Monday, August 1, 2016

Idlicote, Warwickshire

Masculine, feminine…

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have a soft spot for dovecotes – useful and often picturesque buildings from centuries gone by. Dovecotes often have an usual shape – round or octagonal, for example. Such shapes can be functional as well as picturesque because inside there’s a ladder on a central rotating column that you can push around to reach the hundreds of nest holes inside.

The octagonal dovecote at Idlicote, visible from the gateway to the nearby big house, is especially attractive because it’s tall, so makes a strong impact, and because it has some charming faux-Gothic features: curvy ogee-headed windows, and imitation arrow slits, as if it’s left over from some ancient fortification. It isn’t of course. The first record of a dovecote here dates to 1681, well after the castle age, and experts now think that most of the current fabric is from the 1760s and that Sanderson Miller was probably the designer. The Gothic features sit well with his flair for this style and Miller was a local man who worked a lot in Warwickshire, so this seems to fit.*

Sanderson Miller liked creating an impression of medieval castle architecture with towers and battlements, evoking what Horace Walpole called ‘the rust of the Barons’ Wars’: a hint of the tough, masculine stuff of which castles were made. But he also had a love of the more filigree, feminine side of Gothic – bigger windows, ogee arches. To a purist, these two aspects of the Gothic style sit uncomfortably together, but Miller and his clients had no such qualms. For them, structures like this dovecote seemed to sum up the Middle Ages. For us, they sum up the particular vision of a Georgian architect who was at home in the Warwickshire countryside, as is this charming building.†  

* * * *

*I’m indebted for this information to the new edition of the Pevsner Buildings of England volume on Warwickshire, which in turn cites William Hawkes, editor of The Diaries of Sanderson Miller of Radway (2005). This new Pevsner volume is full of such nuggets of fact and attribution, and when I’ve absorbed more of them I’ll review the book in my next batch of reviews, later in the summer.

†I wrote about how dovecotes were used in an earlier post, here.


Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

It would be nice to think that this was from 1681 or before, but in the 17th century they were still able to convince us that they understood Gothic - like the church at South Malling in Lewes, which except in one tiny detail looks as if it could be from the 15th century.

This strikes me as a very gentle, genteel castle - a dovecote in Idlicote? ("the cote of Ytta's people" - Ekwall - did they all fit in one small cottage?)

Hels said...

Nicely found!

A garden folly is a building constructed primarily for decoration and vague historical reference, but I am beginning to think a folly might have a really useful purpose. A small, round dovecote would do the job nicely, but medieval gothic castle architecture went above and beyond mere usefulness.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Joseph: Indeed. But the details do look more like 18th-century 'Gothick' than anything from the 17th century or earlier. However, the building does look as if it has been altered a time or two.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Hels: Thank you! The term 'folly' is applied to all kinds of buildings, many of which have a purpose other than decoration. They can be shelters, houses, dovecotes, towers from which one can admire the view, even, occasionally, working buildings such as mills. There are also the 'decorative' garden buildings, such as those at Stowe, that are also meant to symbolize the owner's political or philosophical views. Or those that turn out to be memorials to past heroes or heroines or family members. Really, I'm coming to the conclusion that the term 'folly' isn't very useful.

Peter Ashley said...

There is possibly another definition of 'folly' not usually to be found in dictionaries. A friend once lived in a 'Folly Cottage' in Dorset with no folly building known to have been near. But there was a clump of trees on a hilltop. Subsequently I learnt that Folly Hill outside of Faringdon, with its trees, was so called before Lord Berners tower arrived to annoy the neighbours.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Peter: This is fascinating. I knew that Old English 'fola' was 'horse' (same word as foal I suppose), but this takes us in another direction. The OED gives a further definition of folly (after getting through the one connected to foolishness and so on) as: 'Dialect: A clump of fir trees on the crest of a hill'. It cites, as its earliest example, Richard Jefferies in Green Ferne Farm, 1880: 'Every hill seems to have a Folly...I mean a clump of trees on the top.' Another example is from a book of Berkshire words so maybe be it was a Wilts, Dorset, and Berks word, Jefferies hailing from Wilts. Come to think of it there is a Folly Farm not far from here in Goucestershire, with no architectural folly that I know of, so that could be another example. Food for further thought.

Evelyn said...

I love this that you said: the rust of the Baron's Wars... fantastic ! Dovecotes are generally quite fascinating to castle revelers as well. I happen to be one of them. These structures need their own expert so I consider you as one. Since they can be genuinely medieval or just built to appear so they create lots of dialogue and fancy. They are not intended to be follys, however. That is a totally different subject.

I do like Revival Medieval structures as well as actual medieval buildings.
The Castle Lady

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thank you, Evelyn. The best experts on Dovecotes are probably Peter and Jean Hansell, who have written a couple of books on the subject, including a short one published by Shire.