Sunday, November 27, 2022

Yoxford, Suffolk

What makes me want to return

Having visited Yoxford, by the time we passed this small gem of a building, the clouds had opened and the sky darkened. Photography was a fool’s errand, so we passed by. This post is provisional, then, and unusually for me makes use of a photograph from another source*. It shows something close to the classic cottage ornée, the type of small ornamental house that became popular in the early-19th century when people – especially rich people – learned to appreciate the visual appeal of ‘Picturesque’ cottages with rustic features.† Such cottages speak of nostalgia for a past that’s viewed through rose-tinted spectacles perhaps, though if well built and decently appointed could also be an implicit call to other landlords to house their workers more comfortably as well as more elegantly.

Cottages ornées are typically, but not necessarily, asymmetrical, thatched, with deeply overhanging eaves that may protect verandahs or shelters beneath; there may also be Gothic windows and doorways, and maybe even unfinished tree trunks holding up the roof overhang. This cottage, built as a gate lodge for Cockfield Hall, has all these features, even the rustic tree trunks. It looks striking even when seen from a car on the A12 and viewed through pouring rain. To a visitor to the hall, or a tradesman arriving to do work or deliver goods, it makes a good landmark. To the resident, one hopes, it’s a cosy little house; to the architecturally curious, it evokes another time but one as determinedly nostalgic as our own can often be.

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* Photograph by John Goldsmith, used under Creative Commons licence.

† Many poor people, on the other hand, who had to live in rural cottages, had to put up with leaky roofs, broken windows, and no sanitation – they’d have appreciated some basic healthy comfortable accommodation, never mind how ‘picturesque’ it looked.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Yoxford, Suffolk

What made me stop and look

Stop and look. This thatched shelter is just the sort of thing I like, and a sight of it from the main road was what gave me the initial prompt to stop and take a look at Yoxford (see also my previous post). Stop and look: what I try and do when I have time, and what I try and make time for when I have less. This time what brought me to a halt was a simple structure, made with traditional materials, that enhances public space and is useful. It’s just a timber framework – four stout posts, some horizontals, some struts – a thatched roof, and two seats. It was built in 1935 to celebrate the silver jubilee of King George V, one of several in eastern Suffolk.

Even a small building like this can have a resonance over the years: a facility that I’d guess locals and passers-by have been using gratefully ever since, whether waiting for a bus, going for a walk, or carrying a heavy bag bag home from Horner’s Stores. The shelter also carries a simple message carved on one side: ‘’Love Brotherhood Fear God’. A shame people in Europe didn’t pay enough attention to the first part of that twofold instruction back in the 1930s. We could still do with it today. Stop, look, and think.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Yoxford, Suffolk

Corner shop

I didn’t know what to expect in Yoxford, apart from a picturesque thatched shelter on the main road (the A12), the sight of which encouraged me to stop and have a look round. Whatever I expected, it wasn’t this, a small shop with a split architectural personality of a kind I’d not seen before. To the front is a white-painted brick wall with sash windows above and an attractive bright red 19th-century shopfront below. The Ionic pilasters that frame the shopfront are made of cast iron – a common material for Victorian shopfronts, although less common now – more and more of these symbols of Victorian innovation and pragmatism disappear every year.*

But, having quickly taken my photograph before the Morris Minor roared off, I found it hard to take my eyes off the side wall, which boasts a succession of stepped gables and Tudor-arched windows, mostly in glowing 19th-century red brick but with stone dressings. If this all seems rather grand for a small shop, an odd backdrop for the waste bin, plastic trays and old signboards that keep it company, the reason is not so hard to guess when you’re there. Just to the right of this showy bit of brickwork is a pair of brick gate lodges in a similar style. They form one of the entrances to Cockfield Hall, a grand house just outside the village.† What a pleasant way for a local bigwig to enhance the villagescape – far preferable to the demolition jobs committed by some landowners to rid their neighbourhood of ‘unsightly’ nearby houses, pubs or shops. Long may the shop prosper.

