Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Tett Intensive II - St. Helen's

...I was sneaking at first, expecting a challenge, then boldly, as I recognized this was 'my' property too, as a  citizen of Canada, and clearly I meant no harm. From my contemplation of the low limestone building (might these have been the Morton Distillery stables?) I turned my steps uphill toward King Street West, along an unused driveway, and everything changed. First, the stone building I'd viewed from the Tett Center parking lot revealed an elegant facade with a lovely elliptical fanlit doorcase; it was labelled the 'Morton House' but is actually called Grant House (aka Building # 10) in this document . I wonder if the simple yet stylish limestone building now overwhelmed by parking lots was the family's first house?

(Morton's biography was fascinating- one of those c19 giants of industry, in those booming, risk-tolerant days. This link to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography entry reveals a business collection with Isaac Buchanan of Auchmar, Hamilton, another visionary.)

To my left opened an expanse of dessicated lawn, bordered by no fence, posted by no unfriendly signage. A low yellowish stucco building appeared, displaying neo-classical affectations and fine chimney. It was labelled the Red Cross Lodge.

I gave the building less time than it probably deserved, as I was drawn toward a large slightly down at the heels stucco yellow house gracing the crest of the slope, the very hill I had recently  navigated down and back up, next door at the Tett Centre, for coffee at the Juniper cafe, enjoyed from my perch in a lakeside Muskoka chair.
awning roof and treillage, basement kitchen, stucco over brick

I  noted Regency details in an overgrown verandah, and was gob-smacked when I crept around to the southern elevation to find full Regency Villa grandeur overlooking the lake. This was St. Helen's, the home purchased in 1858 by distillery/brewery owner James Morton as home for his family, and christened Mortonwood. A classic 'Picturesque Regency' dwelling, it's featured in Janet Wright's 'Architecture of the Picturesque in Canada' (1984, Parks Canada.) She enthused: "St. Helen's was one of the finest products of the retreat into the suburbs which became the fashionable practice for wealthy Kingstonians during the 1830s." p.97

 Kingston notables William Coverdale and William Newlands and sons are listed as builders on the Federal heritage designation.  The house was built in several stages, which may explain so much talent being employed.

grand chimneys, cantilevered eaves, portico, French doors

Not that it's immediately apparent, but the second storey at the west side of the house (with the delightful oriel window) is said to have been added by a later owner, Edward Pense, sometime after 1907.

The monumental portico was added by Morton, according to one article I came across. I am still struggling with the portico appearing before the second storey; I expect it was a simpler awning roofed type in that iteration?
The Regency relationship between the house and its surroundings is a delight, even now when landscaping is strictly budget. Left, the oriel window, and the view from it.
Another later addition to Morton's house is the porte cochere on the King Street side; it was built by Robert Barrow, who bought the house when James Morton went backrupt, around 1864.

Sadly I didn't get a photo of the wonderful ironwork fence along the street. Here's what Streetview saw

Here's the full 1988 Parks Canada designation statement. The document provides loads of facts; it'll be up to me to provide the emotion. For starters, their name for the house is 'Building No. 1, or the Main Building' of the St. Helen's Complex.' It's a 'Classified Federal Heritage Building, ' sitting unused, but bless 'em, not fenced off, so that someone like me can pop by to show it some love.

Sadly, in that 'dog in the manger' way the Gov. has, the building is unused, but falling into disrepair. I have found some reference to a proposed residential development in the property between the house and lake, which would destroy the Regency setting, but would help the old girl pay the bills. (I think of Brockville's Fulford Place; if you didn't have a feel for these things, you might not recognize that the property once extended to the water's edge and the posh boat-house on the river front.) Anyway, not to be self-righteous, this sort of Federal/Municipal dance is a slow one indeed.

