On Belaugh House circa 1900…

01/07/2004

Here’s something quite special (for me at least). While I was up in Norfolk over Christmas, my mother showed me a picture that had been taken of our home shortly after it had been completed (circa 1900). It may sound ridiculous, but I find it extraordinary how immediately recognisable it remains despite all the additions and removals and reorganisations that it’s suffered/enjoyed over the last century. Particularly astonishing for me is that the little pine trees that you can see dotted around the lawn are still there today and are now about twice the height of the house itself. And those little trees you can see dotted around the gate and around the drive-way are now enormous mature horse chestnut trees with branches that hang low as you come into the garden and shelter that whole side of the garden in dabbled sunlight through the spring.

I love the idea that the house has gradually settled into its location over the years, that it has made its environment its home just as we made it ours. It doesn’t look like a block perched on a hill surrounded by fields any more. Now it looks like a part of the landscape. And that makes me think more about the nature of artisanship – particularly that the creators of the house and garden built something that wouldn’t even start to look its best until decades after they had died. I wonder whether the current vogue for disposable, short-term buildings means that we’re cheating ourselves of that settled-in, mature feel – as if all our buildings were like unripened flavourless cheeses that we never respected enough to come into their own.

I’d love to work on something that had that kind of presence in time, that wasn’t going to vanish or mutate overnight. I wonder whether that’s why so many web people still want things in print or physical media. Because that way the artefact can age and mellow with them – even after them. That they need that sense that they’ve created something living that will change and deepen through time just as steadily as it will endure.

Family House in Norfolk Circa 1900