Friday, June 3, 2016
Great Tew, Oxfordshire
Narrow gateway, wide world
Just opposite the vicarage in my previous post is this grandiose gateway, through which one walks along a path to the parish church. You may well feel that there’s something odd about this structure. It seems vastly out of proportion to the low wall on either side of it, and the opening itself looks disproportionately narrow in relation to its height. I think the reason for this is that the gateway has been moved from elsewhere – probably one of the entrances to Great Tew Park – and rebuilt on a smaller, narrower scale to serve as this eye-catching prelude to the churchyard.
What remains is certainly imposing, and the ornament is very much redolent of the first half of the 17th century, when Inigo Jones and his followers were starting to introduce their disciplined and scholarly form of classicism to Britain. The masonry is carved with horizontal bands of vermiculation – the ornamental motif that is supposed to create the effect of the stone having been eaten away by worms – and each pier has a large niche topped with an arch in the form of a shell. Above each niche is a smaller oval indentation. The lintel is carved with festoons of fruit on either side of a central keystone. The use of banded vermiculation reminds me a little of the much more elaborate gateway in London’s Embankment Gardens, another 17th-century gateway that has lost its original purpose and that looks stranded but still magnificent in its current setting.
Falkland died young, when the peaceable times had ended and he was fighting for the king at Newbury. It was said that he threw his life away, riding rashly into the fray when he need not have done so, and various reasons have been suggested for this, from his pessimistic analysis of his side’s chances in the war, to his deep grief at the death of the woman he loved.
Whether or not he actually had it built, this gateway, with its design that seems at home here but derives from a wide world of culture and scholarship, is no doubt the sort of thing Falkland would have appreciated. His house has been rebuilt and he has only a modest, 19th-century monument in the church, but such architectural fragments as this can act as his memorials.
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*It was Clarendon who made the comparison, and he also compared Falkland to Cicero, the great Roman consul, philosopher, orator, and letter-writer, who was as it happens an important character for Falkland’s friend Ben Jonson too.