Tuesday, March 14, 2017
Still hanging on
My recent visit to Banbury threw up one further highlight in the brief interval between rain and more rain. A short-lived shaft of sunlight made me look around me – and look up since the modern shop fronts in the street in which I found myself were generally uninspiring. So up I looked, and saw this bit of history: a house built in 1650 for a mercer called Edward Vivers. In its heyday this must have been a grand building, home and place of work to a successful town trader. In the intervening 360-plus years it has been through quite a bit, and the recent shop fronts, successors to earlier but still intrusive ones no doubt, are not the least of the changes. From street level, it’s impossible to appreciate the rest of the facade unless you step well back.
Above the windows offering coffee and the conveniences of 21st-century life, the frontage is more original, but still has the air of trying to escape through the accretions of the more recent past. But one can still take in the original form: three bow windows jettied out over the street, and, above them, three gables likewise protruding. Framing them is a collection of quite elaborately carved timbers – bargeboards with finials and a wooden frieze with pendants – plus moulded wooden window mullions. Adorning the white infill sections is pargetted plasterwork in bold geometrical patterns.
All this is very much of its time, when what has been described as a sort of baroque began to spread across English vernacular architecture. The pargetting is especially interesting because the received wisdom is that this is a regional craft, found in eastern England, especially Suffolk and Essex. This is true, but not the whole truth – there are pargetted fronts dotted around all over the place. Here a prosperous owner wanted a showy front, and pargetting fitted the bill. It’s a shame that the ground floor is now singing to a different tune. Maybe one day…