Friday, December 10, 2010

Chastleton, Oxfordshire


Stone, glass, and sunshine

The recent cold weather, which has clad the Cotswolds in ice and snow, has meant I’ve not been much out and about exploring buildings. But a trip to have a pub lunch with friends took me within a short distance of Chastleton House, an old favourite of mine, so I decided to slither along the icy lane to this early-17th century Oxfordshire marvel, and have a look through the gates.

The picture shows the entrance front as one sees it from the lane, its limestone walls and mullioned windows not much changed since the house was built between 1607 and 1612. The first owner was Walter Jones, a lawyer and MP, and the house went down through his family, from father to son, and uncle to cousin, until it passed into the care of the National Trust in 1991.

My observant readers will already have noticed that there is no visible entrance on this entrance front. That’s because the doorway is concealed in one of the protruding bays that flank the centre of the facade – you climb the short flight of steps and the door is right there, on your left. What you find when you enter is an interior not much altered since the Jacobean era – the family never had money for alterations or makeovers, and lived a life apart from the world of fashion. Oak panelling, tapestries, and wonderful plaster ceilings abound, together with some ornate fireplaces and carved oak furniture.

Because there had never been much money to renovate, repairs had been done on a rather ‘make do and mend’ basis and the policy since 1991 has been to keep up this tradition with ‘minimal repair and almost no modification’. The result inside the house is in places oddly tatty, a lived-in look for a house that is no longer lived in. Some find this jars, and I can understand their reservations – and those of people who think a house like this should be lived in rather than kept as a museum. For what it’s worth I don’t share these misgivings. I think the way the house is maintained is sympathetic to the way it was kept by its owners and an education to those who come to see it – and those who come do come to see the house: there’s a minimum of add-on spend opportunities here.

But none of this was very relevant the other day as I stared in wonderment at the sun-drenched limestone of Chastelton’s walls and roofs and mullions. The craftsmanship, the rhythm of gables, windows, and towers, the quiet on this freezing morning when no one was out and about – all were as nourishing to me as the hare pie and bitter I was soon to consume.

8 comments:

Neil said...

I agree with everything you say, but I do find it sad that when the National Trust took over the building it was at its lowest ever ebb, and they took the decision to meticulously restore it and keep it at exactly that moment. It's all a bit Miss Havisham for me.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Neil: Yes, I do know what you mean. But I also find the approach rather refreshing – one doesn't feel here, as one does as some National Trust properties, that a kind of conservation house style has been imposed on the place.

Gaw said...

A very enjoyable and evocative post. And I agree with you: life in a home isn't usually that tidy so why should an ex-home be made so?

Vinogirl said...

Brilliant!

Peter Ashley said...

One of my favourites too. And one of the principle locations of the rarely seen film Joseph Andrews (1977), directed by the brilliant Tony Richardson, adapted from a novel by Henry Fielding.

Philip Wilkinson said...

It makes a wonderful setting. And the immediate area around the house is lovely too - a small stone village, parkland, a dovecote. Marvellous.

Peter Ashley said...

And another piece of Chastleton trivia. Peter Firth (Spooks) who played Joseph Andrews, returned here to make The Aerodrome (1983) a BBC film adapted from Rex Warner's novel.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Peter: That I didn't know. Although oddly enough I bought a decaying Penguin copy of The Aerodrome the other day in the Amnesty International shop in Malvern, as you do. Now I must read it.