Monday, August 1, 2016
Regular readers of this blog will know that I have a soft spot for dovecotes – useful and often picturesque buildings from centuries gone by. Dovecotes often have an usual shape – round or octagonal, for example. Such shapes can be functional as well as picturesque because inside there’s a ladder on a central rotating column that you can push around to reach the hundreds of nest holes inside.
The octagonal dovecote at Idlicote, visible from the gateway to the nearby big house, is especially attractive because it’s tall, so makes a strong impact, and because it has some charming faux-Gothic features: curvy ogee-headed windows, and imitation arrow slits, as if it’s left over from some ancient fortification. It isn’t of course. The first record of a dovecote here dates to 1681, well after the castle age, and experts now think that most of the current fabric is from the 1760s and that Sanderson Miller was probably the designer. The Gothic features sit well with his flair for this style and Miller was a local man who worked a lot in Warwickshire, so this seems to fit.*
Sanderson Miller liked creating an impression of medieval castle architecture with towers and battlements, evoking what Horace Walpole called ‘the rust of the Barons’ Wars’: a hint of the tough, masculine stuff of which castles were made. But he also had a love of the more filigree, feminine side of Gothic – bigger windows, ogee arches. To a purist, these two aspects of the Gothic style sit uncomfortably together, but Miller and his clients had no such qualms. For them, structures like this dovecote seemed to sum up the Middle Ages. For us, they sum up the particular vision of a Georgian architect who was at home in the Warwickshire countryside, as is this charming building.†
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*I’m indebted for this information to the new edition of the Pevsner Buildings of England volume on Warwickshire, which in turn cites William Hawkes, editor of The Diaries of Sanderson Miller of Radway (2005). This new Pevsner volume is full of such nuggets of fact and attribution, and when I’ve absorbed more of them I’ll review the book in my next batch of reviews, later in the summer.
†I wrote about how dovecotes were used in an earlier post, here.