Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Monday, July 1, 2019

Amazing Grace

English Baroque architect Nicholas Hawksmoor has gotten a bad rap. His name conjures dark associations, probably due to his predilection for pagan symbols. One account dubs him a "poster boy for occultists, studious goths and historical conspiracy theorists...and 'the devil's architect.' (The Guardian, Sept. 26, 2006) There's an occult psychogeography that looks at his London churches - in a way I never will. Problem was, his lovely Christ Church, Spitalfields became associated with that nasty Jack the Ripper business, and that was that. Unless you follow the above link, and find the whole matter more dark and convoluted than my version. Then the esteemed London scholar Peter Ackroyd penned that bit of mischief, his murder mystery Hawksmoor. And there's more, but I'll let you read the Guardian article.

Pastor John Newton, reformed slave ship owner,
wrote Amazing Grace
Because I want to talk about this church. I've always wanted to see it, dramatic and idiosyncratic, yet when it appeared I was gob-smacked. Saint Mary Woolnoth, opened 1727. Today the church is dominated by newer larger structures (have a look around the Lombard Street neighbourhood), but when Hawksmoor was commissioned, he had open space to work with, older buildings having been demolished around it. This construction formed part of a plan to build 50 new churches, continuing on from the work of Christopher Wren, building 51 to replace the Gothic parish churches destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666.

The facade looms ominously above Lombard Street, the Baroque drama of the deeply channeled masonry facade out of harmony with the Classical serenity of the smooth flat-topped turrets. The classical bits - Corinthians columns, round-arches and parapet strike a different note somehow. The side view shows the facade to be a kind of false front. I've looked for descriptions of the church, to help me with this one, but haven't managed. So you'll have to content yourself with my baffled admiration.

Or visit Victor Keegan's outstanding blog London My London, for his take on St. Mary Woolnoth. I will certainly be back.
the only City church to escape WWII damage
I read somewhere

before 1900 builders removed the crypt and
installed an Underground station
Hawksmoor was apprenticed to Christopher Wren at age 18, and in the opinion of some, outshone his master. Here's a great article about these two giants of Baroque architecture in England. Hawksmoor went on to work with Baroque (think Blenheim Palace) John Vanbrugh. His name will come up again, when I reminisce about the buildings of Greenwich.

Compromise - note the Starbucks built into the wall?

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

And then THIS happened

Tattershall Castle 1430-50
It's been ages since I posted anything on Ancestral Roofs. A very good reason for this is that Den and I are just recently returned from a fifty-day holiday in England and Ireland, during which time I absorbed enough of the architectural treasures of a great number of great places that I have been struck quite dumb.

Hampton Court Palace, begun 1515 (previous visit) 

Hardwick Hall 1500s

The layers of history recounted in a single place - Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight is but one example - render my little observations about our 150 year old treasures ('borrowed' architecture, I opine) in this province just a bit lame. (But I shall persist, nonetheless.)

Hardwick Old Hall 1587-96
Carisbrooke Castle - 1200s stage
We visited loads of Tudor sites, and were spellbound at the gloomy great halls and forbidding parapets, imagining medieval intrigues at every dark turn.
more Carisbrooke - great hall and keep

But I'm going to plunge right in with one of the visits that delighted me most. This particular little house enthralled me - and I knew what was coming, having longed to see it for years. But let me put us back in time, to its arrival. England had long become used to great houses, castles and palaces. Brick, stone. Massive and solid. Not a delicate touch anywhere.

And then, this.
Queen's House, Greenwich 1616

Monday, April 8, 2019

An Appetite for History

Okay, there's more to this photo than lunch. I've been enjoying revisiting (online) dear friends in Abbotsford this week, thanks to photos I took when we were in town in April 2017. Turns out Tom especially is an old-house nut, so it was inevitable that we spend a day walking (and lunching) in historic Clayburn Village.

The cafe we're enjoying is at the Clayburn Village General Store, a delight of a place featuring good desserts, historical displays and miles of jars of olde-timey penny candy.

What endears me to the store is that it's living history, the centre of an historic village which continues full of life in a new iteration as a vibrant heritage conservation area. There's a  plan  for that.

From the Clayburn Village website I learned that the village was the first company town in B.C., built by Charles Maclure, son of John, local pioneer and Royal Engineer. The village snuggles under the edge of Sumas Mountain near Abbotsford, where it's stood since 1905 when a motherlode of  good clay for brick manufacturing was discovered.

The Clayburn Village website is another motherlode, rich with historic photographs.

Today's Clayburn village consists of the remaining half of the cottages built for brick-plant workers, the general store (this one), a 1912 church and a 1907 school, now community centre. Both are on Canada's Historic Places roll - the school here, the church at this link - should you want to read more.

