What is more, it is a clear demonstration that Prior primarily saw the use of historic precedent for details and forms, of vernacular references and of local building materials, as a means of rooting a building to its site, and making it expressive of its particular location.
Among the more astonishing details are the chimneys. These have, at first glance, the appearance of the great chimneys wrought of rubbed and moulded brick (or even terracotta) which embellish many a grand sixteenth and early seventeenth-century Norfolk house. But in fact Prior and Wells contrived the appearance of ornate rubbed-brick chimneys by simply laying tile-bricks in lime mortar in spiral patterns around fireclay flue-pipes without any cutting or rubbing. These chimneys are a wonderful example of a powerful architectural motif obtained by the most economic of means.
Space and light
In Home Place - butterfly but not really an X in form - Prior minimised the problems associated with butterfly plans while capitalising on all the virtues. As Country Life observed: 'Everywhere throughout the house is an air of sweetness, light and spaciousness.' The building is orientated so that its main rooms face east, south-east, south and south-west, bringing sunlight to the interior for much of the day. In addition, the plan form permits a great number of windows, with many rooms having light from several directions.
This great sense of space and flood of natural light from different directions represent a clear break with traditional planning and give the interior of Home Place, despite its historic detailing, a sense of modernity. Artificial light was supplied by wall- and ceiling-mounted electric lamps.
The wings radiate from the main body of the house at 60degrees but only project to the south. In the centre of the main house is a double-height hall which, with its oak-timbered roof and massive inglenook fireplace, is inspired by the medieval great hall - an almost mystic talisman and symbol of domestic bliss in the years around 1900. But large double-height rooms can be draughty and difficult to heat; as Prior was to find out, despite the presence of a massive fireplace and hot-water central heating, which the house had, if on a very limited scale.
Along the south side of the hall is a timber gallery containing a corridor, somewhat like the galleries found above the screens passage in many medieval hall houses and college halls. This gallery was originally open but by 1909 had been screened with iron and glass casements as a defence against Norfolk's tough climate.
The hall itself is less eccentric, which is to say potentially less awkward, than the one in The Barn. It is essentially square in plan and almost cubic in volume: a surprisingly Classical feature reminiscent of the great cube halls favoured by seventeenth and eighteenth-century Palladian architects. On either side of the hall are the triangular and generally hard-to-use volumes - the inevitable consequence of the butterfly plan.
Country Life's comment on the problem, and the way Prior solved it at Home Place, is perceptive: 'Mr Prior gets over the difficulty by using both spaces for his staircases. It is certainly the best method, but it cannot be denied that the dignity one looks for in the staircase of a fine house is sacrificed to save the rooms.'
The route through the house, and its relation to the different parts of the house, is handled most deftly. The main door on the north-west facade leads to the concrete-vaulted octagonal entrance vestibule. From here, a flight of steps climbs to a square-plan landing which gives access to one of the main staircases and to the library and billiard room. The route then cranks and leads into the great hall, passing along the corridor below the gallery to a further landing with a secondary staircase.
This landing gives access to the service rooms, including the kitchen and servants' sitting room, and to the dining room. That is lit by a shallow canted bay along its south-east wall and has two exits to the exterior. One leads, via a flight of steps, to the walled garden to the east of the house, while the second passes through a small 'cloister' onto a splendid terrace facing towards the south. Overlooking the sunken garden, this is one of the great delights of Home Place.
The manner in which Prior locked Home Place into its landscape is remarkable. Not only did the house grow out of the great sunken garden which stretches before its south front - clad with materials won during the excavation - but walls grow from the main house to embrace the landscape round about it. From these walls grow other, smaller, buildings: stables, cottages and the like.
Such organic relationships are particularly striking in the east walled garden (where the wall emerges from the staircase leading from the dining room) and on the north side of the entrance forecourt. There a screen wall sprouts a gable to reveal itself as part of a concealed building.
Lessons of Home Place
Home Place embodies a sophisticated and creative use of appropriate history and precedent. Its interior is light, airy and modern in feel despite being generated from ancient English prototypes. It fuses traditional and modern building technology and materials. It suggests a direction in which British architecture could have gone.
Instead the vernacular Gothic and modest, domestic Classicism of the Arts and Crafts and Queen Anne Revival was superseded by that late and unlikely flowering of an Imperial Baroque. Then came elements of European Modernism, with many ideas - notably those promoting the use of industrialised building methods and machine-made materials and motifs - which went directly against the complex but essentially craft-based thinking of architects such as Prior.
After Home Place and St Andrew's, Roker, Prior himself built little - and nothing in quality to compare with these two great works. Perhaps he found the atmosphere uncongenial for his architecture. Instead he wrote about English cathedrals and Medieval art, and in 1912 became Slade Professor of Fine Art at Cambridge University. After this appointment he threw himself into education and played a major role in establishing architectural studies within the university. If he could no longer build as he wanted to, Prior must have felt that - through education and inspiration - he could keep the flames of art and history alive.