Friday, July 26, 2013
Henley on Thames, Oxfordshire
This surprising structure, Henley's Imperial Hotel and its flanking shops, is meant to make travellers pause in amazement. It stands near the entrance to the town's railway station and, although not directly linked to the station as many such hotels were, was no doubt intended to attract people using the railway. Its heady mixture of timbered gables, bay windows, oriels, balustraded balconies, and tall brick chimneys, was put together by the architect William Theobalds in around 1897.
Theobalds had no doubt absorbed the influence of Richard Norman Shaw, who liked to give his houses timbered gables and tall chimneys and made this kind of domestic Tudorish revival popular. But Shaw knew as well as anyone that this kind of building drew on a variety of sources. As Shaw said modestly, 'If I could get myself to believe that my half-timbered work and tall chimneys were in any way my own, I should sit up on my hind legs and purr away like our tom cat John, but common honesty compels me to own that they are simply indifferent copies of old work.'
Theobalds added to the mix, using wooden-framed windows where Shaw preferred mullioned ones, adding an ornate finial to make the skyline interesting, fitting natty bargeboards, and cladding the piers on either side of the entrance in granite. The shop fronts that curve away from the main central block are unusual too, with their large, arched main windows and row of little square windows above. The whole row, the big hotel gable with its flanking smaller gables, makes a confident impression that reflects Henley's status in the late-19th century as Thames-side resort and is still dazzling in the sun.