Sunday, June 15, 2014
In Wells, turning my back, for a moment, on the magnificent west front of the Cathedral, and remembering Jonathan Meades’s characterization of another cathedral close (the one at Salisbury) as a complete three-dimensional history of architecture, I focused on the more modest houses on Wells’s Cathedral Green.
My eyes came to rest on this, one of a varied row on the Green’s south side. The first thing to catch my attention was the doorway, with its beautiful late-18th century fanlight and door surround with open pediment and Doric uprights. The fanlight, it is said, was brought from Dublin and the surround was put together from various fragments, including some bits that began life in a convent. All this high-class bricolage points to the fact that, for all its sash windows and fancy entrance, this is actually a 17th-century house that was altered in the 18th and 20th centuries.
The proportions – with low ground floor and the whole building sitting lower down the the green in front of it – are another hint to the building’s age: not for this house the standard narrow sash windows, three panes wide and four deep, that are usual in the Georgian houses of cities such as Bath. Here we have glorious big windows with 20 panes each on the ground floor and 16 panes on the floor above. Their size is no doubt testimony to earlier 17th-century openings – and to the fact that this is a north-facing house with an interior that needs plenty of light. Perhaps these generous windows help to make the house as pleasant inside as, set off with the elegant railings, gate, and iron overthrow, it is from without.