Thursday, May 10, 2012

Wisteria doorways

click photo to enlarge
We recently had a day in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire. It happened to coincide with some of the better weather that this generally wet and windy spring has brought, with pleasanter temperatures, some sun here and there, and a welcome absence of precipitation. So, we spent quite a while walking around, enjoying the plentiful historic buildings that are to be found in the Fenland town. One of the best sequence of buildings in Wisbech is to be found on the North Brink, a street near the centre that follows the course of the River Nene. The architectural historian, Nikolaus Pevsner, called North Brink "one of the most perfect Georgian streets of England." In terms of brick-built streets I think it is possibly the very best, having quality and variety rarely seen elsewhere.

But, on the day of our visit it wasn't the totality of North Brink that caught our eye, nor was it the visual interest and delight to be found in individual buildings. Rather it was a group of doorways decorated by flowering wisteria. As we came upon, first one, then another, it seemed that an inspired owner, by planting wisteria in the small space between facade and pavement, had triggered other owners into doing the same. The main photograph shows the front of the grandest building on the street, Peckover House of c.1725. This three-storey town house of yellow brick dressed with red brick and stone had wisteria growing across most of the ground floor of the main facade, its wilful, sinuous forms contrasting with the precise control of the eighteenth century elevation.

Not too far away was No. 10, an early eighteenth century, three-storey house that was raised to four storeys in the nineteenth century, a time when the windows with their hood shades were added. Here the wisteria was squeezed into the space between a bay window and the late eighteenth century doorcase with its Roman fluted columns. Farther down the street was another fine wisteria, this time on a one of a pair of Jacobean-Gothic Revival houses of the 1850s, framing its pointed doorway and the Gothic-style panelled door.

Wisteria with its short-lived, lilac-coloured blossom and sturdy trunk and branches, is a popular choice for the adornment of the front of houses. I've posted photographs of other buildings that have made use of it - see, for example, this seventeenth century farmhouse door and facade. I've only used the plant once myself. The second house that we owned had a very unattractive garage and the wisteria that we grew up its wall helped to ameliorate its utilitarian ugliness.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 30mm
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/100
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On