Monday, March 4, 2013

Eyton on Severn, Shropshire

Rooms with a view

Rounding a bend in a lane in Shropshire, I caught a sudden glance of a small pointed roof and stopped to find this little tower, apparently stranded on its own next to a tall garden wall. It is stranded because it is the last remaining fragment of Eyton Hall, the home of Shropshire grandee Sir Francis Newport, who rebuilt his house in the 1590s and early 1600s. The tower was one of a pair, standing at either end of a bowling green, and its artful plan (based on two conjoined octagons), diaper-patterned masonry, and ogee-capped roof are typical of the more ornate style of English architecture at the end of the Elizabethan period.

The building was what was known as a banqueting house. The tradition was for those enjoying a grand meal to take the last course – fruit, comfits, dessert wine – in a garden pavilion or tower, where they could enjoy a view across the garden. It was perhaps the closest they got to al fresco eating, an architectural concession to the English climate akin to Elizabethan long galleries, which enabled Tudor and Jacobean ladies to enjoy a walk without going outside to face the elements. Some of the grandest of country houses, such as Longleat, had banqueting houses in the form of towers on the roof, but  pavilions like this one at Eyton did the job just as well, while also maintaining a closer connection with the garden.

It's possible to enjoy this little tower not merely as I did, as a passer-by, but more intimately. It is in the care of the Vivat Trust, who let it out as a holiday home. The details, together with more historical information about the building and its history, are here.


Jack Kirby said...

I had exactly the same reaction as you when I was walking the Severn Way (at that point on road) between Wroexter and Ironbridge.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Jack: Yes - both Wroxeter and Ironbridge have spectacular sights but it's still a nice surprise to come across something like this banqueting hose.

Hels said...

I have seen and loved garden pavilions before. I imagined they were used in summer for the family to picnic al fresco, but with at least a minimum of comfort.

Your banqueting house, on the other hand, seems more architecturally elaborate, more decorated and more spacious. That is doable, of course, if the staff do the setting up, bring the food out and clean up after.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Hels: Some of the smaller pavilions were probably intended simply as staging-posts on a walk around the garden - places from which to admire the view. But the more elaborate ones do seem to have been used for dining and, yes, their use depended, as did so much in the life of the country house, on having a large staff.