Lionel Brett, 4th Viscount Esher

Lionel Gordon Baliol Brett, 4th Viscount Esher, 4th Baron Esher[1] CBE (18 July 1913 – 9 July 2004) was a British peer, architect and town-planner.[2] He succeeded to his title on the death of his father in 1963.[3]

The Viscount Esher

President of the Royal
Institute of British Architects
In office
Preceded bySir Donald Gibson
Succeeded byHugh Wilson
Personal details
Lionel Gordon Baliol Brett

(1913-07-18)18 July 1913
Windsor, Berkshire, England
Died9 July 2004(2004-07-09) (aged 90)
Helena Christian Pike
(m. 1935; his death 2004)
Children6, including: Christopher Brett, 5th Viscount Esher
ParentsOliver Brett, 3rd Viscount Esher
Antoinette Heckscher
OccupationArchitect, town-planner

Early lifeEdit

Brett was born in Windsor, Berkshire, the son of Oliver Sylvain Baliol Brett, 3rd Viscount Esher and Antoinette Heckscher (1888-1965). His paternal grandparents were Eleanor (née Van de Weyer) Brett and Reginald Brett, 2nd Viscount Esher, an MP and the Constable and Governor of Windsor Castle and a close friend and adviser of Edward VII and George V.[4] His maternal grandparents were Anna (née Atkins) Heckscher and August Heckscher (1848–1941), a German-born American capitalist and philanthropist. His grandfather married Virginia Henry Curtiss after his grandmother's death in 1924.[4]

He was educated at Eton and New College, Oxford, where he read history.[3]


He proceeded to the Architectural Association but left to learn from the traditionalist A. S. G. Butler and then, as a non-qualified partner of William and Aileen Tatton-Brown, he passed the RIBA external exams in the summer of 1939, winning the Ashpitel Prize.[5]

He spent the Second World War mostly in Britain, training gunners in the Royal Artillery, until he went through France and Belgium to witness the surrender of Lübeck and Hamburg. In 1945, he stood as Liberal Candidate for Henley, coming third at the polls.[3]

He formed a partnership with Kenneth Boyd to design new houses as Architect-Planner of Hatfield New Town and wrote the initial report of the Hatfield Development Corporation.[6] In November 1957, some 50 of Hatfield's two-storey terraced houses lost their mono-pitched roofs in a storm and the adverse publicity and financial liability ended his business. From this period, despite not wanting to be known as a country-house architect, he was most proud of small houses in Oxfordshire for Hans Juda and Warwickshire for Lord Dormer. A design for the High Commissioner's residence in Lagos in 1958 was compromised by the taste of an incoming Commissioner's wife. A second practice terminated in 1971.[3]

Esher's real interest was in planning and he carried out a study of York for the government, after which he published York: a study in conservation (1968). After a period as Rector of the Royal College of Art (1971–1978) he turned again to writing. A Broken Wave: the rebuilding of England 1940-1980 (1981) was an attempt to chronicle and analyse the achievements of post-war architecture and planning, following on from Parameters and Images: architecture in a crowded world (1970).[5][7] He served as president of the Royal Institute of British Architects from 1966 to 1967 and was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1970.[3][8]

National Life Stories conducted an oral history interview (C467/14) with Lionel Gordon Baliol Brett Esher in 1997 for its Architects Lives' collection held by the British Library.[9]

Personal lifeEdit

In 1935, he married Helena Christian Pike, a painter. She was the daughter of Colonel Ebenezer John Lecky Pike and Olive Snell. Her sister, Katherine Mary Penelope Pike, was married to Lawrence Dundas, 3rd Marquess of Zetland. Together, Lionel and Helena were the parents of:[10][3]

  • Christopher Lionel Baliol Brett, 5th Viscount Esher (b. 1936)
  • Hon. Michael Jeremy Baliol Brett (b. 1939)
  • Hon. Guy Anthony Baliol Brett (b. 1942)
  • Hon. Maurice Sebastion Baliol Brett (b. 1944)
  • Hon. Olivia Clare Teresa Brett (b. 1947)
  • Hon. Stephen Patrick Baliol Brett (b. 1952)

The Esher family lived in Watlington Park, a country house in the Chilterns, from where Lionel Brett also ran his architectural practice.[11] He later gave the house to his eldest son, and built a house of his own design, named The Tower, on the grounds of the estate.[12]

Esher's autobiography Ourselves Unknown records how Esher nursed his wife through a long mental breakdown in the 1960s, but notes that she gave him equal support and strength over nearly 70 years.[4]

Viscount Esher died aged 90 in 2004.[3][4]


  1. ^ "Esher, Viscount (UK, 1897)". Cracroft's Peerage. Retrieved 23 November 2017.
  2. ^ "Lionel Gordon Baliol Brett, 4th Viscount Esher - Person - National Portrait Gallery". Retrieved 23 November 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Gadney, Reg (12 July 2004). "Obituary: Viscount Esher". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 November 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d "Viscount Esher". Daily Telegraph. 9 July 2004. Retrieved 23 November 2017.
  5. ^ a b "Viscount Esher- Architect and former Rector of the Royal College of Art". The Independent. Retrieved 8 January 2011.
  6. ^ Brett, Lionel, Hatfield New Town, Report of the Hatfield Development Corporation, 1949
  7. ^ Spens, Michael (8 February 2004). "Obituary: Lionel Brett (4th Viscount Esher), Studio International". Studio International - Visual Arts, Design and Architecture. Retrieved 23 November 2017.
  8. ^ Archives, The National. "Brett, Lionel Gordon Baliol (1913-2004) 4th Viscount Esher". The Discovery Service. Retrieved 23 November 2017.
  9. ^ National Life Stories, 'Esher, Lionel Gordon Baliol Brett (1 of 13) National Life Stories Collection: Architects' Lives', The British Library Board, 1997. Retrieved 10 April 2018
  10. ^ "Lionel Gordon Baliol Brett, 4th Viscount Esher". The Peerage. Retrieved 23 November 2017.
  11. ^ "The history of Watlington Hill". National Trust. Retrieved 18 June 2020.
  12. ^ "Building of the month - December 2019 - The Tower, Christmas Common, Watlington, Oxfordshire". Twentieth Century Society. Retrieved 18 June 2020.

External linksEdit

Peerage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Oliver Sylvain Baliol Brett
Viscount Esher
Succeeded by
Christopher Lionel Baliol Brett