An Architect's Vacation



A SMART trap met us at the little station, and soon we were bowling along over hard roads, by field and farm, by village inn and moss-grown country house, by flowering hedges and daisy-sown greens; for it was the month of May, and our driving-journey through an English countryside was just beginning.

We shall not soon forget the kind hospitalities of the hosts who first received us, yet, if the truth be told, the butler and valet made more impression on our simple minds than did any other members of the household. No useless functionaries, these noiseless men ! They seized our luggage on arriving, and when, after a welcome and a cup of tea, we retired to dress for dinner, the valise had vanished, the chest of drawers held its contents, the evening suit and shirt, with stockings neatly drawn, lay on a chair, ready to be donned, and even the family photographs that accompanied us on our wanderings ornamented the dressing-table in a familiar manner. When morning came, the blinds were opened, the bath was prepared, and the timid sleeper, with one eye peeping from beneath the sheet, momentarily expected to be taken out and washed. The hall table held our coats and hats and gloves in order, when we descended; and best of all, when we went away, the whole was packed again without a word. Of course we held the usual desperate consultation as to how these paragons should be tipped ; but they only gained in our good opinion by apparently thinking that what we gave them was exactly right. Clearly, the first lesson that England taught us was to get a valet as soon as we could.

Although we were two architects traveling with sketch-book and camera, and in spite of all that art and human life have done in England to interest just such travelers, it was Nature and her handiwork that first and foremost claimed our notice and our intense enthusiasm. Coming from a land which the summer sun dries and scorches, we were always charmed by this humid, changing landscape : the ever-varying skies, now bright with sunshine, now filled with threatening clouds, anon breaking in drenching showers that called forth mackintoshes and rubbers, and then again serene and fair; the roadside turf filled with daisies ; the hedgerow, at first sweet with hawthorn, and later with wild rose and honeysuckle ; and the fields green with crops, blood-red with poppies, or glowing with clover.

“ Not a grand nature . . .
. . . All the fields
Are tied up fast with hedges, nosegay like ;
The hills are crumpled plains — the plains pastures,
And if you seek for any wilderness
You find at best a park. A nature
Tamed and grown domestic . . .
A sweet familiar nature, stealing in
As a dog might, or child, to touch your hand,
Or pluck your gown, and humbly mind you so
Of presence and affection.”

Everywhere, too, were evidences of an open-air life. Our first days were passed in a hunting-country. Every wind vane was a fox, and one side of all the main roads was finished with a soft surface for horsemen. Here and there were the brick kennels for the hunting-packs, and at Taporley the old inn has served the hunt dinner for the last one hundred years. We found Chester in the midst of a horse-fair. Hundreds of horses paraded the streets, with colored tapes and wisps of straw skillfully woven in their tails and manes, the whole scene recalling Rosa Bonheur’s familiar picture. At Alcester, where we stopped for lunch, it was market-day. The inn was full of farmers, most of whom had come in the saddle on their stout cobs, to the sale of sheep and pigs ; and while their masters stowed away beef and ale in the inn, the nags crunched their corn in the cobblepaved and brick-walled stables. The boys played cricket on the commons, and twice we came on great bowling-greens, where, in the long twilights, the villagers were playing at bowls and making wonderful twisting shots across a perfectly level circle of turf, perhaps two hundred feet in diameter. Every cottage seemed to have a cared-for garden in which old-fashioned flowers flourished. The hedges were often trimmed and cut into fanciful figures of bird and beast; while at the larger places, the lawn, the garden, and the trees received the same care as the house itself.

But if nature and the Englishman’s love of it impressed us beyond anything in our journey, nearly as noticeable were the great contrasts of wealth and poverty, of vast parks and huddled towns, of grand mansions and damp cottages. Rarely in England are people more closely crowded together than in the back and squalid parts of Chester: and then, just across the river, you pass through miles of beautiful park lands, where the pheasants and rabbits of the Duke of Westminster seem far better off than many of His fellow-citizens in the adjoining town. Near Wrexham, we drove by the high walls of Wynstay Park, the home of a well-known Welshman. Here again a beautiful piece of country, shaded by great trees, is inhabited only by deer and wild creatures ; while close to this paradise is the crowded and ugly brick-making town of Ruabon. And so throughout the country large tracts of fertile lands, where scattered houses are infrequent, alternate with crowded and huddled towns. A poor man can have no land on which to keep a cow ; an old woman tells us how her discouraged neighbors have emigrated ; no laborer is permitted to disfigure the landscape with a new home of his own : and such evidences that England is no place for a poor man are abundant.

It is resting and quieting, to us whose lot is cast in a land of progress and change, to find the shopkeeper or the farmer having no apparent wish or ambition to change his lot. Such a condition is natural, no doubt, to a society governed by the few, and in which even the Church has instilled in each man the duty of being contented in that position to which God (or his fellow-man) has called him. But to the nervous American it offers a new view of life, and a calm and peaceful one, in spite of the thought that the gain of the few is the loss to the many.

