Thursday, December 28, 2023

Hadleigh, Suffolk

Local colour

How could it be? I’d been to Suffolk several times and looked around so many of its towns – Aldeburgh, Southwold, Lavenham, Sudbury, Stowmarket… How had I not been to Hadleigh? This time, the Resident Wise Woman and I resolved to correct this omission, and quite early one December morning two weeks before Christmas, we arrived in Hadleigh, wandered around, and were very impressed. There is so much for the building-fancier to see, and so much of it is good.

It wasn’t long before we found the churchyard, and it was not only the church that caught our eye. Along one side of God’s acre is the conglomeration of brickwork, timber-framing and ochre-coloured plaster in my photograph. It’s now known as the Guildhall-Town Hall complex and the rooms inside are available to the local community for various uses. The earliest part is the timber-framed section in the middle, which was constructed in the mid-15th century. This was built as a market hall, with shops below and other rooms on the jettied storeys above. Behind this is the Guildhall, built as a wing projecting from the back of the market hall – a tiny portion of this is visible near the left-hand edge of my photograph.* The two-storey wings on either side of the timber-framed market hall are later.

The complex has had a variety of uses since the Middle Ages. It was the administrative centre when Hadleigh was a borough in the 17th century; until 1834, part of the building was used as the parish workhouse; more than one school had been based here; part of the structure was once almshouses; and in the early-20th century it was partly used as a corset factory. There’s something admirable about a building that’s in part almost 600 years old and has been used in so many ways – and is still an asset to the town. It’s also admirable that it has fulfilled these uses while keeping much of its ancient beauty.

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* Guildhalls were the headquarters of guilds, associations of tradesman or merchants, formed for various reasons including religious (for example, paying for prayers for the souls of the dead) and charitable (for example, providing for the surviving families of deceased members).

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Huish Episcopi, Somerset


With my best wishes

Casting around for something seasonal to post, I found this picture in my files. I’ve actually posted it before, but so long ago that I doubt anyone reading this now will remember it from back then. It’s a stained glass window designed by Edward Burne-Jones and made in the workshop of William Morris and it shows the Nativity scene in the stable at Bethlehem. As well as being a prominent member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Burne-Jones was also a founder member of Morris’s firm and the window is one of many wonderful examples of their bringing together of art, craft and design.

The host of angels, crowding beneath the roof of the stable and into the foreground, focus their gaze on Mary and Jesus. Mary is recumbent, as she often is in ancient images of the scene, and so she and the child form a long centre band across the window, with angels above and below. On the left-hand side of the picture, the Magi wait to present their gifts. I like everything about this window, from the colours and the composition to the tenderness with which the mother holds her baby and the way in which the heads of the figures in the side panels lean in towards the holy family. I hope you like it too.

Have a happy Christmas and may the new year bring peace, not least to the part of the world where this scene took place.

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Note You may be able to see a little more detail if you click on the photograph.

Saturday, December 16, 2023

Boxford, Suffolk

Sign of the times

It’s 1839 and you are building a new house (or perhaps refronting an old one) in the middle of Boxford, Suffolk. Queen Victoria came to throne two years ago and was popular at the beginning of her reign. So you decide to name the house after the young monarch: Victoria Cottage. Perhaps the building was completed at the beginning of the year, because as 1839 went on, Victoria’s popularity was dealt a blow when she was implicated in spreading false rumours about one of her mother’s ladies-in-waiting. Or perhaps the house’s owner was staunchly patriotic. Who knows? Both the name, inscribed over the arches above the lower windows, and the date of construction, above the windows of the upper floor, remain. The inscriptions are certainly an individual touch and a far cry from the small house name signs or date stones more often seen on modest town houses.

