Monday, April 15, 2024

Totnes, Devon

Continuity and change

‘How old is that building?’ people ask. And the answer is often: ‘Various ages.’ Most buildings get altered over the years, as fashions, needs and uses change. So while one might be able to say that a structure was first built in a particular period, what we can actually see today is the result of many stages of alteration and renewal. Here are two neighbouring examples in the High Street at Totnes.

The building on the left with its black and white decoration bears a date, 1585, which no doubt marks its original construction. The N.B. whose initials also appear on the front was Nicholas Ball, a merchant, who was mayor of Totnes in 1585. Ball’s house rests on four stone columns at ground floor level. Originally these columns fronted an open loggia, with doors and windows set back – open colonnades are a feature of a number of buildings in this town. However, the open arches on this building were filled in with sash windows in the 19th century, when the door was also moved forward – although the wooden door itself, barely visible in the shadows in my photograph, is actually the original 16th-century one. Above the shallow arches of the ground floor are two further floors that were altered in the 18th century, when large sash windows fitted on both floors. The front was also heightened, probably at the time the upper windows were installed, as can be seen by the way the black uprights at either end stop far short of the cornice. So the building is a typical English mixture, showing alterations from the 16th to the 19th centuries, and is no worse for that.

Something similar can be said for the house on the right. This has an attractive pair of Georgian windows – a curvaceous bow window on the middle floor and a simple sash window on the top floor. The ground floor has what looks like a 20th-century shop window, although the black pilasters at either end and the panelled door to the left may well be older. The other striking thing about this front is that, in spite of the Georgian windows and quoins running up the sides, it’s jettied – in other words the upper floor sticks out. Jetties were a long-standing fashion from the late Middle Ages to the 17th century, and jettied buildings are timber-framed. So beneath the later plasterwork and fenestration is a wooden framework and a structure much older than it appears to the casual glance.

Thus do buildings trip us up when we make assumptions about their date, but also give us clues.

Monday, March 25, 2024

Shaldon, Devon


Shaldon, a small settlement across the estuary from Teignmouth, was originally busier and much more important than it is now – it was a centre for ship-building, but was eclipse by Teignmouth when the Shaldon side of the river silted up. So by the 19th century, Teignmouth was increasing in size, becoming the town it is today. Meanwhile, Shaldon turned into something of a backwater, although popular as a quiet place to which people retired or visited to enjoy the sea air. This new role of Shaldon saw the building in the early-19th century of a number of houses in the. cottage orné style, often with thatched roofs and Gothic windows with ornate patterns of glazing bars.

Houses like this projected an image of a kind of idealised rural life, and were occasionally decoratively over the top. Hunter’s Lodge is an example of this trend. Visitors will be foxed by the sign giving the date of ‘c. 1650’. While there may have been a house on this site in 1650, what we see today looks like a cottage orné of around 1800. The pointed windows and doorway and the elaborate glazing with its pattern of tiny hexagonal and diamond panes, point in that direction. So too do the large quoins, which, like the similar blocks around the doorway are made of Eleanor Coade’s artificial stone, which was popular in the Regency period and lent itself to the production of multiple copies of the same three-dimensional image.

The decorative piece de résistance, however, is the horizontal band with its repeated fox heads (below), which may too be made of Coade stone. I have to say, these fox faces inspired whoops of joy when the Resident Wise Woman and I first spotted them laid out in a row like more traditional architectural ornamental patterns, from Greek keys to medieval ‘stiff leaf’. Whatever you think about fox-hunting — and the views on this subject are diverse – how can one not find these foxes charming?

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*For more about Coade stone, see an earlier post from this blog, here.

Stroud, Gloucestershire


Place and taste

I was recently reading Adam Nicolson’s Sissinghurst, about the beautiful castle in Kent restored and lived in by his grandparents, Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville-West. Adam Nicolson is the third generation of his family to live there and its garden, also the creation of Vita and Harold, is world-famous. In the book, I found this very apposite observation about places: ’It is an article of faith with me that a place consists of everything that has happened there; it is a reservoir of memories, and understanding those memories is not a trap but a liberation, a menu of possibilities’.

