Sunday, May 20, 2012

Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire

Putting up a good front

This is an example of something that happened a lot in the 18th century. There was a substantial building in St Mary’s Square, Aylesbury, overlooking the churchyard. It was probably a house although later the building became a public house, the Derby Arms. In the Georgian period its owners were followers of fashion, but they didn’t have the money, or the inclination, to rebuild their house in the latest style, with a symmetrical front in two-tone brickwork, sash windows, and a panelled door set in a classical door case topped by a triangular pediment. So they did what lots of middle-class townspeople did: added a facade with all these features and more to the front of their existing house.

Seen directly from the street the building looks like a Georgian house and the details – the door case with its Ionic capitals, the windows with ‘aprons’ beneath the sills, the shaped head of the central window, the deep cornice at the top – are impressive. Only the top floor, where there are only three windows instead of five, with brick panels instead of windows at either end, looks slightly odd. And viewing the building from the side, we see why: the upper level of the facade hides a pitched roof, leaving no space for windows at either end of the top floor.

If there had been a neighbouring house, as there is on the far side of the Derby Arms, the contrast between the facade and the rest of the house would be virtually invisible from the street. Maybe there was such a house once. But now there’s just a garden wall, and this episode in the building’s history is clear to see.


George said...

False fronts were popular in the American west. I find in a novel I've been reading, Wright Morris's The Home Place

"There's too much sky out here, for one thing, too much horizontal, too many lines without stops, so that the exclamation, the perpendicular, had to come. Anyone who was born and raised on the plains knows that the high false front on the Feed Store and white water tower, are not a question of vanity."

That's about Nebraska, but the mountain towns in Colorado had their share of false fronts. (And it reminds me that many years ago, on a Greyhound bus across the plains, I had to explain about water towers to an Englishman of my age.)

worm said...

There should be more 'quality' false fronts made these days

Philip Wilkinson said...

George: Yes, there are some good false fronts in North America, though I know them from film and television, mostly.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Worm: Recent architects seem mostly only able to do false fronts "ironically" - I'm thinking of postmodernism's jokey classical allusions. Perhaps it's time they took appearances more seriously...