The frontage is classically plain – the arches, round-topped windows, parapet, and Gothic glazing bars are all reminiscent of the late-Georgian period, but fashions were often slow to change in the provinces and, in style as in inscriptions, individual taste is often in play in domestic architecture. The bricks are the pale colour so often found in East Anglia and featuring also in the building in my previous post. Pale bricks, often called ‘whites’, but often pale yellow or cream in colour, are made with clay that contains more lime than usual, a feature of clays in many parts of eastern England. They can look very handsome, sometimes easy to mistake for stone when one is looking at a big country house from a distance, but here are unmistakably brick and none the worse for that.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Boxford, Suffolk


Preserve, re-use, re-use again

In Boxford primarily to look at the church, my eye of course was caught in addition by other things. This small building in the middle of the village made me scratch my head. What is it? The date, 1838, took my mind back to the era of village lock-ups, and this seems to have been the answer. Two stout wooden doors would have originally provided security for a two-celled mini-prison, where wrongdoers were kept, usually just for a short period before they were either released or taken to court. Drunks would be left until they were sober, two people who had got into a fight could be locked up and separated by a solid brick wall, those suspected of more serious misdemeanours would be locked up until they went before a justice or magistrate.

Lock-ups usually featured simple and functional architecture, but here the builders allowed themselves a couple of four-centred arches and a generous brick gable to make the structure look imposing.* The bricks are the pale ones seen widely in East Anglia. When no longer needed as a lock-up, the building was used to store the village fire engine (it would have been a small, hand-pumped device). Today it’s used simply as a shelter, a nice example of an antiquated building finding a new use that makes it worth preserving as something more than a mere eye-catcher – although it certainly fulfils that function too.

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* Although we are a fair distance from the sort of chunk prison architecture that is sometimes seen; for an example, see this one here in Bewdley, Worcestershire.

Friday, December 8, 2023

Shrewton, Wiltshire


Looking through my pictures the other day for something else, I found this picture that I took years ago and probably meant to blog. It’s the gate lodge to an adjacent manor house and stands proud and white near a road junction (near where the village lock-up is also to be found), a very effective architectural signpost, as it were, to the gate to the larger dwelling. It’s built of cob, a material consisting of earth, water, sand, and straw. Cob is associated most closely with Devon, Cornwall, and Norfolk, although it’s also found in Wiltshire (and in Buckinghamshire, where it’s known as wychert). The walls are likely to be quite thick (about 2 ft) and offer good heat insulation, but need a well maintained overhanging roof to keep them dry. This one has a hipped roof of thatch to do the job.

The Gothic windows suggest a late-18th century date, which is what is suggested in the official listing description of this building. The house looks substantial, and also has a modern extension, part of which is just visible in my photograph, so would provide accommodation for someone who worked for the owners of the manor house, together with their family. I’ve written blog posts about several lodges before,* including a number with thatched roofs, because these are often striking, ornamental buildings. I was glad to find this one again among my pictures, and looking at it has made me resolve to return to Shrewton one day – according to the revised Pevsner volume for Wiltshire, there’s a cob crinkle-crankle wall somewhere nearby, which I missed. When you visit a place once, there’s nearly always something else to see when you retiurn.

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* For more, click the word ‘lodge’ in the list of topics in the right-hand column.

Friday, December 1, 2023

Birlingham, Worcestershire



Many English churches were built in the Victorian period. Lots of these served new parishes, created to serve a population that was growing faster than ever before. But some were replacements of older buildings, churches that had deteriorated structurally, or were too small for current needs, or just had the misfortune to have been built in a way that offended Victorian sensibilities. When this was the case, one cannot help but wonder what the original building was like, and whether it was really necessary to knock it down.

Sometimes there are clues in old watercolours or engravings, or written accounts by antiquarians. Occasionally, there are architectural fragments of the old building sill to be seen. This is the case in the village of Birlingham, where the Norman chancel arch of the old church (rebuilt in 1871–72 by Benjamin Ferrey with the exception of the tower) was reused as the gateway to the churchyard. So what could have become a heap of rubble has been turned into a rather grand ceremonial entrance. It does, of course, contain much 19th-century workmanship (‘much renewed by Ferrey’ is Pevsner’s comment), but it gives us an idea of the old arch, and forms a pleasant focal point (not to mention a talking-point) in the centre of the village. Here’s to recycling.