Thursday, January 15, 2009

Cornwell, Oxfordshire

Village vision

My foggy morning visit to Great Rollright (see previous post) was followed by a brief stop in Cornwell on the other side of the A44. This is a tiny estate village full of typical Cotswold stone houses, all limestone walls, mullioned windows, and stone ‘tiled’ roofs. As you look, though, you detect that Cornwell is slightly different from the scores of other limestone villages on the Cotswolds. It’s not that most of it is gated off the main thoroughfare with ‘Private Road’ signs. The place just seems to have more than its fair share of whimsical details – gate posts with big ball finials, and, as on the cottage in the picture, lovely door canopies with curvy stone brackets and big chunky buttresses.

The reason is that the village was restored in the 1930s by the self-styled ‘architect errant’ Clough Williams-Ellis. Williams-Ellis, whose work ranges from the famous and fantastical Welsh village Portmeirion to a filling station in the form of a pagoda (long gone, alas) in Cheltenham, was a largely self-taught architect, an enthusiast of the baroque and of architectural fun, a committed proponent of conservation, an advocate of higher standards in town planning, and a persuasive writer (England and the Octopus) often in collaboration with his wife, Amabel. For Cornwell, the he designed an extraordinary centrepiece, the village hall, with its apsidal end and towering bell turret, and made a delightful feature out of the stream that flows through the village centre, over and under the cobbles of the street. Williams-Ellis worked on the big house in the village too, continuing the aqueous theme with a water garden. The whole place looks very much as it must have been when he left it, only the television aerials betraying the continuing modern life within the cottages. I almost expected a cart to go by, rather than the passing Land Rover, and even it seemed quieter than usual, as if its engine was muffled by the mist.


Peter Ashley said...

What a stunning place. Mellowed even further by the seasonal weather. But is it just me, or does everyone else think that 'Amabel' as in Clough Ellis's missus, always seems like a misprint?

Philip Wilkinson said...

Indeed. It's an unusual name, but is actually a variant of Mabel, I think, and nothing to do with Annabel, which it looks like.

Roy said...

What a marvellous little treasure! I know little of Williams-Ellis' work, save what I've read in the small Portmeirion book illustrated by Edwin Smith.
Oh, and I did visit Portmeirion in the 1980s, when friends were living in the village. A very wet day; it was deserted - and quite magical.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Roy: Thank you for your comment. I was fascinated by your article about Edwin Smith on your website. His wonderful photographs, especially those reproduced in books such as English Cottages and Farmhouses and English Parish Churches, introduced me to many English buildings - and when I visited the buildings, I was always impressed anew by the faithful way in which the images conveyed the places and their atmosphere.

Peter Ashley said...

Edwin Smith's 'English Cottages & Farmhouses' is one of my favourite books of all time. I never tire of going through it, so ably did he convey not only the cottage or farmhouse but also the atmosphere of the day too.