Posted by: mike on Jul 4, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureHumber HeritageBlack-and-white architecture ancient and modern

45 North Bar Without, Beverley

45 North Bar Without, Beverley (detail)

Just outside Beverley’s North Bar stands a riotously decorated black-and-white revival house 4-6 North Bar Without, loaded with dormers and turrets, statues, mottoes and coats of arms, and two endearing carved caricatures of Gladstone and Disraeli, dating c1890.

This is the work of the Beverley carver James Edward Elwell, whose fine carvings can be found in churches, public buildings and houses across the East Riding.

In Beverley he executed, among much else, Sir George Gilbert Scott’s Gothic organ screen in the Minster (1878-80) and John Oldrid Scott’s reredos at St Mary’s Parish Church (1880-1).

He also provided carvings at his own house at 43 North Bar Without (Oak House) (Smith & Brodrick 1880) and the house next door, 45 North Bar Without, which he designed himself (1894).

He died in 1926 aged  ninety:  his work, much of it for the architects Temple Moore and F S Brodrick, dates from the 1880s to around 1910.

His son was Frederick William Elwell (1870-1958), a painter with a national reputation who chose to live most of his life in Beverley with his artist wife Mary Dawson, née Bishop, (1874-1952).

His portrait-subjects included King George V, whose lying-in-state he also painted, and the Earl and Countess of Strathmore, and he painted numerous civic leaders in Hull and the East Riding.  He is now most celebrated for his genre-paintings of local life, including several of the kitchen-staff at the Beverley Arms Hotel, such as ‘Preparations’ and ‘Three Maids’ (both c1940-45), which are displayed on weather-proof panels around the streets of Beverley.

By this means Beverley is embellished by the talents of both father and son.

Posted by: mike on Apr 10, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureHistoric ChesterBlack-and-white architecture ancient and modern

Chester St Michael's Row & Arcade:  1912 façade

Chester St Michael's Row & Arcade:  1910 interior

St Michael's Row and Arcade, Chester:  (top) 1912 façade;  (bottom) 1910 interior

Much of the centre of Chester is a Victorian reconstruction in the black-and-white idiom of the medieval buildings of the famous Rows [see Quaint old Rows].

It’s odd that the developer, the second Duke of Westminster, and his architect, William Lockwood (1863-????), the rugby-playing son of Thomas Lockwood (1830-1900) who had built much in the city, should have so badly miscalculated public taste when they faced St Michael’s Row and Arcade (1910) with an elaborate Beaux Arts confection of white and gold Doulton tiles, right in the middle of Bridge Street.

There was immediate uproar – from the local press, the City Council and the Bishop.

Within a year, His Grace agreed to demolish the frontage and at his own expense, around £4,000, rebuild it from row-level upwards in black-and-white revival style to fit with the streetscape.

The original Doulton ware remains within, and it is indeed elegant, but not the right style for the centre of Chester.

The Duke’s successors dramatically ignored the lesson when they conceived the gross Grosvenor Precinct in the same block in 1963-5.  No amount of tinkering has tempered its ugliness.

The 48-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Historic Chester tour, with text, photographs, and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Feb 18, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureCountry HousesBlack-and-white architecture ancient and modern

Shibden Hall

Shibden Hall, near Halifax, is one of those black-and-white country houses that was spruced up in the early nineteenth century:  Miss Anne Lister (1791-1840) vigorously modernised the place after she inherited it from her uncle in 1826.

Anne Lister’s remarkable diaries have been edited by Helen Whitbread.  The paperback edition of The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister (1791-1840) (1988;  Virago 2002) bears the strap-line, “the Dead Sea Scrolls of lesbian history”.

Anne Lister recognised her unequivocal attraction to her own sex at an early age, and determinedly lived her life according to her inclinations, flirting, taking lovers and eventually finding a life partner.

In her voluminous journal she recorded everyday events in what she called “plainhand”;  about a sixth of the four million words are encrypted (her “crypthand”) so that she could write frankly and securely about her emotions and passions for future reflection.

After her unexpected death during a journey to Russia, the diaries remained at Shibden Hall.  Anne’s ultimate heir, John Lister, and his antiquarian friend Arthur Burrell deciphered the crypthand code towards the end of the nineteenth century.

They were so shocked by the content that Burrell proposed to burn the lot.  John Lister, who apparently had secrets of his own to conceal, simply hid them behind the panelling in the Hall.