St. Helen's (named for the wife of the original builder.....) The house and property are still SO beautiful, all the Regency values of setting and the blending of built and natural elements, the flow from indoors to out, the view, the trees - all a bit unkempt, but breathtakingly beautiful

Also on the property is the Red Cross Lodge. Clad in matching yellow stucco. I overlooked it at first, but its matching colours and classical detailing called me back. Here's its Historic Places listing; expect it was a domestic outbuilding of some sort - before it too saw war service.

Watch this space. Here's another of Kingston's Federal Correctional Services properties in limbo, untouched - in both good and bad ways. The fabric remains, still restorable with great dedication and dollars. But time is passing. What will the future hold for this lovely spot? *

*I've quoted the most excellent blog Spectres of Kingston Past on this site before. Blogger Francesca Brzezicki posted only from 2014-16 (she mentioned she was a student,so perhaps that phase ended?) but there's lots to enjoy. Her post dated July 2014, entitled "What's up with St. Helen's?" has some great photos. Her December 2014 update mentions that St. Helen's property was vacant for three years - now at 8 by my reckoning.

**This 2015 City of Kingston Report to Council reveals that the Government has declared it surplus. Haven't found anything online to give hope. Have you?

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Tett Intensive

Recently, while dear one was enjoying day surgery at KGH, I had an opportunity to explore a location along King Street that had been calling to me for ages. The J.K. Tett Centre and Isobel Bader theatre complex was created, not without difficulty, over a number of recent years out of a former brewery complex, on a beautifully treed sloping property right on the lake. As I began to take in my surroundings, a delightful staffer invited me to one of their Friday tours of the centre and theatre, but alas there wasn't time.

The buildings' connection with the arts is a long one. This undated, but pre-2014 Kingston Life article gives the background, and (happily) correctly anticipates today's beautiful complex. Here's the story again, in the Tett's own words.

 What intrigued me most, of course, was the built heritage - the history of the site, and the harmonious way that modernist aluminum structures were married with two hundred year old limestone.

The creators of this environment honoured the history in another way - a delightful book, the mother of all board books, stood at the entrance to the centre, inviting a browse. Historical photos, copies of paintings and plans...all my questions answered.  Here's a link to more history in case my ramblings here don't answer all of yours.

 The cultural complex was created out of a moribund collection of Federal heritage places, consigned like so many of them to limbo, with neither the will or money for maintenance or restoration, nor the imagination for adaptive reuse. Does Inverarden leap to mind? I mused about the inertia around that significant property last December - haven't heard any reports of progress from my Cornwall contact.
The limestone buildings on which this vision is built were the Kingston Brewery and Distillery, owned and operated by James Morton in the brewery boom years of the 1840s to 60s. Morton built a huge establishment, with a malt house, housing for workers, a stable. He purchased St. Helen's, the stately home next door to his operations, a rural property built by a mayor of Kingston, who found out to his chagrin that living out of town disqualified him for office.

Morton renamed the house Mortonwood; it's still standing. Just imagine when King Street West was out of town, home of other country villas like Bellevue House.

After the boom days for Morton's business (and for the city), the buildings stood empty until the First World War made it feasible to fully use the complex again - this time as a military hospital.
Perhaps, as a small tribute to the great suffering of the war's casualties, this peaceful and creative spot serves.

The little village that could...and did

 It's all about this house. Well, technically, it's about an artist's representation of this house in historic Queensborough. It sits across the road from the oft-painted millpond (indeed a painting was underway the day we visited.) But it's A.Y.Jackson's painting of this little Ontario farmhouse with its peaked Gothic gable, which created the buzz at Historic Queensborough Day last Saturday. The  painting, generously loaned by its owner, was the centrepiece of an art show featuring close to a hundred works portraying the village and its quiet beauty, at the restored Orange Hall in the hamlet.

Oh, yes, for a sleepy little spot, there is a great deal of buzz in Queensborough.

Katherine Sedgewick, one of the amazing volunteers for the day, whose promotion of the event spanned the globe (this post in her Meanwile at the Manse blog contains scads of history about Q'boro's artistic past) explained that Jackson's point of view was somewhere near the bridge; with his back to the millpond he painted this house and the shed beside it (gone now) and a view deeper into the hamlet.