This is very much how I think about buildings and its truth was exemplified when I saw this ghost sign in Stroud. Actually, it was the Resident Wise Woman who spotted it first, and I expressed surprise that, having been to Stroud dozens (at least) of times, I’d not noticed it before. ‘Pritchard’s delicious home-made what?’ we wondered, fancying that we could make out a hint of the first letter of the missing bottom line – could that be part of an ’S’, and could the answer be ‘Sausages’?

It does indeed seem to be the case that this was the premises of Walter Pritchard, butcher, and his two sons, Arthur and Jack, and that the family opened their business here in 1928, the sons carrying on into the 1960s. The shop front, with its elegant turquoise and cream tiles (a tiny bit of it is visible on the right-hand edge of my picture because the window extends around this side wall of the building), could well have been made for them – butchers often favoured attractive ‘hygienic’ tiles that could be wiped down with ease, though this one does not feature the animal tiles that some butchers went for.

For me, the shop has a more recent memory – it was until a few years ago a second hand bookshop, which always had a large selection of books on film and architecture. Quite a few volumes on my shelves came from here. So if some older residents think of it as ‘the old butcher’s’ and remember its sausages (for foods too are at their best local and distinctive), I remember it as a source of books about architecture. No doubt for some it has yet other associations, accruing to form the reservoir of memories that Adam Nicolson mentions.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Coventry, Warwickshire


It has become almost second nature to me to seek out the atypical buildings in places that I visit – to look for Victorian architecture in Regency Cheltenham, to find Art Deco in Georgian Bath, to keep my eyes open for the unexpected, not just the Shakespearian, in Stratford-upon-Avon. In Coventry, of course, there’s plenty to look at from the post-World War II rebuilding. But the place also has some buildings that survived the Blitz – medieval town gates, Georgian houses, and this, the former Gaumont-Palace, from the golden age of cinema.

It was opened in 1931 and its facade is very much of its time, with its moderne straight lines and a colour scheme combining off-white and eau de nil. Towards the top, there are four capital-like flourishes that bracket what look like stylized palm or lotus leaves with a pair of scrolls. This kind of detail is from the vocabulary of Egypt-influenced ornament that became ultra-fashionable in the late-1920s after the opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb and the craze for all things ancient Egyptian. Cinemas, where glamorous decoration was just the ticket, were prime sites for this sort of adornment.

The Gaumont-Palace began as a cine-variety venue. This would offer a combination of filmic and live entertainment. An evening programme of a main feature film, a second feature or B movie, and perhaps a newsreel, would be complemented by a sequence of live acts – the comedians, singers, magicians and the like that were the mainstays of the 20th-century theatrical grab-bag known as ‘variety’. Audiences would get a long and varied night out in glamorous surroundings, for a couple of shillings a head.

Like so many buildings in Coventry, the cinema was damaged during the massive air-raid of November 1940 and there was more damage in another attack the following year. But the building survived and was repaired, and continued to screen films after the war. With further modifications (including the fitting of multiple screens), it carried on as a cinema until the end of the 1990s, being converted in 2000 for the media and performing arts students of Coventry University. It is now named after that great woman of the theatre, Ellen Terry, who was born in Coventry.

Tuesday, March 12, 2024


Over the moat

This is house is another recent discovery for me in a city I thought I knew. It’s called The Fosse, ‘fosse’, meaning ditch, because it was built near the moat of Hereford Castle, itself now long gone. From the outside, at least, it’s a stunning house of 1825, attributed to the architect Sir Robert Smirke. Smirke is best known as a neoclassicist, but he was highly versatile, just as happy with Gothic or Tudor revival, and apparently comfortable whether designing a grand house or a railway station, a prison or the British Museum.

The Fosse has elements of Jacobean (the chimney stacks, the parapet with its circles, the ogee roof to the little tower). The entrance arch has a Roman feel to it. The fancy glazing bars and the conservatory are very much of their time – as, taken as a whole, is the entire mixture. There’s a lot going on architecturally, then, but the building hangs together visually, and that’s what drew me to it and drew my admiration.

Researching the house in reference books and online I came across a rather sad story about a woman who lived there, Eunice Parker, and her love for a young man called Lawrence (Larry) Wilmot, who went off to fight in World War I. He returned, but traumatized by his experience of the war – he was gassed and lost three brothers in the conflict. Apparently he was unable to marry; Eunice did not marry either and lived what must have been a sad life in The Fosse, dying in 1979. War leaves a long shadow.

