Redcliffe Towers is an extremely important building in the story of the Indian influence on British architecture and gardens 1740-1850. It demonstrates such influences can be found not only in the large estates of aristocracy and landed gentry, but in smaller properties owned by East India Company employees, in Smith’s case the eccentric homes of a surveyor and artist.
An amalgam of styles, Indian, British and Italian, was employed in the construction of buildings and gardens using architectural forms far removed from their original functions. Design elements from tombs, temples, towers, gates, walls and villas, were incorporated to develop a new architectural style, a hybrid, part of the British Picturesque. However, the costs of such a building indicate that a retirement pension would not have been enough to build and furnish it. For Robert Smith it took many years after leaving India and the receipt of an inheritance, before it was possible to return to Britain to build a mansion and garden, and also to continue building in Europe on an even more lavish scale.
Smith was highly qualified by both training and experience to design and project-manage his own mansions, which all incorporated Indian design alongside classical and gothic features. He was a successful surveyor, with an eye for detail, having survived the wilds of India for many years recording local topography, an important primary aid for the East India Company’s expansion. Later restoring the major monuments of Delhi, and developing his experimental fusion style in architecture, he also sketched and painted many hundreds of British troop movements and Company life alongside views of Indian temples, monuments and landscapes, before retiring to Devon. Smith had a unique pioneering spirit, building his mansions on isolated headlands on the periphery of small towns, away from fashionable society. Redcliffe was built in stages over a number of years, and this was repeated at his property in Nice; whether this was due to cash flow or the vast quantity of detailed work which took his builders an inordinate amount of time is not known. The most ‘Indian’ of Smith’s mansions, Redcliffe is testimony to his skills and ingenuity. The Devon site incorporated a domestic garden with military flourishes with a lavish mansion which provided room for the many artefacts Smith had collected on his world travels, wall space for his hundreds of paintings, and a conservatory for his hothouse plants. Sadly, Redcliffe Towers, which in its heyday stood proud on its red rocky cliff (shocking the local inhabitants with its outlandish style of architecture), has now been subsumed into the town of Paignton, diminishing its scale and obscuring its Indian features (see figure 15).