What is it that can make evidence of age so elegantly appealing? I don’t exactly what accounts for this powerful allure but I had a ready reminder of it just this past week when I got to the second or third book down on my happy Christmas pile. The book in question is Bitter Orange, a novel that I have to admit was a bit of slow starter, at least to me. ‘Dark’ and ‘simmering’ said the reviews and the opening pages gave no anchoring clues as to where we would head. What was this all about? But then it happened—the pace did not immediately quicken but my pulse surely did when we were introduced to the location for much of the action. The book concerns a house. Not just any house but an English house. An English country house. And all of it, ever window, wall and cornice, covered over in the rich and lustrous patina of age. The new parts of the house were built in the early 19th century. There are, not one, but two follies. The bridge over the lake in the park might be Palladian and the orangery most definitely is magnificent. Oh my. I was and remain in heaven as I now barrel through what has turned into a gripping tale, along with its continued doses of delightful house-focused detail.
…but what of Chipping Campden? If you have been to this most charming of Cotswold villages then you may already know the answer. The rich and lustrous patina of age. Chipping Campden positively lives in its honeyed glow. A patina made all the more compelling by the local building material of soft Cotswold stone. As the centuries roll by, the stone’s mellow tone remains but its lines and edges soften. And there have been many, many centuries for Chipping Campden. The original portions of St James Church, one of England’s great medieval ‘wool churches’, date from 1260. Perhaps the town’s most iconic building, Market Hall, was built in 1627. And what of the magnificent if mysterious ‘pepper pot’ structures, adjacent to St James and pictured above? These were once the lodge gates for the manor house of Sir Baptist Hicks, Chipping Campden’s great 17th century merchant and patron. The house itself is long gone…and in this case, I mean very long gone, having been burned to the ground during the English Civil War.
What I like most, though, about Chipping Campden is what I always like most—an ancient place with plenty of life left in her yet. According to the website Cotswold Info ‘Chipping Campden is quite simply one of the finest towns in the Cotswolds—well-preserved and full of history, but also full of life and bustle’ (The italics are mine).
And it‘s true. When I was there in mid-December, well out of tourist season, there was evidence of the lively local life all around me. School boys in uniform on their way to school; a crowded pub at lunch and yes dare I say it—excellent shopping opportunities. I was particularly taken with the charming Sam Wilson, a shop selling mostly—though exclusively—design goods from this eponymous British graphic artist—who also happens to live just down the road from the center of town.
Chipping Campden is on our itinerary for our September The Architecture of England trip, done in partnership with Preservation Greensboro. I hope you will consider coming along with us so you can see for yourself--Chipping Campden is a great town and in my book one of the all-time great examples of the allure of elegant age…