Shawms by M. Justin Blanco White. One of the most significant private houses in Cambridge.
Fewer than 20 private houses in Cambridge are of such architectural and historical importance that they have attracted the protection of a Grade II* Listing. Of those only two were built in the last 100 years. Shawms is one of them.
Commissioned by a University Professor and built in 1938-9 it was designed by Margaret Justin Blanco White, a Cambridge architect and now renowned pioneer of British Modernism. Justin Blanco White went on to work alongside some of the most significant architects of the time, forging a bold career in what was a heavily male-dominated profession. Shawms is one of her most recognised and praised private homes.
The house is wonderfully preserved, having had just two family owners in its time, the second an architect and lecturer who was equally as enchanted by and protective of the house as the first. It has had only one substantial, and welcome, change from its original design with the conversion of the original garage to provide a ground floor kitchen / breakfast room where the original was a modest first-floor galley kitchen. A new double garage has also been added.
As well as the kitchen there are three bedrooms, a bathroom, WC and sitting room on the ground floor and on the first floor two more bedrooms, a shower room and the wonderful main living space with the original kitchen off. All of the main rooms face south over the gardens through broad sliding windows. At the top of the house is a full roof terrace with a central studio conservatory.
It stands in about 1.2 acres to the western edge of the city on a leafy private lane off Madingley Road and looks south across lawned gardens that lead through a wooded area and on to its own private lake. The wonderful setting provides a remarkable sense of seclusion and natural peace for something so close to the city. It is right beside the University’s West Site which houses many of the science departments, maths, astronomy and the veterinary school and is just 1.5 miles from the historic city centre, best accessed by a lovely walk or cycle taking in some of the city’s most beautiful back streets and iconic landmarks including Grange Road, the University Library, the Backs and Kings College Chapel.
Shawms is a perfect expression of Modern architecture. The beauty of its form is a product of the most important aspect of its design: To function as a wonderful, light, spacious family home, arranged to perfectly enjoy its setting. It is at once unpretentious yet impressive and there is real joy in the depth of its detail and the way it has been so well preserved without being lost to the practice of updating.
Justin Blanco White’s later collaborator Erno Goldfinger created his similar house at 2 Willow Road in London at the same time as she created Shawms. That house is now owned by The National Trust, and whilst Justin Blanco White’s recognition may not have been as great as Goldfinger’s, it is not unreasonable to mention the two houses in the same breath.