Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Friday, December 27, 2019

My Kingdom for a Horse

Allow me a bit of levity. The following is not Ontario architectural history, to be sure. But it's been a great way to spend a quiet winter afternoon, travelling about learning about some pretty interesting spots

Last spring, we had a lovely lunch in a horse stable. Quite a posh place, in fact, one requiring booking. A fabulous suggestion by our cousin Elaine, the highlight of a day at Chatsworth, in Derbyshire. Delightful food and service. And a peek behind at the stalls on our way out. Lunch was in the vast visitor complex created from the stables built for the 4th Duke of Devonshire in 1758-66.

The stables are in the Palladian style of architecture (no barn boards for the Duke's geegees.) The horses no doubt appreciated the central clock tower supported by huge Doric columns with rusticated banding, and the monumental coat of arms. The clock itself is recorded as being a survivor from Elizabethan Chatsworth - these folk rebuilt like we repaint.

The central courtyard accommodates the outdoor cafe. Note the massive sculpture Warhorse, installed 1992, greeting the hoi polloi with his ears back, at the entrance to the courtyard, with its central fountain. His standoffish looks didn't deter kids from clambering aboard.

The Cavendish Restaurant fits into the covered 'ride', the colonnade surrounding the courtyard where horses were exercised in wet weather. Saved the grooms and stableboys a lot of work. Together with coachmen, outriders and strappers (men who saddled horses) they lived in quarters around the courtyard, sharing the space with grain storage, a blacksmith shop and shoeing space, washing box and two harness rooms.

The stables originally had stalls for 80 horses - carriage/riding/cart horses and hunters. Today, a very tempting gift shop occupies a number of the former box stalls with their original gates and grills.

There's a book. Of course. Ultimate Horse Barns. I am sore tempted, although the sole Canadian example of all this equine excess was Sir Henry Pellatt's stables at Casa Loma. I didn't capture any views of the time we visited those palatial stables, approaching via a ceramic tiled tunnel from the house (Pellatt built the tunnel as he wasn't permitted to close the street between house and stable for his exclusive use.) For an exterior look, we will all have to resort to this Streetview peek. There are some great interior views at this blog, also. And the whole story here.

Another ridiculously posh horse barn is located at Brighton Pavilion, England. As at Casa Loma, the stables are connected to the residence by a tunnel. Lots of gossip about this - a secret passage to a mistress' abode, an out of the public eye route for the increasingly corpulent king...I think it may just have been the ghastly weather.

On the subject of the chubby (oh, those poor horses) and naughty Prince of Wales (who eventually, after a long badly-behaved regency, became George IV): turns out the prince was an avid rider (and horse collector apparently, as his stables accommodated 60 horses.) A massive domed roof, 65ft high, 80ft in diameter, over the stables and central fountain was finally completed in 1805, the riding house in 1808. As at Chatsworth, the massive structure contained quarters for staff.

Today the dome is a theatre and the riding house, later Corn Exchange, is part of an arts complex housing a museum, gallery and theatres. The over the top Indian inspired architecture is quieted by exquisite volunteer-maintained Regency gardens, pathways meandering through lead visitors to the indescribable Royal Pavilion.

A fourth quite splendid horse barn,  for which we will again have to resort to others' photos, is the former stables of Government House, Sydney, Australia.  I failed to get a proper photo of the (now) Conservatorium of Music, hampered as I was with multi-lane traffic and poor light- and a bit weary after a day of walking the Royal Botanic Gardens.

The vice-regal residence overlooking Sydney harbour (built 1837-45) was designed by a British architect, which must have been a snub to the well-established architects of Sydney. It was designed in the Romantic Gothic style (other sources call it Old Colonial Gothick Picturesque) popular in the Regency era. "Castellated, crenelated and turretted" (Wikipedia) with massive Tudor windows - the only thing native about the palace was NSW sandstone. It must have rested as easily as a flying saucer on the headland overlooking Farm Cove.

The building was created to coordinate stylistically with the Greenway stables, which had been built earlier, in the era of the first Government House, in 1817. Also in the Colonial Gothick Picturesque style, the stables were based on medieval Thornbury Castle (where else would one turn for stable inspiration?) a Tudor country house in Gloucestershire. 

You'll have to turn here for images of the stables, and the story of their transformation into Sydney's first class music school, the Conservatorium. This Wiki link has loads of information, including the historic bickering that went along with the creation of the stables.

Here's a photo from Wikipedia - never quite sure, but I believe they're creative commons - and I have sent my annual cheque to Jimmy Wales. Promise to get a shot next time I'm in Sydney (sigh.)

In closing, to clear the palate if you like, are a couple of Ontario horse barns which have caught my eye over time.

These winter horses were keeping warm somewhere in Sidney township, Hastings County.

 This shed beside Bethesda church in Sophiasburgh, PEC, is a rare remaining example of a structure that would have adjoined most churches, in the days when sermons were long, and folks arrived in sleighs or wagons. The circa 1900 drive shed and church have been heritage designated by the county. The  post and beam L-shaped shed forms a kind of courtyard, which might have sheltered the waiting horses even more. Have a look.

Thanks to help from guidebooks Your Guide to Chatsworth and The Royal Pavilion Brighton, who along with many other titles contributed to massive baggage overweight, requiring two mailings home before we travelled.

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