When Halifax Corporation took over the Shibden estate in 1933, the town clerk enquired about Anne Lister’s diaries and Arthur Burrell delicately suggested “someone...should be, so to speak, armed with a knowledge of what the cipher contains”.  The most suitable person, it was decided, would be the borough librarian.

So the diaries remained under lock and key for decades.  In the 1950s, two female researchers explored the crypthand passages:  one described them as “excruciatingly tedious to the modern mind... and of no historical interest whatsoever”;  the other reticently remarked that the coded content was essential to understanding Anne and her lifestyle.

In an increasingly enlightened social climate, from the 1980s onwards, Helen Whitbread systematically researched Anne’s life and journals and brought them at last to public attention.

Here is a militantly individual landed lady, known to her intimates as “Fred” and to the unfazed locals as “Gentleman Jack”, striving with difficulty and increasing success to be true to her nature.

At one point she contracts a venereal complaint indirectly from her lover’s husband, and takes a surreptitiously acquired prescription to the local pharmacist, Mr Suter.  She enquires if he is ever asked for this particular prescription and he replies, “Yes, very frequently.”

Clearly there was a great deal of private activity in Halifax in the 1820s, as there is everywhere, all the time.  We know a good deal more about it, thanks to Anne Lister and Helen Whitbread, than several generations of Halifax’s male spinsters would have dared reveal.

Visitor information about Shibden Hall is at

Posted by: mike on Feb 15, 2013

Category:Country HousesBlack-and-white architecture ancient and modern

Little Moreton Hall Long Gallery

Little Moreton Hall, Cheshire, built in stages from c1450 onwards, epitomises for many the black-and-white timbered architecture of north-west England.  Its curious bay-windows, crowding each other in a corner of the courtyard, and the famous view of its gatehouse, tottering over the moat, make it one of the most memorable Elizabethan manor houses.

The final stage, the long gallery over the gatehouse, is almost certainly an afterthought, probably built in the 1570s by John Moreton.  It defies logic, gravity and time.  Indeed, an architectural model inside the building shows where judiciously hidden modern steel joists hold it rigid.

The Elizabethans were fascinated by height in houses, and many owners built galleries and belvederes so they and their guests could take indoor exercise while admiring the gardens and the distant views from above.

Present-day visitors can still pace back and forth between two plaster reliefs, taken from Robert Recorde’s The Castle of Knowledge (1556), reminding them of “The Sp[h]eare of Destinye whose Rule is Knowledge” and, on the other hand, “The Wheele of Fortune whose Rule is Ignorance”.

Not many people realise, though, that Robert Recorde was the Welsh mathematician who first introduced, in his The Whetstone of Witte (1557), the equals sign =.

If you visit Little Moreton Hall you can astonish your companions with that little-known fact as you breeze up and down the long gallery, and if they’re not suitably impressed, add that Robert Recorde also contrived the word “zenzizenzizenzic” to represent the eighth power of a number.

Where would we be without Wikipedia?

Visitor details for Little Moreton Hall are at

Posted by: mike on Aug 22, 2012

Category:Black-and-white architecture ancient and modern

Spon Lane, Coventry (1983)

Wikipedia has a main-page feature that asks annoying “Did you know?” questions that are so specialised you’re supposed to click on the article to find out something or nothing.

Recently the question was “Did you know... that Spon Street survived the air raid that obliterated much of Coventry City Centre and is now a Conservation Area?”  Well, actually I did, for once.

Spon Street is now “Coventry’s hidden treasure” – “a unique selection of quality and niche shops... occupying a range of historic renovated medieval buildings”:

It’s also a conservation tragic-comedy.

In the early twentieth century Coventry, according to its historian, Mary Dormer Harris, had so much genuine medieval architecture it could have been the “English Nuremburg”;  J B Priestley in his English Journey (1934) commented, “you peep round a corner and see half-timbered and gabled houses that would do for the second act of the Meistersinger”.

After the Luftwaffe devastated the centre of the city in November 1940, the City Architect, Donald Gibson (1908-1991), set about destroying much of what the Germans left.

He grasped the opportunity to give the people of Coventry a splendid new city centre, spacious, clean, modern and new, aligned on an axis with the tower of the bombed Cathedral, with duplex shopping arcades based on – of all things – Chester’s Rows.

Meanwhile, a Worcester architect, F W B (Freddie) Charles (1912-2002) took a contrary approach.

He was the architect of Shrewsbury’s fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Bear Steps and a founder of the Avoncroft Museum of Historic Buildings

In Coventry he transplanted timber-framed buildings from elsewhere to join surviving structures on Spon Street, a former road into the centre severed by the inner ring-road.

