Saturday, August 25, 2012
Looking up in Lacock
You probably know Lacock. It's the Wiltshire village that's wholly owned by the National Trust and preserved as a perfect prospect of limestone and timber framing. The village centre, with its range of houses from medieval to 19th century, its stone barn, its medieval church, is almost too perfect. Take away the cars and it could almost be an English village of the early-19th century – and it has played just that role in various film and television adaptations of Jane Austen novels, including the famous 1995 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. It has been in Harry Potter films and other movies too.
Faced with such picture-perfect villagescape, it can be difficult to see the wood for the trees. So here, up near the eaves of one house, are, if not trees, some leaves – or at least carvings of leaves. These odd carvings with leaves and spirals are actually capitals – they want to be on top of columns or pilasters, doing the architectural job that capitals usually do. But all they have beneath them is plain wall, as if the builder had a spare lot of capitals left over from some other job and someone said, "Oh well, let's stick them up here, then."
They are an unusual kind of capital too. Most of us are familiar with Ionic capitals, with their spiral volutes, but Ionic capitals have no leaves and their spirals are the other other way around. This "wrong way round spiral with added leaves" was made popular by the great Italian baroque architect Francesco Borromini and was copied by various builders in England. I've noticed these Borromini capitals before at Blandford Forum in Dorset, where the local builder, the splendidly named John Bastard, used them more conventionally, at the tops of pilasters. But if Borromini capitals raised an eyebrow in Blandford Forum, here on the top of house at Lacock they are a real source of surprise.