Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire

Keeping up appearances

On a recent visit to Stratford I was struck by this substantial town house. The street front is built in a Gothic style, but we’re not in the realm of cathedral Gothic here – this is the fancy, rather feminine style popular in the late-18th and early-19th centuries and often dubbed Gothick. Just the kind of facade that a prosperous townsperson would like to build in order to show they are up-to-date, fashionable, and sophisticated. And a very far cry from what then, even more than now, was the prevailing architectural style in the town – the timber-framed vernacular.

But for all their sophistication, this fashionable householder apparently did not have funds enough for a full rebuild. This is how the house looks when we step back a little and take in the side:

It's as timber-framed and old-world as the next one in Church Street, Stratford. Clearly, no one was fooling anyone with this partial makeover. The side wall of the building is highly visible from the street, and would have been more so when there was no vegetation to hide the join. With its curvaceous ogee-framed windows, battlements, and columned doorway abutting on to a Tudor or late-Medieval structure, it’s a bit of a joke, it’s true. But jokes aren’t all bad.


Peter Ashley said...

An early example of facade-ism. I love it. Excellent to see these photographs telling such a good story, as so many buildings of earlier dates hide behind more recent make-overs.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Yes, you don't always get to see the tell-tale side elevation like this. Look out for ill-proportioned 18th- and 19th-century facades: they sometimes betray the positions of earlier floors and ceilings behind.

martin said...

That is,just frankly,weird.

Anonymous said...

We have a similar facade on what I suspect to be (its in a terrace so one can't readily check) a much older building on Richmond Green. Perhaps someone was keeping up with the Walpoles, just up the road.

And I saw a lovely Gothick window only this weekend sitting incongrously above a lovely Classical stone porch belonging to a Bath Georgian town house.

Philip Wilkinson said...

DC: Yes, I've noticed the occasional Gothick window in a Georgian terrace in Bath. The houses couldn't have been so very old when these changes were made.

Anonymous said...

Sad to see that the apogee of Gothick, Shobdon Church, has been placed on an "At Risk" list over concern about the basic chuch fabric.


Also, sadly, (though the obverse of Gothick) the Lubetkin buildings at Dudley Zoo, where I remember seing polar bears bask(do they bask?) as a child.

Hels said...

I love it. Your photo is like a textbook for students.

Modern historians only see the finished product of a building. If we are very lucky, some library will have a "before" photo dated 1850.

The big architectural and decorative changes, which may have occurred in a one-off project centuries ago - or may have occurred very gradually over a long period of time - are lost.

I was thinking of this exact problem yesterday, regarding Vilnius’ town hall. In 1432 it was a Gothic style building. Since 1799 the same building has been totally neoclassical style. I cannot even find a sketch or painting of its earlier incarnation.


Philip Wilkinson said...

DC: I hope Shobdon church finds support – it certainly deserves to.

Hels: Thanks for your comment. I know just what you mean. It's often hard or impossible to find images of phases of buildings that have long gone, and good pictures of 'palimpsest' buildings like my Stratford example are likewise thin on the ground. I hope to return to this subject and show more of these multi-phase buildings, but I don't think I'll find a clearer example than the Stratford house.

Jim said...

Wonderful pic. There's a couple more like that in Stratford, even the Bards birthpalce was Bricked over at one point, article at: Stratford Upon Avon.

Thanks for sharing your finds!