Saturday, March 2, 2024


Aid for the industrious

Wondering along an unfamiliar street in Hereford, I came across this arch, looking like a Jacobean relic stranded in the modern city. A little research soon revealed that it’s neither Jacobean nor stranded. It’s actually Victorian – the Victorians revived virtually every earlier British style of architecture, Jacobean included and they knew that the flattened arch, scrolls, finials, curvaceous gable and pediment would evoke the kind of architecture popular on grand country houses and other buildings from around the year 1600.

The arch makes a grand entrance to a cemetery, and its grandeur is to commemorate a once-famous Hereford man, whose charitable works helped the city’s poor. Rev. John Venn was vicar of a parish in an impoverished part of the city. Working with his sister Emelia, he founded the Society for Aiding the Industrious. Among the Venns’ and the Society’s projects were a soup kitchen to feed the hungry, a dispensary, and allotments enabling people to grow their own food. They founded a school and a children’s home, and their initiatives to provide employment included a corn mill and a model farm.

The arch harks back to a time – the Tudor and Jacobean periods – which the Victorians saw as a period of British greatness. It was the era when British explorers laid the foundation of the empire that brought the Victorians much of their wealth. So much the better that they recognised the work of a couple who focused on helping those who accrued no wealth or power from the empire, bringing education, nourishment, useful work, and better living conditions to people who needed them most.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Lower Slaughter, Gloucestershire


Local industry

Many people visit the Cotswolds, and most of them come to see quaint limestone cottages and medieval churches, and to walk in the hills along the many waymarked footpaths, taking in stunning views of vale and hill as they go. They come for rural beauty and tranquility, but many of them end up in the most popular showcase towns and villages, from Chipping Campden to Lower Slaughter.* They find find what they’re looking for, but also sometimes what they don’t expect, like surviving evidence of past industry, from cloth-weaving to corn milling, for Cotswold sheep produced wool from which cloth was made and Cotswold people needed flour to make bread. The area is crisscrossed by fast-flowing streams that provided water power for some of these industries.

So it was at Lower Slaughter, which is mainly a stone village that also contains this former corn mill, built partly of brick. There was a corn mill here at the time of Domesday Book, drawing water power from the local stream, the River Eye. In the 18th century, the mill was rebuilt partly in brick, and at some point steam power must have taken over from water, hence the chimney. The millstones turned to grind corn into flour until 1958, when it closed, no doubt unable to compete with larger mills elsewhere. From the late 20th century until the very recently, the mill was a tourist attraction, with displays showing the history of the village and its mill and where visitors could still see the round stones that ground the corn and the other mill machinery.

Although according to online sources, corn ceased to be ground in the 1950s, I’m sure I remember visiting the mill in around 1997 or 1998 and buying a bag of flour ground there. Perhaps the flour was ground at another site belonging to the then owners? Maybe one of my readers could enlighten me. There was certainly a shop and tea room on the premises until recently.

However, the mill is now closed to tourists and its future is uncertain. But at least visitors can still see its impressive chimney and water wheel, evidence that, for centuries, there was more to the Cotswolds than agriculture and quaintness. I hope the building finds new owners who can find a use for it and preserve it.

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* The name Slaughter has no macabre origins. It comes from an Old English word for ‘wet land’.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Ewelme, Oxfordshire

Take notice

There has been a lot in the news recently about the polluted state of many of Britain’s rivers. The River Wye, for example, is undergoing an ecological crisis due to the levels of phosphates in its waters, a state of affairs that has been attributed to run-off from the many intensive poultry farms near its banks.* Other rivers have enormous amounts of untreated sewage dumped into them, because Britain’s sewerage system cannot cope with the demands placed on it by an increasing population and climate change. This is a situation that needs urgent attention.

I was reminded of this by an old sign I spotted in Ewelme, when my mind was on other things (the church, the almshouses, and so on). Its message: don’t dump things in the local river, and don’t allow anything ‘injurious to health’ to run into the water from your home or business (please click on the picture for improved legibility). I don’t know how old this sign is – I’d go for a vague estimate of something like ‘early-20th century’, though it could be older. It certainly goes back to the era of admirable hand-painted lettering, which is what drew me to it before I even read what it says. Looking at it as a piece of craftsmanship, I like its bold heading and the careful italic script of the main message. I admire the trouble people took with painted signs when there weren’t computerised versions that are easy to produce – although ease of use should not be confused with the ability to come up with a visually pleasing result.

