Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Regency Research..."too much information"

Whew...just experienced living proof of the old adage "the more I learn the less I know". I've put together a wee article for a lovely local heritage paper on my favourite topic, the Regency Cottage. As I have written about this style before, for a paper for my course, a pitch to a magazine, and in several blogposts, I got stuck for awhile because a)I had written so much timeless prose on the topic that 'impossible to improve' inertia was setting in, and b) I keep reading about the style and find so many architecture experts with slightly different viewpoints about Regency so I'm reluctant to make a statement without footnoting, which results in too many words for my editor, and likely too much information for my reader.
Writing that article was a bit like making a speech instead of having a conversation, which is how I like to write, and why blogging works for me. Undisciplined I know. I'll never be a pro. I remember the feeling of intense boredom I felt once in uni when faced with the reveal of 'the' exam question on a take-home prepare-in-advance format course. "I've already written this and I can't improve on it!" And then there's my recent read of "Eats Shoots and Leaves" which has me cross-examining every comma! of the things I love about Regency cottages is that the proportions are the key to identification today, and that even in the era when they were built, there was a wide variation of style and detail. There is an overlap in what defines Regency cottage and Ontario cottage (even the names are interchangeable, according to some writers.) At the moment, I am rereading John Blumenson and Marion Macrae on the topic to part the mists.
Last night in the winter dusk of a cloudy day, I drove through the Old East Hill to take photos of three little homes with Regency roots. I found their descriptions in a local reference work in our library - Heritage Buildings East of the Moira River was published by Heritage Belleville in 1991. It was researched by my heritage friend Lois Foster and her colleagues on the HCHS Building Research team, with consulting support by Roger Grieg of ACO. It is a tattered, spiral bound locally printed work with many hand-written addenda, and it is priceless.
L: 278 Ann Street "symmetry recalls Regency cottage style of 30 years earlier"
R: 290 George Street "an excellent example of a Regency cottage". It's dated 1880, that's late for Regency.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Woodstock wanderings

With military precision, my engineer husband grasped the Woodstock Historical Walking Tour booklet and led us on a forced march in the oppressive heat and humidity of a muggy late St. John River post-rain afternoon, up and down the not insignificant hills of the first incorporated town in the province of New Brunswick. I lagged behind with my camera, placing blame for my slow pace not on the blisters forming on my heels, nor the heat, nor friendly folks who wanted to supply details about the buildings I was snapping, but on the appreciation of the classical wonders of yet another fine maritime frame house which hadn't made it into the guidebook.
Woodstock N.B. was settled by Loyalists in the late 1700's, built up along its two rivers, suffered two fires, saw its milling and industrial eras come and go, changed with the coming of the railway, and endured all the the ebbs and flows of political power common to evolving towns. It has a place in my own personal history as the hometown of a work friend met in the 70's in North Vancouver and as the location of her family's warm maritime hospitality shown to both me and my brother at various times. It is a lovely leafy front-porch kind of town.
L: Charles Connell House (1839 - National Historic Site) - Greek Revival style
R: George Connell House (1868) - reportedly Woodstock's best example of high Victorian style

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

It's a Lunenburg thing

You see it in Lunenburg Nova Scotia.
You can see some of them in nearby Mahone Bay.
I expect there are examples all around that seafaring province, as influences do tend to spread.
But I doubt you'll see it in Ontario (unless the builder were from downeast and very homesick).
What is it?
Why, the Lunenburg Bump.
As the year draws to a close, I am looking back over this year's travels with old buildings, and my mind inevitably goes to our wander through the UNESCO World Heritage Site that is Lunenburg old town. While researching on-line in preparation for the summer camp trip, I read about the Lunenburg Bump and was prepared for this practical but to my eyes rather unlovely maritime invention.
The Lunenburg Bump is "a projection from the centre of the house, over the door, comprised essentially of an enlarged, extended and overhanging dormer, most commonly of the five sided Scottish type. Cantilevered out from the wall or supported by decorative carved brackets, the Bump resembles the Oriel windows of late Gothic and Tudor architecture". I have used the words of Bill Plaskett, Development Officer, Lunenburg County District Planning Commission because, hey, he's from there, but mostly to salute the incredibly far-sighted citizens and municipal politicians who preserved and are now showcasing their built heritage to the world. Plaskett's book, Understanding Lunenburg's Architecture was published in 1979 out of a thorough five-year review of the heritage area and careful forward-thinking plans for it!
The pink house on the left above is the Morash House (1888). Plaskett concedes that it is "to some extent, top heavy from the abundance of decorative Victoriana" but comments on its picturesque symmetry, "striking and even beautiful once one accepts its essential "Bumpness"". Bumpness, I love it!
I picked up one or two other interesting facts about the well-crafted houses of Lunenburg. Not surprisingly, the houses were built in large part by shipbuilders and woodcrafters, who used the winter months to showcase their skills by creating elaborate and original homes. Some of the grand houses of ship-owners were painted in the colours of their fleet.
The influences they brought to bear are French, German, Swiss, New England and British - all these traditions show up somewhere in the nineteenth century streetscapes. Vaguely British, somewhat New England, as Alan Gowans stated in 1962, but neither. Just Lunenburg.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Regency Rescue

