Sunday, October 14, 2018

Stockbridge, Hampshire


Staging post

I’d never looked properly at Stockbridge before, and when I finally stopped for a walk round I was struck by it in several ways. ‘A walk round’ is not quite the right phrase in Stockbridge, because the place is basically a single long street, which you walk up and down. It gives them impression, with its generous width, its imposing Town Hall, and its landmark hotel, that’s it’s the High Street and market place of somewhere much larger. As you walk along you go over bridges – you’re never far away from moving water because the place stands on various branches of the River Test, fast-flowing, trout-rich, and beloved of fishermen for centuries.

So this street is very much what Stockbridge is about, and not just because it’s so impressive but also because it must once have been an important travel route. Coaches travelling west out of London would mostly have travelled on roads that lie further north – through Andover, say, or Newbury – to head for Bristol, Bath, and the far West. But someone in the 18th or 19th centuries wanting to go to Salisbury, or on down to Weymouth, beloved of George III and those who travelled in his wake, might well have travelled through Stockbridge.

They could have stayed at this inn, the Grosvenor, which is early-19th century, built of yellow brick, and sash windowed. Its stand-out feature, the one that stopped me in my tracks, is this large porch. Its bowed front is big and the windows are huge. There must be a very light, grand upper room in there, with a ceiling higher than those on either side, as one can see by comparing the window heights and positions. The slender Doric columns shelter a commodious ground floor area through which you could almost drive a car. Or at a small carriage, enabling passengers to alight in the dry and get quickly indoors for a side of beef or a bumper of sherry.*

No doubt the porch also did its work sheltering passers-by from the rain and wind. Now its job seems to be to house tables and chairs for afternoon tea. Not the only place, as I discovered, where it’s possible to sit, enjoy refreshments, and watch the passing pedestrians and traffic, which the day I was there included no carriages, but what was to me a pleasing selection of classic cars. The High Street still seems to be a well used road, if more for local and leisure traffic than for those travelling long distance, who nowadays sacrifice urban scenery for speed, and make for the faster-moving A303.

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*Or if you couldn’t quite drive underneath it, you could at least pull in at the front, and your passengers would be undercover in an instant.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Portishead, Somerset


Where the light is right

The small, sturdy metal structure of Black Nore Lighthouse was put up in 1894, to assist shipping in the Severn Estuary. It flashed every ten seconds to guide countless vessels towards and away from the harbour at Bristol, until it was taken out of service in 2010. It originally had a clockwork drive mechanism and this was only replaced with electric motors in the year 2000. Although this light is no longer needed, there’s another not far away at Battery Point, which still guides ships.

Fortunately, the lighthouse has been preserved (it now belongs to a trust that looks after it), so I could find it the other day when I was in Portishead to give a talk and arrived – as is my wont – much too early. I’m a great advocate of arriving early for meetings and talks, as it usually gives me the opportunity to have a look round somewhere and, as often as not, find some interesting bit of architecture or structure. I especially like the metal cross rods, attached with screw threads and nuts to the bit of metalwork in the centre, shown in my lower photograph.

So I was pleased to have a little time here, to find this relic – even if the sun was obscured by clouds and the scene looked a little more gloomy than I’d have hoped for. Light is as vital for photography as for navigation.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Hurstbourne Tarrant, Hampshire


Look on my works…

Churchyards are often interesting places and you never know quite what you might find in them. Having admired a number of memorials in the churchyard at Hurstbourne Tarrant, including some near the church that dated to the early 19th century, I walked towards the northern edge of the graveyard, through trees, and up a considerable slope. I wasn’t quite sure where I was going as I picked my way through windfall apples. What I found was a further section of churchyard, screened from the church by the trees, and at its far edge this mausoleum, with classical pilasters and a pyramidal roof, itself almost hidden by vegetation.

At first I thought I’d found a bit more funerary architecture of the Regency period, a squire’s tomb of c. 1820, perhaps, with a nod to the Egyptian taste on a firm classical base with a couple of bands of rusticated masonry. But there was something not quite right about it. Weren’t those wrought-iron gates with their curvaceous metalwork rather Art Nouveau in appearance? And inside I made out a plaque recording a death in 1935. Yes: didn’t the details look a bit like 1930s Georgian revival in places?

They did. There seemed to be nothing about the building in the church, nothing in my old Pevsner volume*, and, when I got home, it didn’t seem to be listed either. Odd. Eventually I turned up the story in an online copy of an old newspaper, the wonderfully named Kingston Daily Gleaner, for February 23, 1935.†

At some point in the early 1930s, Henry Wykey Prosser was told by a London specialist that he had less than five years to live. He immediately began putting his affairs i order, a process that involved drawing up a will providing a fund of £2000 so that elderly residents of Hurstbourne Tarrant could have Christmas provisions and leaving the then considerable sum of £100,000 to his housekeeper (provided that she remained unmarried and continued to live in his house). His last years were also spent supervising the construction of this mausoleum.

The newspaper records that although Prosser spent a lot of money improving his house and estate, he was not well liked in the village, because he was constantly arguing with local people, particularly about rights of way, drove a hard bargain, and went to law if he did not get his way. He was also obsessed with security, overseeing a nightly ritual of door locking and shuttering before taking his loaded revolver to bed with him.

The position of the mausoleum at the far end of the churchyard at the top of the slope suited Prosser because he could see it from his house – and keep an eye on its builders without leaving home. For visitors, however, it means that this little structure, which down near the church would look bulky and assertive, is out of the way – and for many I’m sure, completely unregarded. The atmosphere felt for me like one of those lesser known London cemeteries – Nunhead, say – where among the ivy and leaning gravestones, one comes across the mausoleum of some Victorian worthy, once famous or notorious, now forgotten. Look on my works, ye mighty…

*Note to self: I must invest in the updated edition.

†Yes, a Jamaica newspaper. Postscript: One of my readers wonders whether Kingston, Jamaica, was named after the Duke of Kingston, of Thoresby Hall: She notes: ‘He was still an Earl in 1703. He was a (very?) rich man, and a Tillemans painting of him of c. 1726 shows him with a black servant… Very possibly, he was a plantation owner/slave trader. He laid out a vast landscape at Thoresby on the 1700s.’ If anyone knows more about him, this reader would love to know more, so did please reply via the Comments section of this blog.


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A couple of other unexpected things in churchyards: a bee shelter and a beautiful sculpted seat.






Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Gloucester


On the move (3): Scriven’s Conduit

Just a few yards from the building in my previous post is another structure that has been relocated from its original site. This ornate octagonal pavilion is Scriven’s Conduit, built in 1636 in Southgate Street in the centre of Gloucester as part of the city’s water supply. It displays a wonderful mix of architectural styles, Gothic rubbing shoulders with Classicism in a way not unusual in the 17th century. The top was rebuilt in 1705 and originally bore a finial featuring Jupiter Pluvius (Jupiter in his role as rain-bringer) pouring water on to Sabrina (the goddess of the Severn). Although this has now gone, there are still some magnificent lion masks and some very worn roundels depicting notable trades found in Gloucester. Like the King’s Board, it was taken down when no longer needed in the city centre and moved. It went to Edgeworth Manor before returning to Gloucester, this time to the site in Hillfield Gardens where it remains to this day. Gloucester, an ancient city that has lost much through redevelopment, actually preserves quite a lot of historic architecture – several medieval churches, some friary buildings, its great dock warehouses, not to mention its magnificent cathedral. Search a little further, and, as I hope this and my previous post have helped to show, it’s amazing what riches the city discloses.