But I’ll resist getting dewy-eyed about the past. At least since the industrial revolution, people have been large-scale polluters, and there need to be both exacting laws and proper enforcement to prevent damage to the environment. The people of Ewelme, clearly, tried hard to protect their brook. Perhaps the sign was enough to make a few local malefactors think before taking the easy way with waste material. Now we need a more national, and more hard-hitting, effort to deal with our rivers and with those who pollute them. And this needs to happen soon.

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* See for example this newspaper report.

† See this, from Surfers Against Sewage.

Monday, February 12, 2024

Ewelme, Oxfordshire


God’s House

Alice de la Pole (1404–75), granddaughter of the poet Geoffrey Chaucer and Countess of Salisbury then Duchess of Suffolk, was a member of England’s rich and powerful upper class, who had several homes. Her favourite was at Ewelme, in Oxfordshire. Her house has gone, but the church, school, and almshouse she built remain, standing in a tight cluster above the river valley where the village grew up. The almshouse is one of the most beautiful medieval domestic buildings, consisting of dwellings for 13 residents (originally all men), who, in return for their accommodation, were tasked with praying for the souls of Alice and her family, thereby easing their benefactors’ passage through Purgatory into Heaven. In other words, this foundation was a chantry. Henry VIII abolished chantries, but in this case, although the prayers for Alice’s soul ceased, the almshouses themselves remained.

The dwellings are arranged around a quadrangle, which can be entered through several doors, one close to the church, others giving access to the gardens. My first photograph shows a magnificent brick doorway, complete with stepped gable, gothic cusped arch, and buttresses. Its a grand piece of architecture, reminding one of the building’s importance to Alice de la Pole and evoking its serious purpose as a chantry, but the houses themselves, visible to the left, are architecturally quite modest.

This combination of modesty and elaboration is also seen in the quadrangle (below). Here the structure of the building is revealed as a timber framework with brick infill, with access to the individual doors via a lean-to covered cloister onto which the nearby church tower looks down. In the middle of each range is an opening leading to the central cobbled courtyard, and lovely carved wooden Gothic arches top each of these openings, an appealing bit of decoration and visual punctuation. The resulting combination of the domestic and the holy is summed up in the name of the building: God’s House. It’s worth a pilgrimage.

Saturday, February 3, 2024

Wissington, Suffolk

Emerging from the mere

Almost the first thing you see when entering the church of St Mary at Wissington* is a large wall painting of a dragon, high on the north wall. It’s dated to the 14th century and may relate to an account in a chronicle of 1405 by the monk Henry de Blaneford of St Albans Abbey. Henry tells how a dragon appeared from a mere or marshy area near Bures. It was a creature with a long body and tail, a crested head, and saw-like teeth. It was said to have killed a herd of sheep near Bures and its hard skin repelled the arrows of those who gathered to try and kill it. The chronicler goes on:

The servants of Sir Richard Waldegrave who owns the land haunted by the dragon came forth to shoot it with arrows which sprang back from its ribs as if they were metal of [or?] hard stone and from the spines of its back with a jangling as if they were hitting bronze plates, and flew far away because its skin was impenetrable. Almost the whole county was summoned to slaughter it but when it saw that it was to be shot at again, it fled into the marsh, hid in the reeds and was seen no more.

Some say that the village of Wormingford near Bures may have taken its name from the dragon or worm (the latter being an old word for a serpent or dragon).† It’s certainly true that the association of the beast with the local area has not gone away. In 2012, the Jubilee year of Queen Elizabeth II, the figure of a large dragon was cut into a hillside near Bures.

