Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Farndon, Cheshire

Small mercy

‘We must be thankful for small mercies,’ my mother would say, keeping her spirits up in the face of what was sometimes a hard life. Perhaps she learned such maxims in the succession of small nonconformist chapels that she attended in her youth, where the architecture – sober, dignified, but often a bit dull – could match the sermons preached within. But now and then a sermon could take off into more exciting realms of eloquence or even passion, and that’s the case too with the architecture of chapels, which can afford much more than sober appreciation.

So it is, I feel, with this example in Farndon. Its name is Chapel House and it was built in the mid-17th century as a house – for a minister, presumably – with a chapel room at the rear. Nowadays it’s a house pure and simple, but the design of its facade is neither entirely pure nor merely simple. What caught my eye of course was that curly gable, with its mixture of concave and convex curves, straight lines and steps. On the east coast of Lincolnshire this sort of thing would elicit comments about trade with the Low Countries influencing the local architecture. Here in Cheshire, there’s not that direct contact, but news travelled, as did pattern books, and someone in Farndon liked this style as much as I do.* The addition of a circular window in the attic, a dentil course across the middle, and an assertive round-headed doorway, and you have a composition that turns heads in a street of small houses. If you want a label for the style of this kind of building, it’s artisan mannerism, a fashion in which builders took motifs from more pretentious buildings (especially ones in places like Haarlem, Antwerp, and French chateaux) that they knew from pattern books and reproduced them, usually in brick.

Villages like Farndon have more spectacular buildings than this – a church, a striking pub, and a medieval bridge across the river that divides England and Wales are the kind of structures that guidebooks will direct the visitor towards. But small mercies like this building are things that also make me thankful.

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* Maybe more than one person. There’s at least one other similar gable in this village.

1 comment:

Joe Treasure said...

A delightful surprise between its more modest neighbours. I always appreciate your ease with technical terms, Phil. Artisan mannerism is a nice one.