The walk around was the most astounding experience. The feeling of an old village persists; a bit English village with lovely gardens and picket fences. It must be a grand spot to live. If a bit damp - you can detect moss on the store's walls. There's a highly recommended BandB if you want to try it out.

That resonance I always seek was there...imagine a field once filled as far as the eye could see with factory buildings, disappeared and replaced by grass and trees - the work of a century in fecund British Columbia coastal plains. 
a photo on the General Store wall - what used to stand on the grassy field
what remains of the Clayburn brick factory

thanks to
This historic photo shows the store with neighbouring cottages. Workmanlike, not the charming little spot we visited.

Most of the cottages are built of brick. Most were designed by Sam Maclure,  well-known architect of dozens of craftsman beauties in Victoria (there's another post coming sometime...)

Upon close inspection the bricks on several houses revealed a story. They were mill rejects - irregular shapes, some burnt, others with lumpy imperfections - called clinker bricks.

But the houses are no less charming (indeed, are more intriguing) as a result. Imagine the lives lived here.

Accountant's house

Plant manager's house

If any of these catches your eye, you can read more individual house stories on the website
renovated schoolhouse

34844 Clayburn Road, the former post office

Foreman's cottage

Start at the church, and have a wander thanks to the folks at Streetview. They had a sunnier day, but we had more fun. Thanks for the tour, Tom and Meg!

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Abby Seeing You

I love it when someone who reads the blog gets in touch with a story, or relates a connection to something I have written.

That happened this week. I had written about this handsome 1920 Craftsman Bungalow. Its name is Trethewey, and it's an Abbotsford B.C. Heritage Site. Almost immediately, friends who live in Abbotsford got in touch, and we reminisced about our visit there 2 years ago. And made plans for a return. The friends call their adopted home town Abby.

I contacted the Trethewey House Heritage website to let them know I'd been talking about them behind their back, and was delighted to get an email response. They commented on  my observation that the design was almost pattern-book Craftsman Bungalow, but having read that the builder-owner was a lumber baron, I knew that he wouldn't have availed himself of a mail-order kit, with all the wood components, joists, studwork and lumber. Turns out I was half right! Mr. Joseph Ogle Tretheway had indeed "purchased the blueprint from a Sears and Roebuck catalogue."

I did a search for 1915-1920 Sears Roebuck home plans, and the closest I could come up with, among the Edwardian Foursquares, 'olde English' styles and Cape Cods was the 'The Bandon." Maybe the good folks in Abby can provide more insights?

And the good folks at Trethewey invited us to tour on our return. Which we will endeavour to do. 2021.

Sunday, March 31, 2019


Claramount, Picton
This splendid Colonial Revival home in Picton was built (or caused to be built) by lawyer Edward Young around 1906. The architect was William Newlands, whose name appears often in Kingston architectural history. The home was named for Young's wife, Clara.

But not all houses of this grand style had such grand origins.
I have been browsing the Wikipedia entry on  Sears Catalog Homes recently, and came across their pattern for the Sears Magnolia Kit Home (sold 1918-1922.)

Funny, despite my enduring interest in the mail-order home story, and a fruitful correspondence with a researcher out west, I haven't written much about them here. Now I don't have to; should you be the least bit interested (or even not at all) a browse through their site will make you a fan. Fascinating to see the pattern and materials list for Sears' Magnolia design. An extant home in Benson North Carolina, bears a striking resemblance to lawyer Young's home, but for the substitution of a rectangular monumental portico for the curved version in Picton.
Benson, N.C. (photo from Wikipedia -(but I made my donation, Jimmy, honest)

There are loads of images on the site, and this particularly annoying local TV interview, with redemptive early photos at about  the 1:30 mark. Perhaps the fact that it's been a funeral home since 1940 accounts for its being in such good nick.

The interviewee drawled on about the irony of this vestige of the now defunct Sears company living on - as a funeral home.

And if you're the kind of person who loves looking at photos of historic interiors (and if you're reading this, I'm just guessing...) here's a link to a real estate listing in South Bend, which one of them, I'm not sure (hope it doesn't go stale too soon) featuring an as-built Sears 'Magnolia.'

Love the dining nook. I remember a high school lunch with friend Laureen, in her Picton apartment, above the family's auto dealership on Main Street - the height of urban sophistication to my farm-girl eyes. We sat in just such a nook.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Your Purlins are Showing

Trethewey! Bless you.

Yesterday I was travelling back in time to our 2017 visit to dear friends and places in B.C. I've written a few posts about the time (and the architecture to be sure.) Victoria. Here's a link to one. If you're at all interested, use the search box on the blog. It's amazingly good. I find it useful, prevents me from blathering on all over again about a favourite place. And, Vancouver. Here's one I like.