The dragon in medieval Christianity is a symbol of destructive evil, particularly the evil associated with paganism. He also represents Satan. You often find the dragon represented with St George, as part of the story in which the saint kills the evil creature. St Margaret of Antioch is another saint associated with a dragon – she escaped after being swallowed by the creature. St Michael is another dragon-slaying saint. Sometimes the dragon is seen alone as a warning against evil. The position of the creature in this painting, high up and quite near the roof, made me doubt at first that he was originally accompanied by one of the dragon-slaying saints. There is no obvious evidence of a figure near the beast, and the background of the image is confused because it seems to have been painted over an early picture. Given the legend about the Bures dragon, however, the painting carries a strong local, as well as a more general Christian, resonance.

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* Also known as Wiston

† It was originally Widermund’s or Withermund’s ford, but it’s possible that the change to Wormingford may have been due, in whole or in part, to the legend of the dragon. Ronald Blythe, who lived near Wormingford, was one advocate of the derivation from the dragon – see the excellent selection of his writings, Next to Nature (2022).

Saturday, January 27, 2024



Magic flutes

A few weeks ago I found myself talking to another author about the demise of second hand bookshops (victims of internet sales and the now-common shops that sell used books for charity) and the similar disappearance of music shops. Since we were near Oxford at the time, we spoke of a couple of music shops in the city that had disappeared. As I’d forgotten their names, my interlocutor put me right. ‘There was Taphouse’s in Magdalen street, and Russell Acott in the High Street,’ he reminded me. ‘And even a stall selling second hand records in the covered market,’ I added.

Later, I remembered that I’d actually taken some photographs of the shop front of Russell Acott’s in the High Street, because of its charming carved decoration.* How could one not taken a second, or third, look at carved musical putti blowing flutes† and playing other instruments such as the horn or the lyre? Especially when some of them are accompanied by tiny scrolls inscribed with the date of the frontage: 1912. And when they are surrounded by crisply carved foliage. And when the carver has made the putti more animated and distinctive by giving them a strong three-dimensional quality – look how the knees are set forward, the hands stick out from the surface of the carving, and the feet break out of the space between the arches.

If you’ve read this far, you’ll get the impression that I really like this kind of thing. I particularly admire the quality of the craftsmanship, the way in which the carvings fit the kind of business, the fact that this sort of thing is strictly unnecessary but the shop owner wanted their facade to be especially elegant, and the way in which the carving combines advertising with a kind of generosity – the public street was enhanced by this bit of whimsy. In my opinion, it still is.

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* This shopfront was created by Acott’s, who merged with another music business, Russell’s, in 1950. The company traded from this shop until 1998, when they moved to an out-of-town location. Russell Acott finally ceased trading in 2011, competition from online sellers meaning that when the owners retired, the business closed for good.

† Or are they piccolos?

Monday, January 22, 2024

Lavenham, Suffolk

In plain sight

Back in 2015 I read Matthew Champion’s fascinating book Medieval Graffiti and was alerted to the interesting array of ‘unofficial’ marks and inscriptions in English churches. This has inspired at least two posts on this bog – one on overlapping Vs, said to refer to the Virgin Mary (‘Virgo Virginum’, Virgin of virgns), another illustrating the outline of a human hand and some initials within a shield. A further common motif used in church graffiti is what is now widely known as the daisywheel, a series of arcs drawn within a circle, which combine to create an image resembling a six-petalled flower. When staying in Lavenham, Suffolk, just before Christmas, I was intrigued to come across such a daisywheel not in a church but on a wooden beam above a fireplace at Lavenham Guildhall.

The usual interpretation. of such marks is that they provide protection from evil spirits. In churches they are often placed near doorways or arches, suggesting that they prevent or discourage evil spirits form entering the building. Drawing a ritual protection mark above a fireplace suggests that it stops such spirits entering the building down the chimney.

Fireplaces are of course important places in a building – they’re the source of heat for comfort and cooking, of course, but in addition are focal points and symbols of the house and home, and of the people who live in the building or use it. For these reasons as well as the fact that the chimney offers a potential way in for evil forces, they’re a place to look out for protection marks in secular buildings. The famous ‘witch marks’ I have seen in a Worcestershire pub are also located in fireplaces – in this case on the hearth itself.

