Saturday, February 14, 2015


Red, orange, Strawberry

I pass by lots of Georgian houses and often give them an admiring glance – their proportions, Classical details, and brickwork are usually very satisfying. Cecil House in Hertford, a building of the 1770s, would probably have provoked a similar standard reaction: I like very much the red brick walls (Flemish bond) and the orange brick window surrounds, standing out from the crowd, but not too much.

But one feature stands out slightly more. It’s the porch, in the delicate 18th-century Gothic style (often called Gothick) that had become popular since Horace Walpole had begun to rebuild his house, Strawberry Hill at Twickenham, in the middle of the century. Slender clustered columns with little octagonal bases and minimal capitals support an upper area featuring a row of quatrefoils above repeated cusped blind arches. There’s a Gothic fanlight above the door and Gothic panelling in the reveals on either side of the door too.

None of this is anything like medieval Gothic, but it uses medieval Gothic motifs – quatrefoils, arches, little annulet rings around the columns, and so on – in a charming way. These motifs are combined in such a manner that they also recall classicism – those quatrefoil-decorated areas above the columns are a bit like a classical entablature, so that we are close to a sort of made-up ‘Gothic order’, something advocated by the 18th-century writer Batty Langley and a phenomenon I’ve noticed on other buildings of this period. The elements are rather plonked together in places, but that's part of their charm – as is the porch’s pointed, tent-like roof, which adds the finishing touch.

If the brickwork of this house seems to suggest tradition, solidity, and propriety, the porch is almost the opposite: improper, whimsical, and slightly flimsy. In many ways these two aspects of the building seem oddly matched, yet they are also true, in their different fashions, to their time.


Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

I must admit that at first glance I missed the Gothick details: the suggestion of a "Gothic Order" in harmony with the other Orders would seem to fit this porch. As you say, you can't judge this in terms of medieval Gothic (Pugin would hate you for such a suggestion!) - Lovely brickwork too - how easy to go past such things without a second glance! Thanks for helping us stop and stare without having to impede the traffic or pavement!

Anonymous said...

Ah, looking back at the comments on the Brewood post, and the link to Langley's book, there are clearly elements of his "Gothick" orders here - see the Fifth Order of Gothick Architecture here -

bazza said...

A beautiful feature and, how fitting, in the town of my birth!
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Philip Wilkinson said...

Thank you all for your comments. Anyone interested should follow the link in the Anonymous comment above – Langley's book is full of different examples of "Gothic" orders, all beautifully engraved.

Eileen Wright said...

Isn't it interesting how, despite the difference between the porch and the house itself, it fits together quite nicely. There's an old thatched house in Sidmouth which was modernised during the same era, with a porch similar to this with the same kind of tented roof, and yet it doesn't look incongruous at all. Sadly the Sidmouth one doesn't have the lovely details that the Hertford one does. That is very lovely indeed.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Eileen: Those tented porch roofs do pop up here and there. I used to associate them with the Regency period, because there used to be quite a few around Cheltenham when I was growing up. But they clearly go back well into the Georgian era. I suppose I thought of them as Regency also because they have a delightful, rather unclassical quality, which seems to fit what one thinks of, generalizing wildly, as the Regency mood.