Old Manor House, Aldbury (Hertfordshire)

Despite its current name, the Old Manor House in Aldbury never was a manor house in the strict, legal sense of the term. Nonetheless, it is a handsome enough building, dating from the Tudor period. It was constructed around 1500 and presumably belonged to the demesne of Aldbury manor. Most likely it was built either for the Russell family, who were its tenants from 1495 onwards, or for Henry Winch, who held the lease of the manor at the time. A substantial extension was added on the north side in the mid-seventeenth century, resulting in an L-shaped floor plan. This was done by one Bennet Winch, whose initials appear on one of the chimneys, before 1663.

The eastern facade, overlooking the street and the still extant village pond, is determined by a simple timber frame structure with red brick infill. On two bays of the northern extension, however, the infills are plastered; with their ‘striped’ black and white look they stand out from the rest of the brick-dominated front, giving a certain pleasing irregularity to the building’s appearance. All in all, the impression is a rather picturesque one, and I must admit, the Old Manor House in Aldbury seems to me a perfect example of the kind of quintessentially English village architecture one is wont to see on Midsomer Murders. And sure enough, while I was researching the building’s history, I learned that it has indeed been featured in said TV show, and even quite early on, in the second episode of the series. I think it’s a nice coincidence that it has now also become the subject of the second post on this blog…


Hargrave Mansions, London

I recently moved to Archway, in the London Borough of Islington. Perhaps the first piece of architecture to catch my attention in my new neighbourhood was this row of uniform terraced houses, called Hargrave Mansions, on the south side of Hargrave Road.* When I first glimpsed them from the corner of Holloway Road, I was immediately intrigued by the contrast between red brick walls and the white of window frames and parapets. While this combination is rather typical for late Victorian and Edwardian houses, it seemed strangely highlighted here by the clear, simple lines of the facades, culminating in an uninterrupted line of parapets hiding the flat roofs.

There is a stark simplicity to this row of buildings which I find immensely pleasing – and reminiscent both of Modernist and Regency architecture. But, as it turns out, Hargrave Mansions were in fact built in the Edwardian period, i.e. in the first decade of the 20th century. As in other parts of north London, major housing developments in Archway were only undertaken in the second half of the 19th century, and the south side of Hargrave Road was one of the last stretches of land in the area to be developed. I’m not sure in which year exactly the construction of the terraced houses was begun, but it must have been completed by 1910, when they were advertised for rent in The Solicitors’ Journal and Weekly Reporter as “Ten blocks of well-planned Residential Flats, each block containing six self-contained suites.”

The front of each block has three bays, the central bay being slightly recessed, as are the narrow strips of wall joining the blocks together. This gives an interesting three-dimensional quality to the otherwise mostly flat facade – only the door frames, window sills and roof cornices protrude from the unadorned brick walls. Both the window mullions and the pilasters framing the doorways are rendered in a plain neoclassical style which is indeed reminiscent of the Regency era. It would probably not be amiss, therefore, to define Hargrave Mansions as an example of Neo-Georgian architecture – a style enjoying considerable popularity during the first decades of the 20th century, aiming to reproduce the classicist simplicity of the Regency period. But, truth be told, I find it difficult to put a label on this row of houses – or perhaps I’m just unwilling to do so. The thing is, as an art historian, putting a defining label on a piece of art or architecture often gives me a feeling of having solved a puzzle, and this can sometimes tempt me to consider the case closed and move on. But moving on is the last thing I want to do: On the contrary, I have an inkling I’ll at least cast a glance at these buildings from the corner of Holloway Road every single time I walk up to Archway Station…

* Named after the Hargrave family who used to own the land in this area from the 17th century onwards.