While the pub’s ‘witch marks’ consist of white circles made with chalk, daisywheels are usually incised into the wood or plaster. Matthew Champion suggests that they were made using the points of shears, a tool much used in the late Middle Ages when it’s thought many of these marks were made. He has tried making them with shears himself, with successful results. For centuries these marks were unregarded because they are easy to miss when one is not looking for them. Now scholars such as Champion have alerted us to their presence, more and more are being rediscovered, hiding as it were in plain sight.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Fulham High Street, London

Still going on

Writing about Hadleigh’s Coffee Tavern in my previous post brought to mind the host of buildings that owe their existence to the temperance movement of the late-19th and early-20th centuries. Coffee Taverns, ‘pubs’ selling Bovril, temperance billiards rooms. And I was reminded that more than a decade ago I’d done a post on this blog about such a building in West London. I re-read my post and thought it was interesting enough for a repost. It’s about the former temperance billiards rooms in Fulham High Street, London, and here’s what I wrote about it in 2012:

It must have been in the 1970s, when Philip Larkin’s Oxford Book of Twentieth Century English Verse came out, that I first read and was moved by a poem by P J Kavanagh called ‘The Temperance Billiards Rooms’. In it, the poet remembers how he used to walk past the Temperance Billiards Rooms with his wife, who died tragically young. Aged just 33, the poet salutes the Billiards Rooms alone. He makes the building stand for continuity, in this moving poem about carrying on after a disaster: ‘it just goes on, as I do too I notice’. But it’s also fragile (‘something so uneconomical’s sure to come down’) and so is the grieving poet. It’s a touching poem, and Kavanagh’s description of the place, ‘in red and green and brown, with porridge-coloured stucco in between and half a child’s top for a dome…it’s like a Protestant mosque!’ has a melancholy humour.

I wonder if this is Kavanagh’s building. It’s now a pub (The Temperance), is repainted a rather sorry dark grey and is offering special deals on cocktails. There’s still a dome, still bits of stucco decoration, still stained glass in red and green, still the hall to the right which must have contained the billiard tables. If it’s not the building in the poem, it’s one very like it. Designed in 1910 by Norman Evans, it was one of several such buildings, built for Temperance Billiard Halls Ltd in northern England and the suburbs of London. Their art nouveau glass and decoration, and the chance of a game of billiards, were meant to attract punters away from the temptations of the demon drink, part of a movement that began in the middle decades of the 19th century and saw a late resurgence in 1900–1910. As late as 1908 there was a bill in Parliament to reduce the number of licenses to sell alcohol and ban the employment of women in pubs, a bill that was vigorously supported by temperance campaigners, and equally loudly decried by others, especially those, such as the Barmaids’ Political Defence League, who stood up for the barmaids who were to lose their jobs. The bill was defeated in the end, and the temperance movement declined.

This billiards hall, at any rate, is still there, although the dark paint spoils what looks it had. It’s also fiendishly difficult to photograph, hemmed in by road signs, wires, aerials, railings, and continuous traffic along the Fulham High Street. The best I could do was to include one of the most interesting vehicles that went past as I stood outside, a Mercedes Benz 280SL that takes us just about back to the 1960s, when Kavanagh wrote his poem. Like him, I’m glad the building is still there, although I cannot, like the poet, say that there are, ‘for all I know men playing billiards temperately in there’.

To which I’d add that a quick look at Google Earth shows that the building still has its dark grey exterior paintwork. Although the colour is far from ideal as a replacement for the ‘porridge’ of Kavanagh’s poem, at least the new use (yes, still a pub called the Temperance, how absurdly wonderful is that?) means the building is still there. To use Kavanagh’s language, I salute the Temperance Billiards Rooms. I salute those who restore and maintain beautiful bits of machinery like the Mercedes 280SL in my photograph. And I salute those who, like the poet, have suffered a bereavement, find themselves going on, and manage to make art in the face of their loss. I’ll drink to that.

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For more about architecture and temperance, see Andrew Davison’s essay ‘”Worthy of the Cause”: The Buildings of the Temperance Movement’ in Geoff Brandwood (ed), Living, Leisure and Law (Spire Books, 2010).

For P J Kavanagh’s account of his loss, see P J Kavanagh, The Perfect Stranger (1966)

The picture at the top of this post may be a little clearer if you click on it to enlarge it.

Saturday, January 13, 2024

Hadleigh, Suffolk


Anyone for coffee?

