Thursday, May 1, 2008

Old Gaol, Buckingham

Nowadays we tend to prefer our prisons out of sight and out of mind. But in the Middle Ages and for centuries afterwards, it was common to put the town gaol on the market place – conveniently near the Town Hall, the court, and the likely centres of criminal activity. At Buckingham, the Town Hall is at one end of the market place, the old gaol at the other, two images of authority framing the commercial and social activity going on in between.

The gaol was built in 1748, and in the fashion of the time it took the form of a four-square castle keep – stone-walled, minimally-windowed, and crenellated, an embodiment of security and power. It was paid for by Lord Cobham of nearby Stowe, a man who, having laid out one of the great landscape gardens and filled it with eye-catching buildings, knew a lot about the symbolic power of architecture.

In 1839 the building was extended with the addition of the rounded front portion, which served as the gaoler’s house. This extension was designed by George Gilbert Scott, a young local man who was to become one of the most prominent Victorian architects. Its friendlier Gothic details evoke a less sombre mood, but Cobham’s castellated pile still lurks solidly behind.


Thud said...

I need to buy a more fuel efficient car to help with the cost of visiting all these buildings you post!

Peter Ashley said...

I find visiting old buildings is best accomplished by a laundalette pulled by a matched pair of greys, brandishing a malacca cane to tap the shoulder of the top-hatted driver when something interesting hoves into view.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Perhaps some horse-owning readers could put us right about the relative cost of running a pair of greys and something with more horsepower. But I know that if things go on the way they are, I shall be emulating the great photographer Edwin Smith and taking to my bicycle.