7-10 Much Park Street became 163-4 Spon Street in 1970-4;  142-3 Spon Street was restored on a different-shaped site as 16 Spon Street in 1972-5;  the former Green Dragon Inn at 122-123 Much Park Street became 20-21 Spon Street after partial collapse between 1972 and 1982.  159-162 and 167-168 Spon Street were restored in situ, with new “medieval” facades in 1981-5.

So it was that some fragments of Coventry’s wealth of medieval buildings that existed in 1900 and survived 1940 were – literally – sent to Coventry.

Posted by: mike on May 4, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureBlack-and-white architecture ancient and modern

Knifesmithgate, Chesterfield

Knifesmithgate, Chesterfield

Chesterfield is mainly famous for the Crooked Spire of its medieval parish church.  Indeed, the borough motto is “Aspire”.

Its town-centre buildings would be unremarkable but for the work of the Borough Surveyor from c1904 to 1933, Major Vincent Smith.

He included in the Bill that became the Chesterfield Corporation Act of 1923 a provision for altering the building-lines in order to arcade the new shopping-streets.  This provided shelter for pedestrians and additional first-floor space for the buildings’ owners.

While admitting that members of Chesterfield Corporation had visited Chester, he flatly denied that his project meant to imitate Chester’s Rows.  He claimed the precedent of the eighteenth-century buildings on Chesterfield Market Place.

In fact, the closest similarity between Chesterfield’s 1920s shops and the black-and-white buildings of Chester is John Douglas’ Shoemakers’ Row of 1897.

So it is that Chesterfield visually resembles its near-namesake Chester, not because of Chester’s unique Rows, but of a link with a late-nineteenth century architect who was himself adapting the idea of the Rows to modern needs.

Posted by: mike on May 1, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureHistoric ChesterBlack-and-white architecture ancient and modern

1-4 Bridge Street, Chester

1-4 Bridge Street, The Cross, Chester

The city of Chester is celebrated for its black-and-white architecture, particularly the distinctive Rows, a system of split-level street frontages along the four main streets, apparently created in the thirteenth century on the remaining rubble of the Roman city of Deva.

The Rows buildings contain visible remains of medieval and older structures, making shopping a distinctive experience.  In fact much of the black-and-white architecture is Victorian or later.

As far back as the 1850s, writers in the early volumes of the Chester Archaeological Society Journal drew attention to “the rich and lively façades, the curiously carved fantastical gables, which distinguished the brief but gay rule of the Stuarts” and campaigned vigorously for their restoration.

So, when buildings such as Bishop Lloyd’s House (1615), God’s Providence House (1652) and the Leche House (late-17th century) reached the point of physical collapse, their timbers were retained and incorporated in the rebuilding.

It was ever thus.  The magnificent classical brick façade of the Booth Mansion (1700) on Watergate Street conceals considerable remains of two timber-framed medieval houses dating back to c1260-80.

A succession of local architects, beginning with Thomas Mainwaring Penson (1818-1864) and his pupil, Thomas M Lockwood (1830-1900) and dominated by John Douglas (1830-1911) and his pupils, Edward A L Ould (1852-1909) and Charles Howard Minshull (1858-1934), created modern Chester, which superficially looks like ancient Chester could have done.

The buildings which celebrated Chester on the Royal Mail 7-pence stamps for European Architectural Heritage Year in 1975 at The Cross were in fact by T M Lockwood dating from 1888 and 1892.

John Douglas in particular built much in the same style from scratch.  His Shoemakers’ Row on Northgate Street was begun in 1897.  It is beautifully detailed, with an unusually proportioned figure of Edward VII that could pass for George V.

This process of sensitive preservation continued after the Second World War, focused by Donald W Insall & Associates’ survey of 1968 and energetically monitored by the Chester Civic Trust:

Some conservation battles resulted in defeat, and Chester has its share of regrettable post-war architecture, but its ancient charm is remarkably intact, powered by an economic necessity that was obvious as far back as 1857:

But we earnestly warn our fellow-citizens, that if Chester is to maintain its far-famed celebrity as one of the “wonder cities” of England,– if the great European and Transatlantic continents are still to contribute their shoals of annual visitors to fill our hotels, and the not too plenteous coffers of our tradesmen, one course only is open to us.  We must maintain our ancient landmarks, we must preserve inviolate our city’s rare attractions,– our quaint old Rows, unique and picturesque as they certainly still are, must not be idly sacrificed at Mammon’s reckless shrine!

