In retrospect, the era of the Tudoresque was viewed as the golden age of cottagers
Some years ago, there was a fashion among academics to pair things into ‘establishment’ and ‘non-establishment’ couples. So the Victorian museum represented the official side of culture, whereas the private funfair or the freak show illustrated the shadowlands version of the same thing. In the case of English houses, a similar phenomenon was going on, with tidy neo-Georgian on the one hand, and naughty Tudor on the other. A memorable 1981 book called Dunroamin, by Paul Oliver, Ian Davis and Ian Bentley, set the scene; it was a funny, clever and iconoclastic hymn to the suburban semi-detached house.
Tudoresque is rather different: it’s a short and sharp book which plots the history of the neo-Tudor home in England. These houses represent a view of the British as self-reliant, untrusting of big government, of homogenised culture. The authors trace the origin of this to a law of Elizabeth I, stipulating every cottage must be provided with four acres of land. This was not, in fact, a practical amount as it was later regarded as ‘too much for the spade, and too little for the plough’.
Nevertheless, in retrospect this was viewed as the golden age of cottagers; they could escape from the world and fall back on their private paradise. The secret of the modern Tudoresque, say the authors, lies in the elements of the houses that developed over the years to provide a shorthand for that self-dependency, not to mention a hint of Gloriana, Shakespeare and Sir Walter Raleigh, a wealth of splendour suggested across four small walls behind a suburban hedge.
There is much of interest here on the small villa designers of the early 19th-century and their concern for cottagers; no one wanted them to start revolting like the French. Yet there is also ‘the gratuitous American chapter’, with a view to transatlantic sales, as well as examples of the style from the Far East. Given the astonishing amount of Tudoresque building in Britain now, it’s a shame there isn’t more debate about how this fits in with high-art architecture.
Funnily enough, it was in a similar way that 19th-century architects wrote a great deal about Tudor half-timbered and brick architecture, without ever really analysing what those same effective constructional techniques could do for modern design. Surely the truth is that the ‘establishment’ and the ‘anti-establishment’ can exist quite happily within the same frame - as with human beings?
Tudoresque: In Pursuit of the Ideal Home
Authors: Andrew Ballantyne and Andrew Law
Publisher: Reaktion, 2011