Sunday, March 13, 2016

Coleshill, Berkshire*

Looking at Coleshill again (1)

I’ve visited the village of Coleshill several times and on one occasion I posted briefly about the Coleshill estate, the site of a great 17th-century house that was burned down in 1952, the remains being demolished soon afterwards. In my earlier post I highlighted the elaborate pair of gate piers pictured above, and I pointed out that I found their position slightly odd and that their ‘best’ side could only be seen from inside the gate – evidence, I thought, that they were designed to be seen by the occupants of the house rather than by passers-by.

Something I read yesterday sent me back to my old post. I have been reading parts of a fascinating new book, a series of essays edited by Jon Stobart and Andrew Hann called The Country House: Material Culture and Consumption. I’m sure I will read the rest of this book and write about it in my next group of reviews in the spring, but meanwhile I cannot resist mentioning what I read in the book’s final essay, on the estate at Coleshill.† The author of the essay, Karen Fielder, has lots of good things to say about the significance of this estate with its vanished house, but what she says about the gate piers especially caught my eye. The piers, she reveals, have been moved. They were originally in the formal gardens of the house, when no doubt the niches (and the busts they once contained¶) were set off to best advantage. But in the late-18th century the 2nd Earl of Radnor re-landscaped the garden and re-sited the piers by the road through the village so that they framed a view of the house from that road. The passer-by would have been interested in the view that the piers were framing, not in the sculptures or the gates, so placing the gateway that way round worked.

I’m grateful to this essay for putting me right about the piers’ apparently rather odd placement. It would have made perfect sense when the house was still standing. I’m grateful too for the chance to think again about this evocative place and for discovering how these traces of history tell part of its story.§ It makes me want to pay another visit.

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*Modern boundaries place Coleshill in Oxfordshire. I allocate it to Berkshire because of a sentimental attachment to the historic English counties and because these old boundaries are used by the invaluable Pevsner Buildings of England series.

†Karen Fielder, ‘X marks the spot: narratives of a lost country house’ in Jon Stobart and Andrew Hann (eds), The Country House: Material Culture and Consumption (Historic England, 2016)

¶The book includes a 1922 photograph by Nathaniel Lloyd that shows a pair of busts (of Roman-looking figures) in the niches of the piers.

§The estate’s later history, including the remains of underground tunnels used by auxiliary units, formed to supply the resistance in the event of an invasion during World War II, are also clearly well worth exploring.


Peter Ashley said...

I love gate piers me. Possibly my favourites are those heralding the lost estate of Fonthill in Wiltshire. Nightmarish and gargantuan, they never fail to impress.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Yes, absolutely. Another gate to a house that no longer exists (except as a tiny fragment anyway).

La Petite Gallery said...

Very interesting. What fun to explore the tunnels.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Peter: I keep passing a fine pair on the A40, but there's nowhere obvious to stop...

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

I expect by the late 18th century these gateposts would have seemed terribly dowdy and old-fashioned - but perhaps the Earl liked them anyway, but cautiously put the plainer side outside?

David Gouldstone said...

Fascinating post (I've just realised that's a bit of an unintentional pun). I have a dim memory of commenting on one of your earlier posts about gate piers, mentioning those in another west Berks village, Hamstead Marshall. No house (burnt down centuries ago) but (I think) eight pairs of piers standing forlornly. I haven't been there myself for decades, so can't offer any of my own photos, but there are some good ones at