Monday, September 15, 2008
I thought I knew what to expect in the countryside of the Herefordshire-Shropshire borders. Hills stretching for miles, forests, open views towards Wales, a timber-framed farmstead or two, and perhaps one of the Norman churches that are such a feature of the Herefordshire landscape. The road between Ludlow and Wigmore offers all these things. But as we negotiated another bend, we were confronted with Elton, to remind us how England always has the capacity to pull something unexpected out of the hat. When you glimpse something like this, you do a double-take. What is a low-slung building like this doing in a field? What style is it in? What is it exactly? Then you look again and see that it’s in a field and low-slung because it’s a hen house. And as to style, it’s a one-off mixture of attached columns, ball finials, and intricate glazing bars. The residents seem contented with their unusual home – one of them is clucking around happily on the right of the picture.This unique animal house is next to beautiful brick-fronted 18th-century Elton Hall, where the garden (not normally open to the public) is full of statuary and eccentric buildings, including a hermitage and a castle for the family’s tortoises. If there’s something endearingly dotty about all this, there’s also something historically appropriate. Elton Hall was once home to Thomas Andrew Knight, brother to Richard Payne Knight, one of the chief theorists of the Picturesque, the movement in taste which in the late-18th and early-19th centuries advocated designing gardens and buildings as if they formed part of a picture. The ideal Picturesque landscape was usually irregular, asymmetrically composed, and full of ragged rocks and trees. As often as not, it included sham castles and similar buildings that either clothed some useful function in an arresting exterior or simply caught and held the eye. Buildings like this unusual one at Elton, indeed. Two hundred years on, the Picturesque is alive and well.
Thanks to Zoë for leaping out of the car and taking pictures while I tried not to block the road.