Basevi’s ill fated fall during an inspection of the tower at Ely Cathedral. As time went on, the Charity Estate’s replacement for Basevi proved unaware, unable or unwilling to restrain  Freake’s tendency to throw in architectural elements, details and materials which were both inappropriate and overdone. This is a sickness that has overtaken many a builder, and the lack of a clearly articulated pattern book provided Freake with more freedom than would have been advisable.

Onslow Square in 2008

Freake himself moved into No. 19 Onslow Square around 1848, from there to No, 41 and thence to No. 55 before leaving the district.

With the exception of the church in the southwest corner, most of the original homes are a full four stories, exclusive of attic and basement –  a full story higher than those at Egerton Crescent. The early houses followed Basevi’s original design to a modest degree, but were embellished with an overwrought cornice line between the third and four primary floors, including Doric architectural elements which conflicted with  the Ionic porch columns. The square is about as large as one would want with its surrounding 4.5 stories. If horizontal dimensions were larger, the sense of enclosure would fall apart. As it is, the overall distances from side to side still exceed the distance at which recognition of a pedestrian is possible. The intimacy of a square like Montpelier is missing.

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