Friday, May 7, 2021

Temple Guiting, Gloucestershire

 

Tradition and the individual

This chunky tower had me scratching my head when I first saw it standing out across the fields. The tower’s position at the church’s west end and its diagonal buttresses are just the sort of thing seen time and time again on Cotswold churches. Usually these towers were added in the 15th century, when the region was prospering from the wool trade. But few of the other details look much like 15th-century Gothic. In particular, the collection of openings – the very plain semi-circular arched doorway, the odd squat pointed window just above it, and the rather more elegant two-light opening near the top – did not seem like typical medieval work. Neither did the very stubby pinnacles with their almost pyramidal finials.*

Seeing it up close, appended to the small church of Temple Guiting in the Cotswolds, it made a little more sense. Temple Guiting was a medieval church: the village name reveals an ancient connection with the order of the Knights Templar, but this is not evident in the architecture and as far as the tower is concerned is a red herring. The history of the tower begins much later. It seems to have been added to the church in the 17th century and is thus an example of the survival of Gothic architecture into a time when Classical styles had become fashionable. This is not at all unusual, especially in rural areas where masons carried on building in a version of the style that had been passed on from master to apprentice, father to son, through the generations. So it’s an eclectic mix of motifs from here and there, and no less charming for that, and for the sense that the structure shows the sort of originality that can emerge when a 17th-century provincial mason blends what he has learned from tradition with the strength of purpose to go his own way.

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* Pevsner has a go at this part of the tower, sneering at the ‘clumsy top stage, naive gargoyles and big square pinnacles’. But I don’t mind either the rather bulky pinnacles or the gargoyles – aren’t most rural gargoyles naive, and isn’t this part of what makes them effective visually? 

Monday, May 3, 2021

Cropthorne, Worcestershire

 

Catslide

Cropthorne lies in the orchard-rich country around Evesham, an area full not just of fruit trees but also of houses built with frames of oak. Some have thatched roofs, often with attic windows peeping out under ‘eyebrows’ of thatch, like the ones on the house to the right in my photograph. Thatch lends itself to these sculptural forms, and also to the roof feature that caught my eye in the house on the left: the catslide.

A catslide is a roof that sweeps down almost to the ground over a single-storey extension. If you add a room on to the side of a building, the thatcher can continue the slope of the main roof at the same angle in one continuous run. You end up with a much lower ceiling height inside, but often this did not bother the occupants – people’s average heights were shorter in past centuries, and if you were going to use the room mainly for storage, or for a bedroom, headroom was not the main requirement. The advantage of this type of roof was mainly an economic one. If you’d built the side wall to full height, to keep the same angle of slope you’d need a higher ridge for the whole roof, meaning more money spent on roof timbers and more thatch on the other side of the house too. So many people favoured the catslide.

The name is wonderfully evocative. One can imagine a roof-climbing cat losing its footing, sliding down the slope to the eaves, and falling only a short distance to the ground before walking off with typical feline nonchalance. As satisfying for the animal as for the thatcher completing a smooth continuous slope, capping the whole roof with ornately cut reeds on the ridge, and standing back in admiration.