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* This one should not disappear as the building is listed.

† Alas I did not take photographs of Cockfield Hall or the cottage ornée in its grounds, as the weather rapidly turned nasty and sent me on my way. A reason to return.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Wenhaston, Suffolk

 

Thank you, rain

It’s pouring with rain today and I’m sitting indoors thinking of another rainy day long ago. In 1892, workers reconstructing the east end of Wenhaston church in Suffolk removed a whitewashed wooden panel that blocked the upper part of the chancel arch. They took the panel apart into its constituent oak planks and moved them into the churchyard ready for recycling or a bonfire. That night it rained and the whitewash on the planks began to dissolve. By the morning, parts of several painted figures were revealed.¶ 

The boards were quickly moved indoors for safety and expert restorers cleaned away the remainder of the whitewash to reveal most of a late-medieval Doom painting – the image of the Last Judgement, when the dead rise up from their graves and are sent either to heaven or to hell. This was a poplar subject in church art in the Middle Ages, and numerous Doom paintings survive, in whole or in part, usually on the wall above and around the chancel arch.* Very few panel paintings designed to fill the upper part of the arch now exist, and the one discovered with the help of restoration, good fortune and the weather at Wenhaston is the most clear and complete of these. What’s more, the rebuilt chancel arch was no longer the correct size for the painting, so it has since been displayed elsewhere in the building. It’s now in the north aisle and this position makes it one of the most visible of all medieval Doom paintings.

At the top of the painting Christ, sitting on a rainbow, presides. Facing him are two kneeling figures, the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist, the two most prominent saints who were said to intercede with God on behalf of human souls. To the right and slightly lower down are two souls of the dead rising from their graves as the Last Trumpet sounds.

The lower level of the Wenhaston Doom contains four main groups of figures, separated by blank spaces in front of which statues of the Virgin Mary, Christ crucified, and John the Evangelist once stood. The left-hand group (the least well preserved) shows figures in front of the heavenly mansions. Next comes St Peter, key in hand, with a group of souls who bore high rank on earth – their headgear reveals them to be a king, bishop, cardinal and queen. Next comes St Michael weighing souls, his work disrupted by a large devil. Finally, on the far right, devils push the souls of the damned into the monstrous mouth of hell. Beneath the imagery run verses from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, chapter 13, beginning, ‘Let every soul submit to the authority of the higher powers for there is no power but of God’.† 

The low position of the painting on the aisle wall enables visitors to see details that would have been hard to make out when it was in its original elevated position – the faces of the devils with their bent noses and boggle-eyes, their chains and flesh-hooks, the teeth of hell’s mouth, the care with which St Peter’s robe and the hats of the souls meeting him are painted, the shroud of the rising figure on the far right, and so on. It’s astonishing to be able to see all this close-to. Even though the painting fails to show terror on the faces of the damned, as we’d perhaps expect, the power of the image is still palpable. For once, back in 1892, the rain was something to be pleased about. 

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¶ Please click on the photograph to enlarge it.

* I have previous blogged about such a painting in Salisbury.

† These words seem to have been painted over an earlier, now illegible, inscription.

Monday, November 7, 2022

Holt, Worcestershire

 


Organic architecture


Driving down a quiet lane in search of yet another interesting old church, we came across this, one more delightful unintended consequence of going in search of old buildings and being open to whatever one finds nearby. It’s Holt Castle in Worcestershire and looking at it across its garden wall and lawn, it struck me as a delightful example of a very English kind of house.

The dominant tower was built in the 14th century in sandstone and is the oldest part of the house. The building was extended and modified on numerous occasions in the 15th, 16th, 18th, and mid-19th centuries to produce a pleasing amalgam of styles. The wing to the left of the tower is, I think, in part a 15th-century structure that was refaced in the 18th century, when the sash windows would have appeared. Tudor-looking brick chimneys poke up behind. To the right of the tower is a tall sandstone chimney stack of the 16th century and the end of a large hall, again of various dates. The overall effect is of an architectural mishmash, but lovely.