I'm going through all my books today, reading about Regency cottages and looking at some photos of wonderful examples of this rather elusive style. I call it elusive as Regency is a style of 'Ontario cottage' which by its very nature has disappeared over the years - unlike stalwart Georgians or simple Gothic inspired Ontario farmhouses, which are so evident across our province. Now what do I mean by elusive...I did a lot of research on the subject for an Ontario architecture course last winter and came to believe that the Regency cottage was just not practical, and lost its identity through modifications over time.
The aesthetic and the inspiration for the Regency Cottage was transplanted from sunniest parts of the Empire around the end of the Napoleonic wars: pensioned officers retired to adventure in 'the colonies' with their land grants and their sophisticated tastes. The style was inspired by the exotic tastes of the Prince Regent in England from 1811,who enjoyed a famously indulgent lifestyle while his dad George III was going spectacularly mad. The Prince Regent (who became George IV) was the fellow who redid Brighton Pavilion as his summer place - emblematic of the exhuberance and taste of the age.
The Regency cottage was romantic - it was situated on a height of land overlooking water or a picturesque landscape. The cottage was designed to allow for a flow between the indoors and the beautifully landscaped gardens. Imposing doorways of earlier styles were replaced by simpler doors and a series of French windows which opened onto verandahs with charming awning roofs and treillage. Chimneys were tall and exotic.
The typical Regency cottage profile is low to the ground, so practical features such as bedrooms were under the eaves, and kitchens and servant quarters were at basement level. The Regency cottage was simple but interior detailing was elegantly based on classical motifs.
Unfortunately, the Regency cottage was a bit of a slave to fashion, and as time went on folks tired of cramped but elegant spaces, and added wings, extra storeys and dormers which changed the look. The delicate verandahs eventually deteriorated and were unsympathetically replaced if at all. It sometimes takes a good eye to spot the Regency profile, and an informed and dedicated owner to do justice to a Regency cottage. Fortunately we have a goodly number of them in Ontario.
My prof Shannon Kyles is one of those folks. Last spring in Ancaster, she and a team of students dismantled a delightful 1840's Regency cottage slated for demolition. All of the wonderful bits that could be salvaged were carefully stored and are waiting reassembly on a new foundation on a rural property near Lake Consecon in Prince Edward County. If that house has any feelings at all they would be of eternal gratitude, like an abandoned beagle puppy adopted from the pound (though perhaps the canine metaphor would complete better with an adopted Borzoi or greyhound).
1. the archival photo of The Grove, Shannon's project is from The Governor's Road by Byers and McBurney
2. dashed Regency hopes, Hastings County

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Old Stones of Kingston

During the past few weeks, I have spent time in Kingston, while my buddy attended appointments and spent some time in the care of the good folk at KGH. Admittedly, most of the time I had with 'the old stones of Kingston' was spent driving past them looking for a *#@@##*!! parking place, but I was reminded of the richness of Kingston's built heritage and drawn to explore some of its history on my return to my study carrel at Belleville Public Library. At the moment I am browsing online resources by Jennifer McKendry while from the library I am enjoying Margaret Angus' The Old Stones of Kingston published back in 1966. I was delighted to read the following in her acknowledgements: "Anthony Adamson and Marion MacRae are responsible for my interest in architectural history but not for any errors I may have made in judgment or fact..." Ditto.

The Old Stones of Kingston salutes the buildings before 1867. Fortunately, enough of them still survived in 1966 to make the book worth the undertaking! ...and well worth seeking out through my favourite used bookseller. I am almost apprehensive about tossing the book and my camera into the back seat and heading back to Kingston to search them out today - will they still be there, solid and dour?

The house above is in old Cataraqui village - if you have old house instincts you can still feel the old village among the car dealers, mall sprawl and 6 lane commuter roads....I had to stand in the middle of a busy street in front of a Tim Horton's to get even this not very satisfactory shot of a fine old ashlar stone home (with its not so sympathetic redwood addition..)

McBurney and Byers show the above old photo of the house in Homesteads (1979). The house was reported to have been built in 1859 for William Beamish, who may have been a doctor at the penitentiary. The house was built of stone quarried in Collins Bay by convicts, through the 'prison worker contract system'. In fact, many old stones in Kingston, Portsmouth especially, were built by convict labour. The famous Church of the Good Thief is one of them. I shall return with more photos in spring when my friend Brenda and I plan a day-trip.