Saturday, April 1, 2023

Broadway, Worcestershire

Quirky things in quiet corners

I begin blogging again with this eye-catching little building, which is in the showpiece village of Broadway. Broadway is in Worcestershire, but it feels like an exile from Gloucestershire, being right on the northern end of the Cotswold Hills. Much of Broadway, true to this Cotswold location, is built of limestone, with stone ‘slates’ on the roof as well as the classic ‘honey-coloured’ walls* that help make the region so well known. But this structure, tucked away in Back Lane behind the Lygon Arms, not much more than a few yards from the manicured glory of the main street, is rather different. It’s a pleasing mélange of stone, brick, timber, and thatch. I thought it was a house, but someone said (and Pevsner confirms) that it was built by the owners of the hotel to accommodate staff – but the said staff were too busy, on the day I last visited, to answer queries of this kind.

I see it as probably a bit of architectural whimsy in a style that evokes – on the surface at least – the late phases of the Arts and Crafts movement. The thatched roof, with the ‘eyebrow’ window interrupting the thatch, is very much in the Arts and Crafts mode. So is the use of traditional materials. Except that the way some of those materials are used is to put a Tudoresque spin on the building. That timber framing at the front, with its brick infill in fancy herringbone pattern, isn’t really integrated into the structure of the whole building – it’s acting mainly as a screen to conceal and shelter the entrance steps.† The weatherboarding, too, seems simply to be a picturesque covering to perfectly good brick walls with stone quoins. There’s nothing wrong with this approach – I think the result is attractive and it makes me smile. It’s just not the ‘what you see is what you get’ kind of building that the followers of William Morris advocated.

But quirky and unusual are qualities that I like, and that I’ve been highlighting in this blog for around 15 years. As I resume, I resolve to feature at least a little more of the same.

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• Honey-coloured? Well that’s the usual cliché, although the reality is that Cotswold stone comes in a range of hues, from grey to yellow – with a bit of brown in the mix on some areas too.

† The corner post does, of course, help to support the roof above, and so has a partly structural role.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Stanton Harcourt, Oxfordshire

Open again

First, I offer my apologies to those regular readers who have come to like my posts of old and interesting English buildings. A prolonged bout of post-covid exhaustion, together with a rush of things to do, left me with little energy for blogging lately. Now, as the clouds lift a little and other activities become less pressing, I am ready to begin again.

I saw this sign at the entrance of the church at Stanton Harcourt, and thought that it looked good enough to photograph. The letterform is similar to the typeface Albertus, one of my favourites; I like the blue too. But browsing through my photographs it occurred to me that it would make a good symbol to appear here, because it marks my resolution to resume blogging once more, at whatever pace I can keep up.

So I declare this blog open again for business – the business of occasionally recording my encounters with interesting old buildings, and, especially, sharing bits of architecture and related items that have not, it seems to me, received the notice they deserve. So look out for my usual mixture of the familiar, the unfamiliar, the quirky, and the unregarded in the coming weeks and months.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Taunton, Somerset

Light thrown on the familiar

A brief stop in Taunton on my way deeper into southern Somerset a while ago saw the south facade of the castle bathed in sunlight. I took time to pause for a few minutes and take in some of the details. The gatehouse, accessed by a bridge over a dry moat, still boasts work of the 13th or 14th centuries, when the castle belonged to the bishops of Winchester. It was apparently more a centre for running the large estates of the diocese than a military fortress, although later, in the mid-15th century, it was strong enough to be worth besieging, and later still its garrison put an end to the uprising of Perkin Warbeck against Henry VII. Henry’s coat of arms can still be (just) made out at the top, above those of Bishop Langton over the archway. The upper part of the gatehouse dates to a remodelling of the late-15th century.

What we can see from here of the rest of the building looks the way it does thanks to another set of alterations, this time between the 1790s and c. 1816, when Sir Benjamin Hammet (a banker, building contractor and MP for Taunton) rebuilt parts of the structure to accommodate Assize Courts and judges’ lodgings. The facing of the wall and the pointed windows are from Hammet’s time; the smaller mullioned windows downstairs are later still.

One hopes that the judges appreciated the efforts made on their behalf, with well-lit upgraded accommodation very close to the courts where they worked when the Assizes were in session. Those who were not judges but also needed somewhere to stay had a choice of two gothic-style inns that are still there, very close by but out of my photograph. These are still impressive but much altered compared to the castle, so for now at least, I’ll let this building have its place in the sun.