I have been thinking about what an architecture friend said recently. He's based in Peace River, Alberta, and is doing a survey of  the heritage properties in the area. The oldest is 1904.

I did note that in a post (damn, that search engine is good, searched 'Edwardian Classical' and it tactfully, without judgement, reminded me I was thinking of Melville, Saskatchewan.)

 In Ontario it is our conceit to think our few late 1700 buildings (like Fairfield House - 1793) are old, yet in the west, even the earliest of those that endure (not the indigenous architecture, or settler structures of log and frame, which dissolve eventually) are mostly from the early twentieth century.

Of course, in a week, I shall be knocked off my proud Ontario perch, when we land in England for a look-see. First stop, Chatsworth.

This is fun. I've just spent several weeks within the discipline of writing for a literate editor, who raises eyebrows at the kind of verbal wandering that I've been doing here with impunity.

 So. About this house. It's a fine Craftsman Bungalow style home, built in 1920. It's name is Trethewey House. Its builder/owner, Joseph Ogle Trethewey, owned and operated the Abbotsford Lumber Company on Mill Lake.

The house is a Heritage Abbotsford Society municipal heritage site. Their  website contains a lovely black and white photo of the family who lived well here, enjoying the garden as did we, on our early spring visit. Sadly, the house was not yet open for tours. Next time.

I'm going to save us both time, and add in a link to a post I created seven years ago (good grief) about Craftsman Bungalows. Trethewey House displays so many of the characteristic details that I might have suspected it of being a kit house from the good folks at Sears Modern Homes, were it not for the fact that Mr. Ogle didn't need to bring in lumber from anywhere else, thank you.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Storming the Battlements

This image popped up on my screen-saver slide-show just now. I'd put the photos we took during our summer of '18 peregrinations with Cousin Elaine on to 'cycle.'

The wall has a medieval feel - the efflorescence on the concrete creates an ancient effect that belies its mere 120 years of existence. And those arched openings with the grills - so evocative.

And then this monumental entrance, hidden in the shadows. A heavy cornice, blind round-headed door topped by hood mould with bosses, applied to a slanting monolith looming above? Whassis? Entrance to a mausoleum? Sheltering bank and trees lend the spot an air of the sacred.

Then there's this pylon tower with string course, topped with a dignified cornice, its massive presence somehow conjuring pylons of Egyptian monumental gateways. Strength and beauty.

What we're looking at is an "engineering achievement of national and international renown" according to Parks Canada.

beauty and function

This is, of course, the breath-taking Peterborough Lift Lock National Historic Site. The lock was completed in 1904, built of steel and concrete, built by men who worked with shovels, and operated horse-drawn equipment.

Logging which continued in the north country, and ongoing fears of  American expansionism spurred its development; the growth of post WWII recreational boating kept it going.

Courtesy Trent Valley Archives

These historic photos were taken on opening day in 1904. The Historic Places account tries to capture the wonder felt by this neatly turned out crowd: "When completed in 1904 it was the highest hydraulic lift lock ever built with a vertical lift of nearly 20 meters (65 feet) and was reputed to be the largest unreinforced concrete structure in the world."

photo used with permission. Credit: Trent Valley Archives

The website PTBO contains several more archival photos, and '15 neat facts about the construction of the Peterborough Lift Lock.' Neat. Do visit.

See the boaters peeking out from the upper chamber?
Even today, it's a marvel, and draws crowds. We were especially lucky to have time to enjoy the immaculate shady grounds and interpretive centre, then to watch a batch of holiday cruisers descend from up-river (up-Trent Severn Canal) to our vantage point under the trees.

The structure itself, with "towers, caisson pits, breastworks, two chambers and mechanical works" both visible and invisible, and the lock's operation, I leave to those who know and love things mechanical. Follow the links in this post to get the facts.

 I'm here for the aesthetics, folks. Like the park-like topography created by the construction of this marvel, which seems so serene, giving not a hint of the huge raw site of earth and water-moving this would once have been.

And like the other 'character-defining elements' including the ornamental railings and the interior finishings of the lockmaster's cabin - expect we have to take their word for it, as I doubt the tiny white tower room would be accessible to visitors (and the lockmaster's job might be one requiring intense concentration.)
the lock-master in his flag-topped cabin..
lowers them gently down..

touch-down, and down to Ashburnham

For your further enjoyment of this amazing place, here's the Ontario heritage plaque and a somewhat silly Hallowe'en video (suggest you turn the sound off) which nevertheless takes one on a rare visit inside the structure.

And thanks to Jimbo Wales, here's a history of the Trent Severn waterway. Not an easy job, it wasn't.

(all quotes from Historic

And finally: almost as good as being there. Here's a YouTube video that takes us through the locks. Gloriously uncrowded. It gets exciting at about the 11 minute mark.