Ernest Barnsley(1863-1926), was a former architectural pupil in London of John Dando Sedding (1838-91), second master of The Art Workers' Guild, formed in 1884 to promote 'the Unity of all Aesthetic Arts', and to establish a return to honest simplicity in design. Although Sedding died in 1891 his influence on Barnsley, both during his lifetime and afterwards, through his writing, must have been significant:
'Because the old gardens are what they are - beautiful yesterday, beautiful today and beautiful always - we do well to turn to them, not to copy their exact lines, nor to limit ourselves to the range of their ornament and effects, but to glean hints for our garden-enterprise today, to drink of their spirit, to gain impulsion from them. As often as not, the forgotten field proves the richest of pastures.'
Ernest Barnsley together with his younger brother Sidney (1865-1926) and Ernest Gimson (1864-1919), a group of three architects, settled at Sapperton in 1894. Known as the Sapperton Group, they led a school of art and architecture, reviving the Arts and Crafts in the Cotswolds. Patronised by Earl Bathurst in 1902-3, the three men built or converted houses for themselves in Sapperton. Sedding disliked casual eighteenth century landscape gardening, and proposed a return to architecture in the layout of gardens, advocating walling and hedging in an attack on Arcadianism and defence of the Jacobean.
When Barnsley created first Upper Dorval, and later Rodmarton Manor, the teaching of his former master must have remained strongly in his mind.Fortunate in his commission in 1909 to design both house and garden together on a new site, Barnsley took full advantage of the opportunity. The Rodmarton estate was owned from 1894 by Claud Biddulph (1871-1954), and following his marriage to Margaret Howard (1880-1970) in 1906, he decided to build a substantial new house which they wished to excel architecturally and to 'provide employment to many people and be a focal point for the village'.
In choosing their architect, the Biddulphs studied books including Small Country Houses of Today, edited by Lawrence Weaver, in which the first house featured was Upper Dorval. Speaking of the Sapperton Group, he writes: 'For though the members of the little coterie to which he (Ernest Barnsley) belongs have built themselves new houses, and, by their introduction of local industries have added to the life and importance of Sapperton, all has been done with a full appreciation of the past and a desire to infuse its spirit into the present.' Sapperton being only four miles from Rodmarton, the Biddulphs found there in Ernest Barnsley a local architect who was both recommended and accustomed to working in local Cotswold stone.
The Biddulphs' social aim of providing employment for the villagers, by using as many labour intensive, hand-crafted methods as possible, conformed to Ernest Barnsley's Arts and Crafts ideals.
Verses from Oliver Goldsmith's narrative poem, 'The Deserted Village' (1770), chosen by Margaret Biddulph are on the wall by the chapel:
Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay:
Princes and lords may flourish, or may fade;
A breath can make them, as a breath has made;
But a bold peasantry, their country's pride,
When once destroy'd, can never be supplied.
Barnsley was fortunate that his clients' ideals coincided with his own, and that he was therefore given a free hand at Rodmarton. The new house was built on a level farmland site away from the village. Although the entire project took twenty years to complete, from 1909 to 1929, the house was substantially complete by 1913, and the Biddulphs moved in 1915. The resulting house and garden, which remains largely unaltered today, has been described as 'the epitome of the ideals of the Cotswold Arts and Crafts movement'.