Tuesday, February 12, 2008

St Michael's Street, Oxford

In the early 1700s, one of the most important and monumental English buildings was begun just outside Woodstock, near Oxford. Blenheim Palace, the nation’s gift to its military hero the Duke of Marlborough, is a country house on a vast scale, designed by Sir John Vanbrugh. Soon, builders began to learn about Vanbrugh’s heavyweight, rather ponderous brand of Classicism, and the influence of Blenheim was being felt in other new buildings in Oxfordshire.

This house in St Michael’s Street is an example. The twin giant pilasters that shoot up on either side of the door, the curious canopy above them, and the curve-topped windows above that – all these are Vanbrugh-type features. So are the heavy keystones – the central wedge-shaped stones the top the first- and second-floor windows. It all adds up to a surprising piece of grandeur in a side street, but it’s the kind of thing that English cities are good at – pulling us up short with something dramatic in a quiet or everyday setting. Not for nothing is this compact piece of architectural splendour called Vanbrugh House.


Peter Ashley said...

Like the Egyptian house in Penzance. Mean streets, as Martin Scorsese knows, are always worth turning off into.

Philip Wilkinson said...

"Down these mean streets a man must go, who is not himself mean'" as Raymond Chandler said.