The 48-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Historic Chester tour, with text, photographs, and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Mar 23, 2012

Category:Life-enhancing experiencesCountry HousesBlack-and-white architecture ancient and modernVictorian architecture

Petwood, Woodhall Spa

Petwood, Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire

There is no shortage of places to eat and drink in Woodhall Spa – the Dower House Hotel [], the Golf Hotel [] and the Woodhall Spa Hotel (formerly the Eagle Lodge)[].

The most historically interesting of them all is the mock-Tudor Petwood [], built by the Baroness Grace Von Eckhardstein, daughter of the furniture-store owner Sir John Blundell Maple in 1905.

In 1910, she divorced her German husband and married Captain Archibald Weigall, grandson of the eleventh Earl of Westmorland, who served as land agent for the Earl of Londesborough’s nearby Blankney estate.

The following year they commissioned the London architect Frank Peck to extend Petwood, building a staff wing to the east on what the Horncastle News described as “an enormous scale”.

Peck’s carefully stylised modifications give this wholly twentieth-century house a “borrowed history”, suggesting a series of additions through the Tudor and Jacobean periods.  The main staircase, often attributed to Maples carpenters, is more likely the work of Peck’s foreman-carver James Wylie.  At an unknown later date – but probably not much later – the grandiose two-storey oriel-windowed entrance bay was added.

Also, mainly during 1913-4, Harold Peto was employed to design the ambitious gardens. 

In 1933 Petwood became a hotel, and during the Second World War this was the officers’ mess for 617 Squadron, the “Dam Busters”.

Now, it’s an exceptionally relaxing place to eat, drink or stay.  Indeed, you could spend a very satisfactory weekend staying at any one of the Dower House, the Golf, Petwood or the Woodhall Spa, and wandering off to have coffee, tea or a meal at each of the others.

And you could take home a picnic from the Bakery & Delicatessen at 14 Broadway (01526-352183):  they’re far too busy selling superb food to bother with a website.

The history of Petwood, successively as a house and a hotel, is detailed and illustrated in Edward Mayor, Petwood:  the remarkable story of a famous Lincolnshire hotel (Petwood 2000).

Posted by: mike on Dec 22, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureLife-enhancing experiencesCountry HousesBlack-and-white architecture ancient and modern

Edgwarebury Hotel

Branching off Station Road, in the middle of the North London suburb of Edgware, is Edgwarebury Lane, lined with elegant thirties houses.

It crosses the busy A41 Edgware Way, otherwise the Watford by-pass, where pedestrians are provided with a very grand footbridge.

North of the A41 the houses eventually give way to tennis courts and a cemetery, and the road diminishes into a bridleway, though the bridge over the M1 motorway is built to main-road dimensions.

Edgwarebury Lane then climbs steeply past the Dower House, and eventually reaches what is now the Edgwarebury Hotel.

The name, and the persistence of the route against the grain of the modern road-system, suggest that Edgwarebury must have been at least as important as the once-rural village of Edgware.

This is, of course, not a sensible or practical way of reaching the Edgwarebury Hotel.  It’s reached via Barnet Lane and the last few hundred yards of the old lane.

The hotel was originally Edgwarebury House, the residence of Sir Trevor Dawson (1866-1931), managing director of the armaments company Vickers Ltd.

As an essay in Victorian or Edwardian black-and-white revival, it has one attractive show front, looking south across a gently-sloping garden surrounded by trees and looking across to distant views of London.

Within, the major rooms are embellished with antique carved timber and stained glass.  It has all the hallmarks of a late nineteenth-century interest in collecting architectural antiques.

It served as a location for the Hammer horror film The Devil Rides Out (1968), the rather more cheerful Stardust (1974) and much else.

It’s my favourite place to stay in the London area, whenever its special deals are cheaper than Premier Inn.

I like to walk down Barnet Lane, where the local motorists often drive at absurd speeds, to the crossroads and eat at the Eastern Brasserie [0208-207-6212], which serves the sort of Indian meals where you savour every mouthful, from the popadoms at the start to the slices of orange at the finish.

It’s my favourite start-of-the-weekend-in-London experience.

The Times, March 30th 2012, reported that Corus has sold the Edgwarebury Hotel to the Laura Ashley group as a "brand showcase":

Posted by: mike on Oct 7, 2011

Category:Country HousesBlack-and-white architecture ancient and modern

Samlesbury Hall

Samlesbury Hall is only a couple of miles away from Hoghton Tower [see Jumbled chronology] and can easily be visited on the same day.  It too is a palimpsest, though its architectural significance is completely different:  the current volume of Pevsner describes it as “one of the outstanding Lancashire halls of the timber-framed variety”.

