Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Blandford Forum, Dorset
Have you got the scrolls?
Pevsner’s Dorset volume says that the old Greyhound Inn, in the centre of Blandford Forum, takes façade decoration to ‘Bavarian extremes’. Although there’s a hint of Saxon (or even Lutheran) hauteur about that comment, he doesn’t mean that the gloriously named John and William Bastard, architect-builders of Blandford who reconstructed the town after the fire of 1731, had been at the beer when they conceived this building, but that the decoration is less restrained than the norm in this town and more like the ornate baroque pastel and white facades of Central Europe.
English Georgian architecture can come over as rather plain, getting its effect not from decorative curlicues but from order, proportion, and restrained classicism. We think of Georgian building in terms of simple brick walls and rows of sash windows, relieved by the occasional pilaster, stretch of rustication, or fancy fanlight, and given form, in the best examples, by craftsmanship of the highest quality – meticulous brickwork, fine carpentry, and so on.
The facade of the Greyhound seems indeed to come from a different world. The decoration around the triangular pediment is from the top drawer, an encrustation of classical details. The Corinthian capitals below it, too, are exceptionally ornate and full of delicate fronds and curves. And then there’s that central window: the big plain keystone at the top and the protruding ‘ears’ at the upper corners are the kind of things seen on many a Georgian window. But the generous scrolls up the sides, the lavish moulding around the sides and top, and the fancy-shaped apron below the sill set this window apart. Even better is the small face in the middle of the apron. Is it a drunken satyr, bearing grapes and welcoming us to the inn? That’s the answer, then: it was wine that the builders were drinking that day.