Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Cheltenham. Gloucestershire

The heart and the honeysuckle, revisited

Walking around Cheltenham this afternoon I was reminded that I was going to post an example of the town’s iron balconies – specifically one using the ‘heart and honeysuckle’ motif I also spotted a while back in London. These iron balcony fronts, produced by the Carron ironworks in Glasgow, seem to have become very popular in Cheltenham because they were stocked by a local builder and because they seemed to exemplify the classical sophistication that Cheltenham’s developers wanted. This was a place, after all, that was marketing itself, with some success, as a country spa and resort for the upper and middle classes who wanted a break from London.

The trouble is, there’s a tendency to paint this ironwork either black (which blends with the window glass) or white (which blends with the stuccoed walls), which makes clear photography difficult. I see now that I must get up early and go around with my camera while the white shutters are still closed, then the black ironwork at least will be clearly visible. Here’s one house with some closed shutters, together with a clearer detail below.

Classical sophistication? That’s because the honeysuckle (aka anthemion) was much used as an ornamental pattern in ancient Greek architecture. In Cheltenham, instead of running round cornices, it’s most common in the ironwork, inside the heart, as you can see here: it looks like a fan of sylized petals. The balconies themselves cantilever out from the walls in such a way as to make it unlikely they’d take a lot of weight. They’re there mainly to make it safe to open the glorious floor-to-ceiling windows, and to accommodate plants. Real honeysuckle to complement the iron version? Perhaps that’s unlikely.  But something green and flowering, at least.


Hels said...

I agree that the balconies were largely to make the front of the home look gorgeous with ironwork and with added flower pots. But cantilevered balconies can take a lot of weight, if they are built correctly, so we have to assume that the home owners did not want to sit out in the summer sun on their own balconies.

In a spa and tourist town like Cheltenham, perhaps there were parks with benches where visitors could enjoy the summer sun in peace.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Yes. There were – and are – numerous parks and benches in Cheltenham. The part of the town where my photographs were taken is called Pittville. It's built around a long park (with a pump room at one end) and has a couple of garden squares and trees everywhere.

LeeAnn at Mrs Black's said...

This is a favourite haunt of mine and I always admire these wonderful balconies. Really enjoyed your post and images.

Unknown said...

The classic study of Cheltenham's ironwork is 'Cheltenham's Ornamental Ironwork: A Guide and History' by Amina Chatwin, 1975 . Amina, sadly, died last month.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Mike: Thank you. I'm sad to learn of Amina Chatwin's death. Her book is indeed a classic study – it packs a huge amount of information into a small space and throws revealing light on a subject that's often seen as 'peripheral' to architecture but is actually hugely important for the way Cheltenham's Regency houses look.

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

I always associate wrought iron balconies with Edward Lear - he spent a lot of time abroad, to save money, so I suppose they conjured up his Regency/post-Regency youth?

And those who watch at that midnight hour
From Hall or Terrace, or lofty Tower,
Cry, as the wild light passes along,
"The Dong! The Dong!
The wandering Dong through the forest goes!
The Dong! The Dong!
The Dong with the luminous Nose!"