Sunday, April 14, 2019

Enstone, Oxfordshire

Passing wonders

This drinking fountain is on the roadside at Enstone – actually in Church Enstone, which stands slightly apart from what I take to be the ‘main’ village, although, as is clear from the name, it’s where the parish church is. The fountain was designed by G. E. Street, with carvings by Thomas Earp,* and was built as a memorial to Eliza Marshall, who died in 1856. When I first saw it, my eye caught by the band of acanthus carving, I thought of it as ‘a horse trough’, but it’s actually three troughs, at different levels, with lion-mask spouts taking the water from one to the next. So far, so ingenious, I thought – a clever bit of design, taking advantage of the slope in the ground, and providing a no doubt once well-used facility for passing traffic as it made its way through the village.
It struck me at the time that the lion masks were rather more badly worn than the rest of the structure, and I wondered if they were carved from a different stone – the lions, looked at close to, seemed less pinkish in colour the the other carved sections, although the differences in colour are probably due at least in part to the presence of moisture and the growths of lichen. Then, my memory prodded by Pevsner, I recalled the Enstone Marvels, a series of waterworks, cascades and grottoes, built in the 17th century at an another nearby hamlet, Neat Enstone, and visited by Charles I and his queen, Henrietta Maria. On the main road there’s a cottage, one part of which is built of chunky and deeply vermiculated masonry inset with niches, which may well be part of a grotto from the Marvels.§

Spectacular waterworks were, as they say, a thing in the 17th century. For example, Salomon de Caus, a French Huguenot engineer, published a book in 1615 called Les Raisons des forces mouvantes, which illustrated an early form of steam pump as well as various elaborate waterworks, fountains, grottoes, and the like. He and his brother, architect Isaac de Caus, worked in England and Isaac was an associate of Inigo Jones. The fact that such experts in the field spent time in England, and that the king was interested, goes some way to demonstrate the fashion for such works, mostly now long vanished. As for the Enstone Marvels, we know about them from Robert Plot’s Natural History of Oxfordshire (1677). This much I knew, but the further possible link between the Marvels and this Enstone drinking fountain is drawn by the author of the website Polyolbion, who has images of both the cottage and the lions on the drinking fountain.† These beasts indeed have a baroque look about them and might just possibly be a bit of inspired, historically important, bit of recycling.

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* A specialist in architectural sculpture and a regular collaborator with Street

§ The cottage is visible from the road, but not easily photographable without the kind of intrusion I was not prepared to make.

† The relevant page from the Polyolbion site is here.


Hels said...

King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria must have had a wonderful time travelling. The masonry inset with niches, worn out over the centuries, may indeed have been part of a grotto from the 17th century Marvels. Or even older.

Thank you Mr Pevsner :)

Stephen Barker said...

A very interesting article including the link to the article about the lost water features at Enstone. At Burleigh House The Garden of Surprises created 2007 based on Elizabethan water features gives a feel for the features at Enstone.

per apse said...

Somehow I think William Cecil's water effects of the late sixteenth century at Theobalds - sadly long gone also - must have given good queen Bess quite a thrill on the occasions when she stayed with her most trusted minister. And certainly the 21st Century water effects in the Garden of Surprises at his 'other place,' Burghley House by Stamford Town, offer the modern visitor some watery excitement. Thanks for prompting happy memories!

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thank you both for reminding me of the modern Garden of Surprises at Burghley. The fascination for water works continues.