When we forget the poor man and his surroundings, there is little left in England that is not beautiful. “ Long and low ” are words that best describe the elements of English building design. The long, low walls of the cathedrals offer striking contrasts to the masses of masonry that tower above such towns as Beauvais and Amiens, while the minute entrances at Wells have little relationship with the gorgeous portals of the great French churches. Castles like Penshurst, Stokesay, and even Warwick have the same English qualities, and you look in vain among them for the snap and dash and fire of the French châteaux, such as Pierrefonds or Falaise or Azay-le-Rideau, with their conical towers and manyvaned spirelets. In the same way, also, the cottages that throughout England blend so softly and so picturesquely with the peaceful landscape have widespread, homelike roofs, and lie close to the ground, so close that you step down into most of them.

Naturally, one great interest with us was these houses, large and small; and we soon noticed with astonishment how natural barriers, like a great hill, had once caused local diversity in building, — a diversity largely continued after railroads bad made it unnecessary. Through Cheshire, timber-and-plaster farmhouses alternated with brick buildings. On leaving Shrewsbury, you cross a lofty hill and come down into the rough stone village of Much Wenlock, and so on until the crossing of another ridge brings you, at Chipping Norton and Woodstock, into towns with house fronts of cut stone, like those in France. That such an obstacle as a large Bill should make this serious variation in such a small region much astonished us.

All along our route lay castles, once the defenders of the Welsh marches, — from the big castles at Ludlow and Shrewsbury to the little one at Stokesay. The latter lay in a fertile valley, and an ancient timber-and-plaster gate-house gave access to it through a wall inclosing church and castle. The church had the ordinary square tower with mast and vane, and within, an old Jacobean gallery and pulpit, and a squire’s pew, where the high wainscoted walls were open only at an arcade surrounding the top. A wooden ceiling covered in the whole pew : in such a structure the squire could sleep soundly through the sermon, and not even the parson would know it. The castle itself had a fine keep, or tower, and a roof of large moss - grown stone slabs. Its great guest - hall was warmed by a central hearth, from which the smoke curled up to the open timber roof. A staircase of solid oak blocks led above, and in some of the rooms were remains of richly carved mantels. Ightham Mote, another mansion nearly as old, and also possessing a grand central hall, is literally surrounded by a moat filled with water, and is entered by a bridge, while the courtyard within is hemmed in by graystone walls and plaster gables.

When the need had passed of such moats and towers and halls for retainers, there came into vogue the great mansions that we see in Richardson’s and Nash’s books, some of brick and some of “ post and pan,” as the black oak and white plaster work is called. Grim wall surfaces gave way to long ranges of mullioned windows. although the widespread and scattered group of building without striking "motifs ” still kept the national long-andlow look. We saw many such mansions, and admired the cheery sparkle that the white plaster work gave to a green landscape, and the mellowness of an old brick wall set in great trees. Again, the tile roofs, or the yet more beautiful roofs of great stone slabs, assume in the wet atmosphere such varied hues, such blottedin and run-together tones, as nature never lends to art in this bright, clear land of ours. Our roofs never gain the mossy covering that lends the great charm to an English tile roof, and which is so much valued that we heard of one zealous housebuilder who had given his new walls and roofs a coat of flour paste, and the next day had a many-colored growth of mould on his tiles.

In the Elizabethan and Jacobean interiors there is much high oak wainscoting on the walls, often continuing even to the coiling itself, and the ceilings are covered with elaborate plaster work in strap or rib patterns or in modeled subjects. Even in its early days the oak was probably very dark, and the plaster work as now, either white or washed in some creamy tint. While such a contrast of black and white sounds raw, yet, with surroundings in harmony, — the great stone fireplace, the hangings of tapestry or other coarse fabrics, and the latticepaned sashes, — these rooms are the most homelike and delightful in the world, rooms that we all admire in Nash’s pages, and that possess a quiet charm to which modern decorative art seldom attains.

It is not alone the grand mansions that are suggestive. The small country and village houses are full of interest for the passer-by ; but one nearly always steps down into them, and lands on a brick or tile floor laid on the earth. For picturesque attraction, little can surpass the great buttressed chimney that serves the ingle-nook, and the brick boiler in which ale is brewed and the clothes are boiled. Lattice-panes fill the windows, and oddshaped dressers are decked with bright tins and crockery, while, whether because the climate favors flowers, or because the people are fond of them, every cottage seems to have its neat garden. Let us, however, admire, but not live in these damp and stuffy houses, as for dryness and cleanliness and health they certainly cannot stand comparison with our ugly Yankee cheap wooden cottages.