The chapel was licensed in 1420 and was probably built around that time;  the hall is of a similar date, and the south range dates from around 1545, except for the west end which is 1862.  Originally the home of the Southworth family, the hall was apparently an inn by the 1830s.

There are all sorts of fascinating details.  The traceried window in the chapel, and presumably others, were imported from Whalley Abbey after the Dissolution.

The great hall had a movable screen like the one at Rufford Old Hall, and the bizarre carved finials were later incorporated in the minstrels’ gallery.  The hall fireplace is Victorian, probably dating from 1845.  The oriel at the dais end houses a magnificent Bechstein grand piano.

A frankly modern bridge leads visitors over to ancillary buildings in the courtyard.

The place was threatened with demolition in the 1920s and was bought by a group of Blackburn businessmen who established a Trust to preserve it for public enjoyment.  As such, the building has to earn its keep.

Consequently, several rooms are given over to the sales-floor of an antiques emporium and there are regular exhibitions of art, ceramics, sculpture and jewellery.  There is a wonderfully relaxed coffee-shop, stuffed with sofas, and a restaurant.  You can hire the place for many kinds of events, from a funeral to a hog roast.

For the casual tourist the presentation experience is completely different to Hoghton.  Visitors wander at will, guided by display panels which the lady greeter made no bones about declaring were incomplete.

Is it worth paying £3.00 admission to see?  Most definitely.  But I think I’d take exception to paying £3.00 for the privilege of buying antiques.  Perhaps they knock the admission charge off the price of the chaise-longue or whatever.

I think they would in Yorkshire.

Card-carrying Friends of the Historic Houses Association are admitted free to Samlesbury Hall:  see

Posted by: mike on Feb 2, 2011

Category:Country HousesBlack-and-white architecture ancient and modern

Llangollen Plas Newydd

Among the less likely celebrities to attend the ceremonial opening of the Pontcysyllte aqueduct in November 1805 were the Lady Eleanor Butler (1739-1829) and her companion Miss Sarah Ponsonby (1755-1832), of Plas Newydd, legends within their own lifetimes as the 'Ladies of Llangollen'.

This famous and eccentric pair of friends were both of Irish ancestry but from contrasting backgrounds:  Lady Eleanor's family had lost the title Marquess of Ormonde because of their Catholic faith;  Sarah Ponsonby's family were members of the Protestant Ascendancy.

Neither woman had a particularly happy youth.  When Lady Eleanor reached the age of 39 without showing any inclination to marry, her mother tried to pack her away in a French convent.  It seems likely that Sarah Ponsonby was propositioned by a married relative, Sir William Fownes.

Despite a sixteen-year gap in their respective ages, the two formed an intense friendship and resolved to elope.  Though at first they were brought back to their respective families, the ructions were such that they were eventually allowed to leave together, with an uncertain income of £300, and after touring Wales and the Marches for nearly two years they settled in Llangollen where they rented a cottage that they renamed Plas Newydd ('New Hall').

Tended by a housekeeper, Mary Caryll, they took up a life of intended seclusion which was interrupted at regular intervals by such illuminati as the poet Anna Seward, Harriet Bowdler, editor of the expurgated Shakespeare, the great potter Josiah Wedgwood, the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Thomas De Quincey, author of Confessions of an Opium-Eater, and Sir Arthur Wellesley who in later life became the Duke of Wellington.

Not all visitors were made welcome – the ladies were not beyond hiding from unwanted guests – but they were partial to gifts of antique carved oak, and Plas Newydd to this day is encrusted with weird woodwork.

Even in those pre-Freudian times tongues wagged periodically, and the General Evening Post of July 24th 1790 carried an article entitled 'Extraordinary Female Affection' loaded with the innuendo of a modern red-top.  Harriet Bowdler, writing after their deaths in 1836, probably defined the relationship as it was lived:

True friendship is a divine and spiritual relation of minds, a union of souls, a marriage of hearts, a harmony of designs and affections, which being entered into by mutual consent, groweth up into the purest kindness and most endearing love, maintaining itself by the openest freedom, the warmest sympathy, and the closest secrecy.

Elizabeth Mavor wrote a delightful account of the Ladies' lives, The Ladies of Llangollen:  a study in romantic friendship (Penguin 1973), which is out of print, but is now available as a Kindle download:

Plas Newydd is a short walk out of Llangollen town centre:  it is administered by Denbighshire County Council [].

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