A Curious Case of Gothic in Falkland

Posted by Peter Lindfield on November 25, 2015 in Blog, Peter Lindfield tagged with

It is rather appropriate that my post for November explores an unusual and little-known building in the history of the Gothic Revival close to my alma mater, St Andrews, given that I drove past the building this week. The building in question, today known as Maspie House Gallery, has had a colourful history: originally constructed in 1819 by Falkland’s Provost Francis Deas, it later became a Post Office, then a private residence and in 2014 an art gallery. Unassuming as the house’s façade may be, it is evidence of the role and influence that architectural pattern-books had in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Britain, even in remote parts of Fife.

Maspite House, Falkland © Peter Lindfield

Maspite House, Falkland © Peter Lindfield.

The embattled roofline and Tudor labelled windows of Maspie House, as unusual as they are on Georgian houses on Falkland’s High Street, are perfectly at home on Gothic Revival houses of the time and correlate with the crenulations on the adjacent Falkland Palace (a Stuart hunting lodge redeveloped largely in the sixteenth century).

Falkland Palace. © Peter Lindfield

Falkland Palace. © Peter Lindfield

It is the house’s two identical door cases on the High Street façade, however, that are remarkable manifestations of the work of Batty Langley, who in 1741 and 1742 issued the first Gothic Revival pattern-book: Ancient Architecture: Restored, and Improved by a Great Variety of Grand and Useful Designs, Entirely New in the Gothick Mode. This pattern-book, including a spurious treatise on medieval architecture together with a more rigorous and factual catalogue of medieval architecture, included plates for doorcases (termed frontispieces), windows, umbrellos (garden canopies), and larger garden structures (pavilions). The pattern-book was re-issued in 1747 under the revised title of Gothic Architecture Improved by Rules and Proportions in Many Grand Designs of Columns, Doors, Windows, Chimney-Pieces, Arcades, Colonades, Porticos, Umbrellos, Temples and Pavillions, &c., with Plans, Elevations and Profiles; Geometrically Explained, and posthumously reprinted c.1790. Langley’s plates, consequently, were readily available — the 1790s edition being available at London’s well-known architectural bookshop (‘library’).

Magpie House Doorcase. © Peter Lindfield

Magpie House Doorcase. © Peter Lindfield.

The Maspie House doorcases do not reproduce one of Langley’s designs verbatim, however elements are taken from the following plates: I, The First Order; VIII, The Gothic Entablature and Capital for Order III; and XXVII, Eleventh Frontispiece. The entablature’s frieze (Gothic triglyphs alternating with encircled quatrefoils) is derived from Plates I and XXVII (particularly for the floral ornament within the quatrefoil from XXVII), the clustered columns, less shaft rings, are modelled upon those on Plate XXVII, and the Gothic capitals are taken from Plate VIII.

Batty Langley, Ancient Architecture (1741–2), Plate I, The First Gothic Order. © author's collection

Batty Langley, Ancient Architecture (1741–2), Plate I, The First Gothic Order. Author’s collection.

 

Batty Langley, Ancient Architecture (1741–2), Plate VIII, The Gothic Entablature and Capital for Order III. © author's collection

Batty Langley, Ancient Architecture (1741–2), Plate VIII, The Gothic Entablature and Capital for Order III. Author’s collection.

 

Batty Langley, Ancient Architecture (1741–2), Plate XXVII, Eleventh Frontispiece. © author's collection

Batty Langley, Ancient Architecture (1741–2), Plate XXVII, Eleventh Frontispiece. Author’s collection.

 

This mixture suggests a certain discernment on the part of the architect-designer instead of simply reproducing a design whole — which was certainly possible given Plate XXVII could have served readily as the model. Indeed, some of Langley’s designs have been built exactly as published, including the Gothic Temple at Bramham Park, Leeds, c.1750, which reproduces almost exactly Plate LVII, Gothic Temple in Langley’s pattern-book, or the chimneypiece in Shobdon Church, Herefordshire, c.1755, inserted into the Bateman family pew (south ‘transept’) based upon Langley’s Plate XLIII, Chimney Piece. The designer of Maspie House, therefore, engaged with the patterns beyond simply imitation, and reveals even the most notorious work of the Gothic Revival had a broad influence. This appropriation of Langleyian Gothic is highly appropriate given one of Langley’s innovative contributions to the Gothic Revival — the creation of Gothic Orders in imitation of Classical architecture’s five orders — resonates with Falkland Palace’s progressive adoption of Classical columns.

 

Bramham Park Gothic Temple. © Paul Brooker

Bramham Park Gothic Temple. © Paul Brooker.

 

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Batty Langley, Ancient Architecture (1741–2), Plate LVII, Gothic Temple. Author’s collection.

 

Gothic chimneypiece, Shobdon Church. © Peter Lindfield.

Gothic chimneypiece, Shobdon Church. © Peter Lindfield.

 

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Batty Langley, Ancient Architecture (1741–2), Plate XLIII, Chimney Piece. Author’s collection.

 

Maspie House, therefore, slots into a broad and well established canon of criticism levelled at Langley’s Gothic designs, and the influence they had over Georgian design broadly. In his Anecdotes of Painting, Horace Walpole (1717–97), the famous supporter of Gothic architecture in the Georgian period who also constructed a Gothic villa, Strawberry Hill, Twickenham, c.1750–80, condemns Langley:

 

I must mention a barbarous architect before I come to the luminaries of the science. This was BATTY LANGLEY, who endeavored to adapt Gothic architecture to Roman measures; [he] invented five orders for that style. All that his books achieved, has been to teach carpenters to massacre that venerable species, and to give occasion to those who know nothing of the matter, and who mistake his clumsy efforts for real imitations, to censure the productions of our ancestors (Horace Walpole, Anecdotes of Painting in England; with Some Account of the Principal Artists; and Notes on Other Arts; Collected by G. Vertue, and Now Digested from His MSS, IV (Strawberry Hill, 1762), pp. 106–7).

 

And 1872, Charles Locke Eastlake (1833–1906), the first notable historian of the Gothic Revival, reinforced this by then long-standing disapproval of Langley’s Gothic:

 

Gothic architecture has had its vicissitudes in this country. There was a time when its principles were universally recognised; there was a time when they were neglected or forgotten. But in the days of its lowest degradation, it may be questioned whether it would not have been better that the cause should have remained unexposed than have been sustained by such a champion as Batty Langley (Charles L. Eastlake, A History of the Gothic Revival (London, 1872), p. 54).

 

Maspie House has not been included in this traditional criticism due to its obscurity, however it has a wonderfully inventive façade bringing together Gothic motifs circulating in the late Georgian period. Even though it is clearly non-medieval, it is an important example of Georgian design, and a testament to the early Gothic Revival. There are countless other examples of Langley’s influence in British architecture, almost certainly in equally remote parts of the country.

 

The author’s detailed exploration and reassessment of Batty Langley’s pattern-book, Ancient Architecture (1741–2), together with his projected treatise, Principal Geometric Elevations, was published in Architectural History 2014, pp. 141–73: ‘’Serious Gothic and ‘Doing the Ancient Buildings’: Batty Langley’s Ancient Architecture and Principal Geometric Elevations’. See https://www.academia.edu/6637899/Serious_Gothic_and_Doing_the_Ancient_Buildings_Batty_Langley_s_Ancient_Architecture_and_Principal_Geometric_Elevations_Architectural_History_2014_

 

 

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