Friday, April 2, 2021

Malvern Link, Worcestershire

Art and nature

Malvern Link is an area to the north and east of Great Malvern, adjoining a swathe of land called Link Common. Development began after the railway arrived in the 1850s, and continued through the second half of the 19th century into the 20th. Along the main artery, Worcester Road, many of the houses , especially those near or overlooking the common, were built as substantial middle-class homes; there were also several hotels catering for Malvern’s role as a fashionable spa.

This is an example of the former, an attractive house of the very late-19th or early-20th century, glimpsed through the trees and bushes fringing the front garden. Attracted by the winning combination of red brick, white woodwork, tiles, and windows with small panes in the upper sashes, I began to think of Bedford Park, the west London garden suburb that was a product of the 1880s and hugely influential. I think, from looking at old Ordnance Survey maps, that these are slightly later, but in a similar mode.

My eye was drawn especially to the ornamental panels running across the middle of the bay. The subject is stylised foliage and flowers of a fairly standard sort, of course: just what you’d expect on a house of some pretension in a prosperous area. Often such panels are in terracotta, a material popular during the fashion for ‘Queen Anne’ architecture from the 1870s onwards. Architectural ceramics companies had a repertoire of foliage, flowers, curlicues, and various other ornamental details, and builders drew on them widely. Terracotta was usually brick-red but was also available in a less common buff shade that resembled stone. Often it is hard to tell the difference between stone and terracotta, and I am having this difficulty with these Malvern Link examples. But whatever their material, they provide a pleasing touch, now complemented by the living greenery, which, having arrived more recently than the house, seems to be imitating art.