Monday, August 27, 2012

The dignified terrace

click photo to enlarge
Between about 1725 and 1735 the building speculator, John Simmons, erected a row of seven houses along the east side of Grosvenor Square, London. They were designed in such a way that the central house was larger than the others with a pediment and rusticated quoins. The house at each end of the row was also emphasised, but to a lesser extent. The result was that the terrace looked like a single, large and expensive building. This idea was then developed by the builder/architect, Edward Shepeard, on the north side of the square. His row of houses had the appearance of a fashionable, Palladian villa. At the same time, in Bath, John Wood the Elder (1704-1754) surpassed these efforts with a grand design on the north side of Queen Square. It too had a central pediment, but also a rusticated ground floor, a piano nobile emphasised by Corinthian pilasters, and embellished end blocks. It looked every bit the grand Palladian house of the sort that was appearing on country estates throughout the British Isles. This idea was expanded by Wood, his son and other architects with fine crescents and circuses, and soon such developments - long facades composed as a piece but actually subdivided into a row of dwellings - were appearing all over the country. The basic idea had been taken from Italian Renaissance designs, but these British architects made it very much their own.

Though buildings composed in this way were generally associated with prestigious developments such as those found in the London squares, humbler efforts began to appear too. In fact, as the grand terrace was adapted to a less wealthy clientele, the utilitarian, working- and middle-class terrace was often elevated to the point where the trajectories of the two forms met. I came across one such example a while ago in Long Sutton, Lincolnshire. The terrace of four houses at 22-28 Market Street were built around 1820. The composition is symmetrical with the carriage archway marking the centre point. Four arched doorways indicate the four dwellings, and it is quite obvious which windows belong to which house, with the exception of those over the central arch. Presumably the dwellings to the left and right of this are slightly larger than those at each end: the possession of four first storey windows and an extra dormer window compared with the three of the others proclaim this. Looking at the chimneys it appears that each property has a full stack and half a stack, though the leftmost gable stack has been removed.

This facade is very much a, later, middling cost, provincial essay in the terrace as a single composition. It lacks the grandeur of the examples cited above, and there is a certain awkwardness to its proportions. The first floor windows seem too squashed together to me and I'd like to see the outer doors not quite so close to the edge of the facade. In fact, I'm surprised that the main elevation wasn't visually "closed" by pilasters on the extreme left and right. It's a device that was popular at this time, is evident on a few buildings in the street (see smaller photograph), and would help here. The panelling of the doors themselves is very odd, not to say clumsy, as is their rather skimped surrounds and the inelegant fanlights above. And yet I can't help but feel that though the terrace is the work of a builder rather than an architect, the row does have a certain style, presence and interest that adds a slightly decayed, artisan grace to the street in which it stands.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 28mm
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/500
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  -0.67 EV
Image Stabilisation: On