Tuesday, March 7, 2017
Over the churchyard wall
Anybody who reads this blog regularly, or who has looked through some of the posts in the archive, will know that I’m a dedicated church-crawler. I visit churches often, and never seem to tire of their variety of architecture or the traces of past lives that they contain. Early on – perhaps when I first visited the church at Stanway in Gloucestershire – I realised that there was sometimes an additional bonus: in the case of Stanway, the glorious 16th and17th-century house you could see over the churchyard wall. Churches were often built next to manor houses, and sometimes the only glimpse one can get of a large house is by standing in the churchyard and looking over the wall.
In the past I’ve been agreeably surprised by such glimpses of the house at Stanton Harcourt, Oxfordshire, with its stone-built medieval kitchen, and the 18th-century one at Stockerston, Leicestershire, not exactly over the churchyard wall, but very near the church – without church-crawling, and a friend urging me on, I’d not have seen it. My most recent experience of this kind was at Hanwell, in the very north of Oxfordshire near Banbury, where, as well as admiring the expected medieval carvings around the church, I also discovered this: Hanwell Castle.
The tower, built of a mixture of brick and stone, is a fragment of a larger house built around a courtyard. Most of it has gone, but the tower remains, adjoining later, more modest buildings. The house was built in the late-15th century for Sir William Cope, who was cofferer† to the first Tudor monarch, Henry VII. His son, Sir Anthony Cope, a writer and translator, completed the original building. According to the listing description, much of their house was demolished in the 18th century, and the low-rise stone buildings around it were mostly built in the 19th and early-20th centuries.
The remaining tower is a beautiful building. The two octagonal turrets recall some of the grander houses of the time, such as Oxburgh or Layer Marney. But at Hanwell part of the charm is the mix of materials. First, the brickwork. It’s in a mix of bonds, with long stretches alternating several courses of headers with several of stretchers. The turrets mix brickwork with large quoins of orangey local ironstone. Details such as windows and the crenellations are in a paler stone, presumably limestone. It’s a satisfying mix, structurally solid but also good-looking. I’m sure part of the purpose of those ironstone quoins is to offer some contrast to the brickwork (an usual material in North Oxfordshire at this date). A Tudor courtier would be proud to live in a house that looked as good as this.
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† This was an office with important domestic responsibilities in the royal household, but which also brought with it membership of the Privy Council. The holder of the title was therefore a person of political consequence.