Sunday, November 21, 2010

Edge Hill, Warwickshire

Cutting edge

Coming across this on an autumn morning on a quiet road in Warwickshire is enough to bring the curious traveller to a halt, and reduce one to slack-jawed and questioning amazement. What is it, exactly, and why is it here?

The short answer, it’s a pub, is only part of the story. This stone tower hasn’t been a pub all its life. It’s not a castle either. The windows are much too big for a medieval castle that had to defend itself against slings and arrows. The battlements are too slight to conceal all but the most elfin defender. The whole thing looks more like the fanciful Gothic (or ‘Gothick’) of the 18th century, intended to make its mark in the landscape. And so it proves.

The tower at Edge Hill was built by Sanderson Miller, a local gentleman and amateur architect who was improving his estate in the middle of the 18th century. As well as transforming his Tudor house at Radway in the Gothic style, and doing up his gardens, he built the octagonal tower as a combination of eyecatcher and viewpoint, right on the edge of the escarpment. According to legend, the place was also the precise spot where King Charles raised his standard before the battle of Edge Hill, the inconclusive clash of 1642 at the beginning of the English Civil War.

In 1747, Miller put up the octagonal tower, and he soon added the adjoining buildings, including the square tower and bridge, recently renewed, designed to span the road. The octagonal part is modelled on a tower at Warwick Castle, and commands panoramic views across the plain below. As if the links with the vast castle at Warwick, and with Charles I, weren’t allusions enough to English history, the interior included a ceiling decorated with the coats of arms of the Saxon kingdoms.

So the Edge Hill tower was a building with ‘heritage’ plastered all over it and tradition set in its stones. But in the 1740s this was all rather revolutionary. Gothic was still an unusual style for country houses, but at the same tima as Miller was working at Edge Hill and Radway, Horace Walpole, the man credited with kick-starting the 18th-century Gothic revival, was rebuilding his Twickenham House, Strawberry Hill, in a similar, yet more fanciful, Gothic style. Miller’s work, like the more famous Walpole’s, caught the imagination of country house owners. A number were soon asking Miller to redesign their homes, and a modest scattering of castle towers, fan vaults, tracery, and sham ruins began to spread across Warwickshire and beyond. Miller’s tower, at first glance a rich landowner’s folly, was also an architect’s calling card.


Hels said...

Great image!

At a time when peace was fairly constant at home and the chances of soldiers trying to destroy his home with canon fire was remote, Miller seemed to be having fun playing cowboys and Indians:)

The octagonal tower, square tower, bridge, coats of arms, battlements and moat (if he had one) were all boys' toys. I would not be surprised if there were silver armour pieces which could be slipped on, for a bit of fun.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Hels: Oh, very much boys' toys, yes. Suits of armour on the wall too. Although I think it was the Victorian period when they really got into dressing up in them and staging mock tournaments.

worm said...

Ahh this is one i've visited as it is just down the road from me! The view from the top of the escarpment is indeed amazing, and more than makes up for the slightly underwhelming (to me) pub. How right you are that it mirrors the style of Warwick Castle, which rises in the distance on a far outcrop

Philip Wilkinson said...

Worm: At least the pub has Hook Norton beer. I didn't realise that you could actually see Warwick Castle from there. The distant view wasn't too clear when I was there - I'll have to go back and have another look.

bazza said...

Sometimes one sees elaborate gate houses to old country estates which this post reminds me of.
One could not imagine seeing anything similar in any other country.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Bazza: Peter Ashley, of Unmitigated England, did a nice little pocket book, Comings and Goings: Gatehouses and Lodges, which deals with this subject. There's also Tim Mowl and Brian Earnshaw's Trumpet at a Distant Gate, which is a scholarly treatment of the same subject.

Jeri Westerson said...

I want one!

David said...

A great place for visitors. I have visited this 2 times and each time I spent around 4-5 hours in this beautiful place.

Bursledon Blogger said...

I haven't been to the pub for years - 17 or more, it seemed like a great place to spend a winter'd afternoon, but driving home would be a problem unless you were staying in a local B&B