Saturday, October 27, 2012

Monnington on Wye, Herefordshire

Hidden England

I left the main road behind and turned down one of those narrow, high-hedged Herefordshire lanes. Behind the hedges were cider apple orchards and somewhere near a motor was quietly humming as an elevator loaded apples into a deep trailer ready to be taken to Hereford to be pressed. With a few more bends the lane petered to a halt by a sign saying "Private" and a drive leading to a big house. There was no sign of the church, and nowhere else to go, apparently, so I pulled up on a verge, got out, and took my bearings. Then I saw another sign, smaller, shaded by trees, pointing up a green lane between two hedges: "To the church". Off I went, past trickling water and buzzing insects, as the path got less green, more muddy, then more tree-enclosed.

And then there was the tiny timber-framed lychgate, with its four gables and the church beyond. The church was almost entirely built in the late-17th century. Inside, sunlight poured through the mullioned, domestic-looking windows, on to white walls, wooden benches, a screen with barley-sugar-twisted uprights, a communion table, and a font, carved with the initials of the couple, Uvedale and Mary Tomkyns, who paid for the building in 1680. Oil-lamps hung from the plastered ceiling and the brightly painted arms of Charles II (the only brightly coloured object in the place) were displayed on the nave wall. Apart from a gaggle of Calor gas heaters, c 1980, it could almost have been 1680. A bit of hidden England that I shared for half an hour.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Chichester, Sussex

Here be dolphins

Turning my back on Chichester Cathedral and glancing across the road, the roof-top signs of the Dolphin and Anchor immediately attracted my eye, their gilding catching the light on a dull evening.

This building was originally two inns. The Dolphin was probably established in the late Middle Ages but was rebuilt in the 18th century, when the landlord offered all the facilities of a good coaching inn – good drink, food, stables, and a daily coach service to London. The Anchor began in the 17th century and continued in neighbourly competition until at some point (1910 or around 1921 according to which source you read) the two establishments were combined and the joint name adopted.

Hence this fine sculpture of both Dolphin and Anchor above the name of the Dolphin Hotel with its rather crude lettering. When I first saw this I naturally assumed that this sign was adopted when the two inns merged. But it could be older. The sign for an inn called the Dolphin often also features an anchor, recalling the idea that the friendly dolphin would help sailors by twining its body around the anchor, to stop the anchor moving and keep the ship still and safe.

Reginald Turnor, in his book about inn signs†, notices this sign in Chichester, but does not offer a specific origin – he mentions the heraldic use of dolphins and their evocative presence on the watery edges of maps ("Here be dolphins")§. Turnor also remarks that the Dolphin and Anchor in Chichester was "what a country hotel should be – old enough but comfortable". He doesn't mention the gilding on the sign, but it's hard to imagine that it looked as good in his time as it does now. It was regilded a few years ago and still gleams.

* * *

The Spotted Dog (1948), spotted by Zoë in a secondhand bookshop this weekend, for which much thanks.

§Turnor is sceptical about a derivation from "Dauphin", rightly, I think, doubtful about many such folk etymologies. Not for him the old notion that The Goat and Compasses is a corruption of "God encompasseth us".

Thursday, October 18, 2012

East Bergholt, Suffolk

 Postcards from England: 3. Five bells, one cage

Some time back, I posted about an unusual wooden belfry at Brookland in Kent. Here's another unusual way of housing bells, the bell cage in the churchyard at East Bergholt, Suffolk. There was a project to build a stone bell tower on the western end of this church in the 1520s, but for some reason it stalled before the walls had got very high. It is said that Cardinal Wolsey had promised to help with the funding, but he fell from grace before the work was completed. So in 1531 a wooden structure was erected in the churchyard to house the bells, originally, it's said, to the east of the churchyard, although it was moved in the 17th century to a different position, because a neighbour objected to the noise of the bells.

It's a wooden structure, with boarding covering the lower walls and a lattice of wood running around the upper part, so that the sound of the bells can be heard clearly. Inside there is a very sturdy wooden framework on which the five bells are hung. As the bells are housed at ground level, there are no ropes or wheels, and the bells are rung by the ringers pushing the wooden headstocks of the bells. It must be hard work as this is said to be the heaviest ring of five bells in use in England. It's also a highly skilled business, and there is much more information about the bells and how they work here.

The bell cage was originally intended as a temporary measure. No doubt the people of East Bergholt hoped that they would raise money to complete the tower. But they never did, and this wonderful bit of carpentry has proved its worth over more than 480 years.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Lydney, Gloucestershire

A glimpse of gables

After a short walk around the restored docks at Lydney when I watched mist lift from the River Severn, I walked back towards the industrial estate under a virtually cloudless sky. Glancing up a potholed road past silent factories (whitewashed brick, shuttered concrete, blanked-out windows, lots of chain-link fencing and barbed wire) I caught sight of an old gable. I followed the chain-link fence until I left it behind and, beyond a field, a view opened up of a gabled sandstone house of the 17th century.

This is Naas House, built for the Jones family (William Jones was founder of the Haberdashers' Company in London) probably in the early-17th century. It's a big house – this is just one end – and the mullioned windows, string courses, and parapeted gables are very much of the period, as are the false windows in the gables. The central turret, though, with its lead-covered cupola, is a sophisticated touch. From here the owners could walk out on to a viewing platform and look towards the River Severn (to the right) or towards Lydney and the Forest of Dean (to the left).