 It took a visit to the hall, and a wander - Q'boro invites meandering - to orient myself within the painting.

 Visitors to this blog will know that I have a special affection for the hamlet of Queensborough, north of Highway 7, above Madoc, in Hastings County. I also have a special affection for the people there - two of whom I am pleased to call friends, and many other friends whom I haven't even met yet. You'll feel the same when your venture to the picturesque historic spot, because it is a friendly village, and a much 'improved one', sharing the love that the locals have for it.

I wrote about the early days of the Orange Hall revival, after I visited in 2017. This post also provides a link to Katherine's more detailed history  and its renaissance. Enough to say that it was a perfect venue for the art show - have no photos to show you as there were such crowds that a vantage point could not be found!

home of the daughter of the Manse
 I've written about Queensborough and its renaissance several times on 'ancestral roofs'.' Here's one; for the others you'll have to use the handy search engine on the blog. And if my enthusiasm doesn't influence you, I suggest you visit the delightful blog Meanwhile at the Manse, written by Katherine, who is a daughter of the manse (she'll tell you the story) which is bound to win you over.

 For the rest, I leave you to wander at will. During my wander last Saturday, I was taken by the general friendliness of the place- visitors clearly absorbing the Queensborough mood. Smiles blossomed into conversations, groups forming and dissolving as we walked around, admiring, photographing, reminiscing about the way things were.

And just where a weary body needs one, a bench, in the shade, flanked by bright planters, a spot to watch the falls and the pond, and just BE.
best travelling companion

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Definitely not Coronation Street

Victoria Park adjoins Bath's Royal Crescent's private lawn
I'm browsing a book on town house architecture, the eponymous Town House Architecture by David Eveleigh, which I picked up in Bath. At Royal Crescent, actually. It's a fascinating history of the growth of urban architecture. The writer travels through architectural periods from Georgian to WWII, exploring the changes in taste and design, for both detached and terrace housing.

My special interest is in the terrace or 'townhouse' form characterized by rows, squares, crescents and circles of conjoined residences. Cities like London, Bristol and Bath still have them, in magnificent numbers.

23 Ewart Street
These 'townhouses', as we call them in most of the world (not UK) remind us of the common roots shared by posh addresses like Bath's Royal Crescent and working class terraces (row houses) like Ewart Street, Lincoln, where Den grew up.

view from the gravel walk, the short cut to the Baths
 I'm not going to impart too much town house lore at the moment (particularly as I haven't yet read the book.) Suffice to say that Eveleigh places the beginnings of this urban residential concept at the 1630s in England, with a Covent Garden square designed by Inigo Jones, Surveyor General to the King, no less. Bound to take off. Real estate developers and speculators loved them. People of fashion gravitated to these new "socially exclusive suburbs." (The hoi-polloi were relegated to their own residential developments, cheek by jowl with their tanneries, shops and mines. Here's a photo gallery. Feast your eyes and get indigestion. Shades of  Frank McCourt's Limerick. )

The third reason for the significance of the 'townhouse' (and to me, most intriguing) was the architecture.

Inigo Jones, as you might know if you've been paying attention to my meagre UK offerings (Jones designed the Queen's House at Greenwich), overturned old style timber frame building (eg. at left) with a bright new "style derived from Renaissance reinterpretation of the ancient architecture of Greece and Rome." (Eveleigh, p.6) Typically called 'Classical' or 'Palladian' (I've certainly gone on about that in past posts, try out the AR Search function if you're at all curious), this architecture spoke "with an Italian accent." (Eveleigh again, sigh.)

