Friday, April 8, 2011
In the shadow of the great house (2)
The predominant building type in the English countryside is the cottage. As we travel around, we’re used to seeing them, clustered together in villages, occupying isolated positions at junctions or even, like the cottage my maternal grandfather lived in, set in fields full of ruminating cows. Many of the older, more picturesque ones, are vernacular cottages, built by local builders in local materials. But some cottages are designed in a more self-conscious way, with a deliberate “look”. Houses built for the workers on the great country estates, especially in the 19th century, are often like this. They might be built in brick rather than local stone, or have uniform ornamental bargeboards, or a particular kind of glazing, or the coat of arms of the lord of the manor. They stand out from the norm, and locals known instantly that they belong to such and such an estate.
Few estate cottages stand out, though, like these polychrome houses in Lamport , done in three shades of brick. They date from the 1850s, when the Victorian Gothic revival was well underway, architects like William Butterfield were dreaming up elaborate brick churches such as All Saints’ Margaret Street, London, and when the writer John Ruskin was promoting the idea of “structural polychromy” – in other words multicoloured buildings in which the colours were derived from the actual materials, rather than being merely skin-deep. Not that Butterfield or Ruskin had in mind quite the jazzy approach of this pair of estate cottages. Part of me sees them as uncomfortable aliens amongst the toffee-coloured lias stone of Northamptonshire; part of me admires their sheer nerve.