Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Jordans, Buckinghamshire


Sneck? Sneck: noun. A latch on a door or window (chiefly Scottish and northern English).*

When I was a small boy, I went each summer with my parents to see my grandparents in rural Lincolnshire. Where we lived, the doors had conventional knobs that you turned, but in my grandparents’ tiny house, in the middle of a field in the marshy area between Louth and the sea, the internal doors had latches like the one above. This particular example was photographed in a house in Jordans, Buckinghamshire, but it was in Lincolnshire that I first saw these latches, with on one side of the door a handle and thumb plate that opened the latch when pressed, and on the other side a downward-curving lever that you raised to unfasten the door.

I found that I didn’t need to be shown how to use this ingenious device. When someone (my grandmother?) said to me: ‘Open the door – you grandad’s coming in with two buckets of coal – can you reach the sneck?’ I instinctively knew what was meant and what to do; I didn’t need anyone to tell me that a northern word for door latch was being used. Another word was added to my four-year-old vocabulary, soon to be extended further by such terms as ‘copper’ (the tank where water for washing was heated), ‘dyke’ (the big ditches that drained the fields hereabouts – they looked like rivers to me), and ‘plum bread’ (fruit loaf, which I liked and still do). Soon I would discover (from my Lincolnshire farming relatives) that the ‘crew’ was a yard where cattle were kept, and that ‘beasts’ were not just any animals but very specifically cattle, especially beef cattle, and what’s more that in Lincolnshire the word ‘beasts’ had two syllables (‘BEE-usts’). I was getting an early lesson in local distinctiveness.

We’ve become more aware of door fastenings in the last few months. Do they need sanitizing? Yes, they very likely do. As a recent article in Apollo makes clear, they have been the concern of designers and architects for centuries. Whether it’s fancy porcelain Victorian door knobs, curvaceous Art Nouveau latches, or the sleekest modernist versions in stainless steel, designers have always produced the door furniture that’s required, items, as Pevsner would have said, that reflect the Zeitgeist. The latch in my photograph, with its heart-shapes, is reminiscent of the work of the great Arts and Crafts architect C. F. A. Voysey, but really it’s just a pleasant version of the old-fashioned sneck. Such a design may not look as sleek as a ‘less is more’ doorknob by Mies or Gropius, but it’s just as efficient, and rather simpler. It works, is easy to use and understand (literally, easy to grasp), and is virtually unbreakable. Here’s to the sneck.

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* Online enquiries have also turned up the term Suffolk latch for this piece of door furniture.

1 comment:

per apse said...

Thank you for that - it reminded me of a news item which was reported by the Stamford Mercury in November 1804 - quote made poss by British Newspaper Archive -
A dreadful and alarming fire broke out in the stables of the Black Boy inn Chelmsford, on Monday evening, which threatened destruction to the whole town. A party of Hanoverian soldiers, consisting of several hundred men, were on their march, and halted at Chelmsford and the adjacent villages. From the very considerable number that were billeted on each public house, the landlords the large inns were under the necessity of lodging them in the stables and out-houses, well littered with straw. They retired early to their lodgings with their pipes, as usual; seventy of them in particular, in a large stable at the above inn, without any other fastening to the door than a latch.— About eight o'clock the same evening the stable was discovered to be in flames. Unacquainted with the use of a latch, the Hanoverians were some time before they could open the door, but it was easily effected on the outside, and they (it was supposed all) made their escape, many of them, however, most dreadfully scorched, and their clothes on fire.
- enough but the sad story is ended in melodramatic fashion - I'm sure many doors had a hole large enough for a finger to push through to lift the latch from the inside - sabed on the ironmongery at the possible expense of a broken finger, if rushing......
Greetings & keep up the good work!