Georgian Palladian features - gigantic pilasters with Ionic capitals, the harmony of proportions, strict formulas for the placement and size of windows (note the shorter windows of the 'lesser' top level),  rusticated first (below ground) level, a balustrade concealing roof elements, pediments, regularity and symmetry.

the stately rhythm of 114 giant (47') Ionic columns
This is the Royal Crescent at Bath, a Georgian crescent of thirty terraced houses in the majestic Palladian style, designed by John Wood, the Younger and built 1767-74. I've visited once before, but this time, got to spend several days in its regal presence. The visit was made splendid by the travels of a generous sun  lighting the Bath stone, by several enjoyable hours in Royal Victoria Park in front of the Crescent, yet separated from the masses by a ha-ha (bet you'll look that up. Here's a source.) Royal Victoria Park was opened by Princess Victoria when she was 11, and is the first to  have her name. Then there was the Bath Preservation Trust museum house at No. 1 Royal Crescent, when  I wandered mute with wonder, through the rooms. See my previous post - and the most welcome visitor in the comments.

The crescents and circuses of Bath and other fashionable Georgian towns were built by developers and speculators to attract the nation's upcoming upper middle class, who wanted some of the airs of the country houses of the wealthy and titled, without the bills.

pedimented entrance to left pavilion
 The terraces were often rented for 'the season', or taking the waters (Bath, of course, was all about the Roman baths and the water's healing powers, and the attendant cultural and social events.)
a tricky property to capture in its entirety - stand back, way back
Here's more history, if you're so inclined. I love this writer's comment about 'vestigial Blenheim.' Although the minor gentry to whom Woods was catering did not inherit vast country estates like the Churchills  they still aspired to some of the style. Large town-houses would have to do - the presence of the larger end 'units' or pavilions of bright Bath stone contributed the cachet of a Blenheim.
The Ha-ha, taken from the gentleman's bedroom window
I've enjoyed plowing through a number of Royal Crescent history sites. One of the most surprising facts, given the august classical regularity of the Palladian fronts, is the back-story of the leases for the units. Buyers were required to maintain the exterior symmetry, but were free to individualize interior layouts, roof treatments, and the more prosaic rear elevations which led to the expression 'Queen Anne fronts and Mary-Ann backs.' . If you trace our steps up Marlborough Road, keeping the left pavilion to your right, away from Victoria Park, this Streetview peek at the rear elevations of the gives a sense of the rugged individualism at play.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Blogger below stairs

 Due to the exceptional online skills of our darling niece Nicky (and maybe because the universe felt we needed a break) we managed to obtain lodgings on Upper Church Street, Bath, over a summery-hot Easter weekend. Upper Church Street abuts the right end of the arc of  Bath's iconic Royal Crescent.

our address was in the terrace at centre

My guy elected to spend an office day online at our lodgings, so I was free to spend hours across the street at the Georgian house museum at No.1 Royal Crescent, A wonderful wee video on the museum website captures the house wonderfully; but I took several hours longer. (couldn't link it directly - it's the 1:43 minute Vimeo at left of your screen.)

servants' stairs at No.1 Royal Terrace
 From the window of the servants' staircase (the area of grand houses which intrigues me most) I was able to look out from the museum house and see our row of Georgian townhouses along Upper Church Street.

As I wandered the below stairs area of the museum house, I saw what our AirBnB suite had once looked like. Uncanny.

The kitchens at No.1 Royal Crescent are recreated to show the harried daily life for the below stairs folks - without whom the refined life upstairs would not have run so smoothly.

Notice the niches which once likely contained fireplaces; they've been modernized with cast iron stoves.

warm work in winter, unbearable in summer?

above you looms the crescent

 Doors from the below stairs areas (which included the housekeeper's domain) open onto a below-ground terrace of sorts. It was accessed by stairs from street level, so the servants' comings and goings, and the delivery of goods, would not disturb the serenity above stairs.

On my return to our accommodations, I noted all the Georgian conventions at work here. But we got to enjoy the cool below ground suite, with none of the toil.

our window on the Upper Church St. world...
...and the way we got there

at least Georgian townhouses had light on lower levels
from our comfy bed, we admire former cooking niches

 In Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen puts these words into impressionable Catherine's mouth: "I really believe I shall always be talking of Bath, when I am home again - I do like it so very much."

Well, I'm considerably older and a bit more cynical, but I concur.