So this is a building that has grown organically, over the centuries, as needs changed and fashions came and went. This, and the combination of the remains of medieval fortifications* and the lighter, more comfortable ways of later periods, the use of local materials makes the result something I think of as very English – rooted in the locality, organic, asymmetrical, big but not pretentious, proud of its medieval and Tudor touches. And all that, I think, goes some way towards explaining why I like it.

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* Or a tower that looks rather like a fortified structure, although the windows of a true fortified tower would be no more than narrow arrow slits.

Thursday, November 3, 2022

Dalderby, Lincolnshire

 

All roof, no wall

I remember reading about this house years ago and seeing a picture of it in a book somewhere. The description said that the building was no longer there, having burned down in the 1940s, and that this was sad because it was an example of the very first, most ancient type of house type. What the writer meant was a building held up by a simple five-part frame, a pair of upright V-shapes joined at the apex by a horizontal ridge beam. This produces something not quite like the classic cruck frame, which leaves some room for a low wall at each side. The tent-like frame of the house in the picture, it was argued, became the first kind of house, and this fact showed that the building must have been very ancient.

This argument does not stand up at all. We now know that since prehistoric times people have made dwellings in all kinds of ways and that this particular house was probably no older than the 18th or 19th century. It was known as ’Teapot Hall’, from its shape and the fact that from the side the dormer window looked a little like a handle and the chimney could, with effort, be imagined as a spout. The fanciful name is also said to have led to the rhyme, ’Tea Pot Hall, All roof no wall’. One account has it as one of a pair that once acted as gate lodges to a road leading to nearby Scrivelsby Court; others say that it was always a one-off, put up as a curiosity to house someone who could manage with just a single room. It was inhabited until the 1920s and then fell into disrepair. It apparently burned down during victory celebrations in 1945: someone thought its by then untidy assemblage of thatch and wood was one of many bonfires that had been kindled to mark the end of World War II.

The other day I found a book in a charity shop which included the picture above it. I had to buy the book, for sentiment’s sake. And because it contained a lot of other interesting pictures. And because it will help me remember my first bookish encounter long ago with Teapot Hall, all roof, no wall.

Monday, October 31, 2022

Kemerton, Worcestershire

Passing glances

Not far from the house in my previous post is another not far away, up a different lane near the same Worcestershire village. This one was spotted first by the Resident Wise Woman, who’d taken a walk up and around Bredon Hill. When she came home, she told me about this house, built with battlements like a mock-castle, on a lane that led up the hill.

What she had discovered was Bell’s Castle, built in 1825, on the site of some earlier workers’ cottages and incorporating a small look-out tower already there (on the left in the photograph). The client was an Admiral or Captain Edmund Bell. He was said to have been a pirate or buccaneer who, in those Napoleonic times, robbed French ships of booty such as silk, gold and wine, sending the booty from the Bristol Channel up the Severn and Avon, unloading it and carrying it by packhorses to his ‘caste’, where it could be stowed in his cellars. It was also said that he carried on his piratical exploits after the end of the Napoleonic wars, and that his activities eventually led to his arrest and execution.

Whatever the truth of the colourful stories about Edmund Bell, his castle-like house remains a good example of the fashion for fanciful Gothic-style houses in the late-18th and early-19th centuries. The architectural aim was to display some of the features of a fortified structure, such as towers and battlements, to give the idea of a medieval castle without the inconvenience of the tiny windows and cumbersome portcullises that an actual fortified building would have had. Although the fashion for such buildings has long gone, this one remains, thanks in part to the Holland-Martin family of Overbury, who owned the building more recently. It is still a private house and is not open to the public, but makes an attractive sight on the slopes of Bredon Hill.