The towns and villages are full of alehouses ; cosy little places, with swinging signs of the Blue Bell, the Ship, the Mitre, and each with a snug bar and an inner kitchen, where sides of bacon hang on the ceiling beams, and the walls are lined with high-back settles, while bootjacks and tankards and pewter dishes suggest possible comfort and cheer. As we sat hastily sketching such a village kitchen, one of the two or three old gaffers watching us asked if we were detectives: because, as he said, we seemed to be “ taking it all down.” But another day brought us better luck, and our well-appointed trap surprised a zealous village shop-girl, who was supplying us with photographs, into saying, with a blush, “ Is not this Sir Charles 7emdash; ? ” a noble being, as we learned at the next village, who was then expected at his home near by.

But of all buildings that the English countryside offers for our admiration, nothing can equal the village church. We certainly never realized how generally it is to be found both rich and stately, with history built into it, with ancient monuments on its walls, and old glass and stone tracery in its windows ; with the houses of the living closely nestled around it, and the graves of the dead sleeping in its shadow. From the gray walls of these ancient temples sturdy towers rise in the hill country, while lofty spires soar high from those on the fens and the plains. At Wrexham we climbed up into the large richly decorated tower, and found the great chime of bells arranged for striking by means of hand levers, or for ringing peals by long stirrups, a man to each bell. On the walls were elaborate painted and gilded tablets, recording how, on such a date, such a party of ringers had rung so many changes in such a time, duly attested by the clerk. Most of these churches are reached by a path among the graves in the churchyard, which is often surrounded by a wall, and entered through a picturesque lych gate. Nearly always the ground level is considerably above the church floor, suggestive of the ages through which it has received the village dead ; but generally the churchyard is neatly cared for, and children play among the old stones, and call to one another with the voices that in both women and children we so often noticed as musical and sweet.

We shall long remember our Sunday in Ludlow. The closely peopled hill on which the town stands is flanked by a great Edwardian castle, and crowned by the high tower of the church. Early in the morning we were wakened by the chimes that, ringing merrily at that lofty height, made a rippling melody audible far up the river valley. We breakfasted in the old Jacobean coffee-room, and then the town seemed with one accord to go to service. The mayor and council met at the market-house in their robes of office, and, with the mace carried before them by the clerk, walked to church and sat together in the state seats. The pretty maid who had served our breakfast hastened away after them, and so did the landlord. So also did the dissenting-anglers with whom we had breakfasted, and so in turn we wanderers from remote shores followed them and the rest, of the town. The little surpliced choirboys threw their youthful spirits into the chants, and their voices rang most cheerily in the stone vaults of the tower, while the large congregation took up their part of the service as if they had as much to do with it as the clergyman. It seemed as if such surroundings would arouse the dullest preacher, but ours was probably more inured to the influences of the old church than we were. In spite, however, of his wearying platitudes and dogmas, it was most certainly divine worship that we joined in on that Sunday morning; and for all we saw, it was with all the town folk, and at the only church.

While we had often heard that Chumley as a family name was spelt Cholmondeley, we never expected to be bearers of a letter with that odd address. We hated to part with it at the great gate of a country-seat which may stand as the type of the remembrances that our journey left with us. From the lodge a sweeping avenue drove up to the fore court of a grand symmetrical stone house of the Elizabethan period, with great ranges of mullioned windows, and terraced walls, and balustrades of a semiItalian character. Towards this entrance side of the house all the halls and corridors opened ; while on the other, or lawn side, were ranges of rooms opening by mullioned windows to stone terraces, and to a view over a widespread lawn. The lofty rooms had stone fireplaces, and paneled wainscots, and modeled ceilings, somewhat too much “ done up ” in modern times, perhaps, but still in good historical character. In the upper stories, beside the family apartments, were long ranges of visitors’ bedrooms, with a little holder on each door for the occupant’s card. After we had studied the interior of the mansion, and after we had disposed of the grand lady who, as housekeeper, had done us the honors, but who was not above receiving the queen’s money, we found our way through the intervening hedge, and were in the adjoining churchyard with the old graves and the crosses and the sun-dial. Like most of the churches we saw, this was of a late Gothic period, and within it were many family monuments : here a statue of a British officer on his knees holding aloft the hilt of his sword as a cross; there a recumbent alabaster statue of a lovely young wife. The church is backed by heavy dark trees ; beyond the churchyard gate are the sparkling white gables of an old oak-and-plaster house; while over the moss-grown cottage roof proudly stalked a peacock with tail widespread.

An ancestral mansion with stately rooms, and lawns and terraces and gardens ; a cosy farmhouse embowered in trees, with the peacock sunning himself on the roof; an ancient village church ; a peaceful yew-sliaded churchyard ; the tombs of rich and poor for generations ; the sun-dial that has cast its shadow so many quiet centuries ; the rich, pleasant voices of the few passing villagers, — such are the peaceful memories of our holiday in England.

Robert Swain Peabody.