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A focus on the British vernacular

A focus on the British vernacular

A bit of a focus on British vernacular architecture. I began my career working within the world of architectureas an Architectural Designer. However, when the design focus of architecture became lost with among budget cuts and recession I began a new career in digital design. Having said that, I have never lost my passion and interest in building design; perhaps that’s why I find I’m drawn to photograph buildings so much.

Whether it’s striking and modern, or run down and traditional you’ll find I have often have something to say about the design and features of various buildings.

Vernacular: architecture concerned with domestic and functional rather than public or monumental buildings. e.g. “buildings in which Gothic merged into farmhouse vernacular”

vernacular spoken as: /vəˈnakjʊlə/

British vernacular architecture

Here are a few images from my library that I’ve captured over the last few years. Each have something to say about the British vernacular. These buildings come from various locations across the UK and different periods within our countries history.

Vernacular architecture is concerned with domestic and functional buildings. This may also include local shops that are part and parcel of the street scene. However, this wouldn’t stretch as far as purpose built retain or commercial buildings. Furthermore, monumental and public buildings are not part of the vernacular; but are clearly form one of the key influence’s in vernacular design.

The Old Barn, Yorkshire Dales

The traditional period town house in Lower Lydbrook (above).

This building has clearly been extended and modified over the years but still clearly shows the original features of the original timber framed building. Whether this ever featured the common wattle and daub infill to the oak frame is impossible to tell without referring back to archival records. The gable end walls and white-washed extension are clearly later additions, as maybe also the stone faced lower floor construction.

Stable wall, near Chirk (above).

Moving slightly north from Lower Lydbrook here is a stable door and window from one of the many farm buildings in the area. The detailing and stone work show this is clearly a step up from the house at Lower Lydbrook even though the rough construction methods and building stones are similar. The use of dressed stone for the door and window lintels indicate a quality in the construction that was missing in the rough stone lower floor of the house in Lower Lydbrook.

So, which is the older building? Traditional cottages near Shrewsbury.

A building that has been extended and now provides ample accommodation. My guess is it’s the left-hand section of the building that is older and the right-hand section is newer addition. There are several reasons for this. Firstly the gable wall upstands to the roof clearly belong to the left-hand building; these would be an unlikely addition to include in the newer building. There is also some evidence of subsidence to the right-hand building, pointing to poorer construction methods used in the past. Other clues include the chimneys and the windows. What do you think?

Cottages Skelwith Bridge Cumbria

I guess it’s not difficult to work out what drew me to these cottages! The chimneys are quite simply amazing. So unnecessary and almost too ornate for the modest buildings feature on. When compared to what might get built nowadays, it’s these sort of details that are a world apart and so different from what would be experienced in similarly sized properties today. These details also add the unique style and and beauty that goes way beyond simple form and function and is central to the British vernacular style we all love.

No. 4 Somewhere in East London

I love the character in this old building somewhere in East London around the Brick Lane area. This building could just as easily be in one of many suburbs in Western Europe and is iconic of many buildings in the villages of France. The muted colours, the peeling paint, the patchy stucco and rendering all indicate this building has seen better days. I imagine that someday soon a developer will come along and this building will be transformed back to it’s former glory. I’ll be interested to see the finished result, but for me I will miss the charm the disrepair has to offer.

One of Yorkshire’s most famous Cafe’s

The very popular and world famous Sid’s Cafe, Holmfirth (Last of the Summer Wine!). Shown here ‘tastefully’ decorated for the Tour De France when it visited Yorkshire a few years ago. In many ways it’s this that vernacular architecture is all about. The buildings themselves paint a picture about the history, story of the area and society over the years. This is what brings character to the street scene. The mdern housing developments, we see so often today, will take many years to bed in and find their sense of place within a town; if they ever do.

Bay Tree Interiors, Grassington

Another shop front that is very much part of the street scene and is likely to have been a cottage at some point in the past. This is from the delightful village of Grassington; in the Yorkshire Dales. The dressed stone work around the doorway indicates care and attention have been put into the construction of these properties. I would suggest the lack of dressed stone for the window lintel and sill (and possibly mullions also) mean this isn’t the original window opening and this is a more recent addition when the cottage became a shop. Too support this theory there is evidence of stonework repairs above the window and window lintel slightly higher. The position on this lintel is a bit of an anomaly, so this may indicate reuse of the stone when a new lintel was installed for the new window.

The old delivery bike makes this picture for me and anchors this image to bygone days.

Cantacandy, Candy’s Corner Shop, Canterbury

I grew up in Kent, so this type of corner shop is very familiar to me. I remember dropping in one of these on the way home from school (funds permitting). We had a favorite shop at Five Crossroads, Whitstable, which became my Monday lunchtime tuck shop. My friend and I would forego the school canteen and sneak out for something altogether more appetising for our lunch; crisps and chocolate in the main. We could only ever get away with it on Monday’s, otherwise we’d have been doing it all week!

Corner House, Saltaire

Corner House, Saltaire

The two images above are both from Saltaire, West Yorkshire. Both were built during the peak of the British Cotton boom. The size, location, exterior decoration and treatment very much reflected the status of the person living there when they were first built in this model town. The town is now a UNESCO world heritage site ensuring the buildings remain in their original form for many years to come. The larger of the two corner plots has some amazing dressed stone and ashlar details, and this same attention to detail is reflected, albeit on a simpler scale, in the smaller of the two houses.

The Street, Richmond

I love this street in Richmond, North Yorkshire. The row of houses on the left seem to almost have been forced into the hill, and when they couldn’t push them down anymore they built taller again. Each house on the street is unique, whilst still sharing similar design styles and details with each other. The pastel paint colours and whitewashed walls cement the buildings together to form a coherent block of buildings that are different yet the same.

This street is typical of British vernacular architecture and clearly demonstrates that domestic and functional style does not have to be devoid of beauty. I accept that developers of some new estates are making more efforts to embrace the vernacular but they are still a long way from getting it right. To be fair some of these things take decades to develop as a street takes on a life of it’s own, but surely we can do more and stop building acres of brick boxes.


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A focus on the British vernacular

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