One last post from the fascinating Suffolk town of Hadleigh, before I move on…

Having enjoyed seeing Hadleigh’s church, Deanery Tower, and Market Hall complex, we moved on to the High Street in search of a coffee, and found…the coffee tavern. This is a building of the 1670s and, when one pauses to look at it, it’s a stunner. It’s actually timber-framed, but plastered over so that the framework is not immediately obvious. The upper floor, with its magnificent row of original 17th-century windows, together with the dormered and overhanging roof, are typical of the period. The windows especially are outstanding, featuring arched central lights with elaborate leadwork and a carved head in the middle – high-class woodwork and design reminiscent of the more famous Sparrowe’s House in Ipswich. The cornice and series of dentil-like brackets helping to support the roof are impressive too.

The upper floor overhangs the ground floor slightly, and would originally have overhung more. However, in the 19th century a series of new ground-floor frontages were built under the overhang to create the shop fronts we see today. Did the building originally house shops? It may well have done, given its setting on the Hight Street, but today the structure is usually referred to as the Coffee Tavern. ‘Coffee tavern’ is a term usually used for places of refreshment set up in the late-19th century as part of the temperance movement. In an attempt to reduce the amount of alcohol consumed (drunkenness was said to lead to crime and violence), some groups set up temperance cafés, hotels, and billiard halls. Non-alcoholic drinks were served. All or part of the building was used for this purpose in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. One record from around 1900 describes both a coffee tavern and a printing office on the site. At some point the coffee tavern closed, but among the current occupiers are a printer and a coffee shop. The tradition goes on. We enjoyed both our coffee and the architecture.

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Hadleigh, Suffolk

Clinging on

I do like an old wall. Walls around the gardens of town houses, kitchen garden walls, churchyard walls, crinkle-crankle walls in orchards. A 19th-century brick wall marks the western edge of the churchyard at Hadleigh. Pleasant enough in itself, this wall seems to have offered the chance for an interesting bit of antiquarianism – two late-medieval stone doorways and some very decayed niches from the same period are incorporated into the brickwork. My photograph shows the doorway nearest to the Deanery Tower featured in my previous post. It has a later, Gothic-style door leading to the land adjacent to the tower and its stone surround is now very worn. Above the arch, one can just about make out a row of seven carved quatrefoils. The arch itself has carefully carved mouldings.

I don’t know where this bit of medieval masonry came from. Was it part of the Deanery that William Pykenham was building when he died, of which the tower is the survivor? Was it a doorway in the nearby church that was later replaced? Did it come from some other vanished structure? Who knows? But I’m glad the 19th-century builders, so often too eager to replace rather than preserve, spared this doorway and the other architectural fragments in this wall.

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Hadleigh, Suffolk


This spectacular building of 1495 overlooks the churchyard at Hadleigh, no distance at all from the Guildhall-Town Hall complex in my previous post. Where the latter is a striking timber-framed vernacular building, this gatehouse is a highly elaborate piece of architecture built by someone who wanted to assert their status. That person was William Pykenham, who held the senior ecclesiastical offices of Dean and Rector of Hadliegh and Archdeacon of Suffolk in the late-15th century. It was to be the entrance to a palatial residence which was never completed because Pakenham died shortly after the tower was built. The adjoining building is the 19th-century Deanery House.

Known as the Deanery Tower, Pykenham’s gatehouse is brick-built and the brickwork was produced with the kind of virtuoso craftsmanship that one associates with grand East Anglian buildings such as Oxburgh Hall. The lovely red brick is complemented by diaper (i.e. diamond) patterns in dark, almost black brick, running up the wall on either side of the main windows. The stand-out features of the tower are the polygonal turrets at each corner, adorned with cusped arches, quatrefoils, and very fancy battlements. There are also very showy tall chimneys with spiral brickwork in the Elizabethan style, but these are 19th-century additions. Some of the other adornments have gone – the tower is said to have borne the initials W. P. to identify its owner and carvings of fish – very likely pike – as punning symbols of the owner’s surname. All in all, although at 43 feet tall it is dwarfed by the nearby church spire, it is an outstanding architectural vanity project that wears its age well.*

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* An interesting aspect of the Deanery’s history is that a meeting held here in July 1833 led to the start of the Oxford Movement, which set the agenda for the 19th-century developments, especially in the use of ritual, that shaped the Church of England in the 19th century.