ANTHONY KECK Architect
The late 18th century was a time when the landed gentry were upgrading or rebuilding their ancestral homes. James Walwyn (1744-1800), owner of the Longworth Estate and MP for Hereford City was no exception. Earlier in the century his ancestors had already chosen this site and built a substantial house. But now fashion dictated a facelift and in the mid 1780’s James Walwyn appointed Anthony Keck, the Gloucestershire architect, to virtually rebuild his country seat.
Anthony Keck, a mason/architect had a busy practice which extended from his workshops at Kings Stanley in Gloucestershire through Worcestershire and Herefordshire and into South Wales.
Keck was born about 1726. His birthplace is as yet unknown. He married Mary Palmer, a local girl, in Lugwardine by special licence in 1761. They settled in Kings Stanley and had two children
In his early career he worked nearer home. He had many private and public commissions, some from wealthy Stroud Valley millowners. He was introduced to Rev Nash of Claines in Worcester who proved to be a valuable contact. His influence among the gentry and clergy brought Keck a stream of commissions throughout his career. Keck built the Worcester Infirmary and re-built St Martins Church. In 1768 in recognition of his work he was made a Freeman of the City of Worcester. The Kings Stanley churchwardens accounts show that he also did small jobs in the village, enlarging the parish workhouse in 1771 for instance, re-roofing the parish church in 1773 and providing new pews in 1774.
Apart from Longworth, other Herefordshire houses which he built or are attributable to him are Moccas Court and Canon Frome Court. Others which have Keck characteristics are Underdown in Ledbury, Burghill Court near Hereford and Sufton Court in Mordiford. His most prestigious work however seems to have been the 327 foot Orangery (the longest in Britain) at Margam Abbey in Glamorganshire for Thomas Mancel Talbot of Penrice Castle, another of Kecks’ houses.
Nicholas Kingsley, writing in Country Life (Oct 1988) states that it would not be an overstatement to say that Keck was, from 1770-1790, the leading architect in the three counties of Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire. He also says that perhaps the last house (built by John Paul Paul) which Keck designed was Highgrove, near Tetbury and now the home of the Prince of Wales.
The style of Longworth is the earlier of Kecks’ standard models for Country Houses – three storey central block with lower wings. The wings have semi circular bows, back and front, which create the potential for various room shapes. Here at Longworth we have in one of the front bays a completely oval room with curved windows, doors, architraves and fireplace. The cornices, doors and doorcases throughout the house are in the Adam style. It is possible that some of the decorative elements in Keck houses were ‘mass produced’ in his yard at Kings Stanley and he is thought to have employed local men and sometimes advertised for "masons used to the best work".
The re-building of Longworth was finished in 1788 but there is still evidence of a former Hanoverian mansion in its vast cellars and more recent restoration work has revealed some timber framing.
Anthony Keck died in 1797 age 70 and is buried at St Georges Church, Kings Stanley, Gloucestershire. There is a memorial to his memory in the church.
of English Architects. 1954. Colvin. Publisher John Murray.