The Jones family upgraded the interior in the early 18th century, installing panelling in a number of rooms, but in 1771 Mary Jones, daughter of the owners, was murdered on her way home from a dinner at the rectory at Lydney. Soon after this the family moved to another house near Newnham on Severn. Although the family kept Naas House (a Rev Edward Jones lived there in 1839) it was no longer their main residence and this was probably why there were few further alterations and the house keeps its Jacobean character in its quiet backwater.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Bursting from the shadows

In 1818 Cheltenham architect George Allen Underwood was elected to his local Masonic Lodge. Two years later, work began on the Lodge's new hall, near the centre of the town, and Underwood was the designer. Underwood was a pupil of John Soane, and Soane would have been impressed, I think, with this building – the confident niches, the mix of carving and stretches of plain wall, the way it looks massive although it's not much bigger than a couple of three-storey houses, the fact that the facade manages to work even though it has virtually no windows. The way it stands there like a rock amongst the pale stuccoed facades and delicate iron balconies that its neighbours present to the world is also remarkable. I have been admiring this exterior for years, and others agree: "probably the finest of the early purpose-built Masonic halls," says Pevsner, and John Russell in his Shakespeare's Country calls it a masterpiece of occasional architecture.

One day, not the day on which I took this picture showing the building bursting out of the shadow that envelops its lower portion, but on another occasion when the light was more even, I loitered across the road for a while, admiring the building and watching the passers-by. There were quite a lot of people walking past because a couple of hundred yards to the right is a large car park and a couple of hundred yards the other way is the centre of the town. Not one person appeared to pay any attention to the building at all. Of course these were probably busy men and women with work to go to or shopping to do. But is was still interesting that a building that is so assertive, a design that is very much in the Regency style but has little of the delicacy or gentility of much of Regency Cheltenham, a structure that would, I'd have thought, divide opinion quite strongly, inspired hardly a glance. Presumably none of those passers-by reads this blog.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Brighton, Sussex

Building society

I wonder if I would have noticed these carvings if I'd not been alerted to their presence by Nicholas Antram and Richard Morrice's Pevsner Architectural Guide to Brighton and Hove. Possibly not, as they adorn a 1930s neo-Georgian building and my eyes would probably have been distracted by Regency onion domes and other fancies. So I'm grateful to Antram and Morrice for pointing me in the direction of the former Citizens' Permanent Building Society.

Building Societies. If you are inclined to think of them in the way we think of banks, financial institutions offering a range of financial "products" from loans to insurance, think again and think back. Building was originally much closer to the heart of what building societies did – holding deposits from some of their members and lending other members money to build houses.

So when he designed the Citizens' Permanent Building Society J L Denman got Joseph Cribb to carve a series of relief panels depicting the building trades and set these panels around the three large windows on the ground floor. Capped and overalled tradesmen mix mortar, saw wood, attach roof tiles, and build walls, and Denman himself appears in one panel, unfurling a plan and discussing progress with another man (a foreman or clerk of works?).

 Joseph Cribb began as apprentice and assistant to Eric Gill, remaining at Ditchling to work independently when Gill left Sussex for Wales in 1924. His work is in numerous churches and I'd not expected to find his carvings in this context. They rise to the challenge of squeezing their subjects into the spaces and curves around the windows and pick out details, from roofing battens to pulleys, in a satisfying and realistic way. Their concentrated view of life on site also reminds us of what building societies were about. The building, however, is now occupied by a bank.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Brighton, Sussex

Brighton cheerful

Grubbing around in Brighton back-streets looking for the work of local architect Amon Wilds, I came across this lovely terrace, designed by Wilds in the 1820s. Wilds' unusual forename gave him the idea of using the ammonite as his signature, and some of his houses have ammonite capitals, liked the ones I noticed a while back in Lewes. Here there are lots of them, in groups of four capitals at either end of the terrace and in the centre section, beneath the pediment. In each group, the architect carefully turned the end ammonites inwards, to frame the composition, as it were.

For all the artful symmetry of this small but showy facade, I also like the oddity of the semicircular bow window breaking the symmetry to the left of the centre section. Presumably it's a later addition, replacing a short row of square columns like the ones on the opposite side. But it's very Brighton – the place is full  of bow windows and the addition of another here gives the terrace a slightly raffish air which it would not have had otherwise.

The other structure, at the right-hand side of my photograph, is the imaginatively denominated Gothic House, also by Wilds and also dating to the 1820s. How did they think up these names? Perhaps Gothick House would have been more appropriate, since this is the fanciful domestic style, often dubbed Gothick, created by the Georgians: all white walls, pinnacles, false battlements, and fancy tracery, a style that that always makes me think it's made of cake icing and always makes me smile.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Brightling, Sussex

Fit for a king

As promised in the previous post, here is the pyramid in Brightling churchyard, beneath which the local squire, MP. philanthropist, and folly-builder John Fuller was buried when he died in 1834. The pyramid is a substantial stone structure, some 25 ft tall and taking up a large chunk of the southern side of the churchyard. It's similar in shape if not size to the resting places of the Old Kingdom Egyptian kings, but unlike the Egyptian pyramids has an entrance on one side, allowing visitors to peer into the gloomy space within. Fuller built the tomb in 1811, so his friends and neighbours had 23 years in which to get used to the fact that he had chosen this unusual form of monument. It was after his death, however, that the local gossip on the subject seems to have taken hold – in particular a story that Fuller was entombed in the pyramid sitting down at a table with a roast chicken and a bottle of claret. Such unconventionality seemed appropriate to Fuller's larger than life character, and the idea that he was buried with his dinner appeared to fit the ancient notion that the soul would need sustenance on its way to the next world. When the pyramid was restored in 1982, however, the rumours were found to be untrue. The squire is buried in the usual recumbent fashion beneath his pyramid.