Tuesday, May 31, 2016
Great Tew, Oxfordshire
This vicarage is a pleasant architectural surprise on the way to the church at Great Tew, different from, but complementary to, the thatched cottages that make up much of the village – although a vicarage on the way to a church is hardly a surprise. The house was originally built in 1696 and has been altered and expanded several times since, notably in the early-19th century, when such features as the bold surrounds to the windows were added. Actually these bands of limestone are not quite as bold as they might appear in the photograph, because when you look at them closely, there are very narrow roll mouldings around the insides of the surrounds, reducing and softening their bulk in a rather pleasing way.
The porch to the off-centre doorway is another touch from the early-19th century. This was the period in which the village of Great Tew was being landscaped and transformed – probably by the gardener and designer John Claudius Loudon – into an ideal Picturesque village (for more on this, see one of my earlier posts). I know some of my fiends will be irritated by this off-centre door, lamenting the fact that this building is not in the beautifully symmetrical mode of classical English houses. But maybe it works in terms of the internal layout and anyway I rather like it. No doubt that’s my perverse appreciation of ‘All things counter, original, spare, strange,’ as Gerard Manley Hopkins has it, coming into play.*
The ornamental wall in front of the house is hardly ‘spare’, although it is dappled, in a sort of fish-scale pattern. This works well. The lower, solid part of the wall retains the rising ground behind, while the fish-scale patterned part acts as the stone equivalent of a garden fence, defining the boundary and letting light through at the same time. This wall is probably early-19th century too and manages to combine strength and delicacy in a single structure. A small architectural mercy. Glory be to God for it…or to its architect and builder anyway.
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*See Gerard Manley Hopkins, ‘Pied Beauty’ (‘Glory be to God for dappled things…’).