Monday, February 4, 2008
Coughton Court, Warwickshire
Whenever I drive to or from Birmingham Airport, I see this building, set back from the A435. When its west-facing façade is warmed by the late-afternoon sun, it is the highlight of my journey.
Driving past, one gets the impression of an orange stone building set at the end of an avenue of trees in parkland – a perfect building and a unified composition in a very English landscape. Stop and look more closely, though, and the building is more complicated. Even the stunning 16th-century gatehouse at the centre can’t be all of a piece. At the ground-floor level the turrets are square, but they metamorphose into octagons between the ground and first floors, suggesting that the gatehouse was built in two goes.
The wings on either side are rendered, not stone – but whoever did the rendering got the colour right, so that it blends well with the masonry of the gatehouse. These wings are later. Their windows look 18th-century, and a painting of the early-18th century shows the large windows all in place, although the delightful little quatrefoil windows upstairs hadn’t been added at that point, so they must be later still.
Like so many English country houses, then, Coughton is a hotchpotch of periods, but a hotchpotch in which the ingredients blend together to produce something magical. Maybe the harmony has something to do with the fact that the same family has lived here for nearly six centuries. The Throckmortons of Coughton have always been Catholics, although their loyalty to the faith has landed them in trouble more than once. Their house was sacked by Parliamentarian troops during the English Civil War and the place was vandalized again by a Protestant mob in 1688. But united the family stood, and their house perhaps reflects this unity of faith and vision, over a period of almost 600 years.