Back to the past with Ed Grimsdale: Outsider continues his look at Buckingham

Buckingham vicarage from Church Street in 1965 PNL-140826-163149001
Buckingham vicarage from Church Street in 1965 PNL-140826-163149001

We left the 1852 Northampton Mercury report on Buckingham with its author rubbishing Buckingham’s unusual classical church on Castle Hill.

The author had clearly been impressed by Gawcott’s George Gilbert Scott, who had been giving talks in the 1840s lauding the Anglo-Saxon Gothic style of church building and, by implication, deriding the 18th century mini-revival of classical Greek principles when building churches.

Reverend Elkington with his corgi in the rear garden of Buckingham vicarage in 1964. PNL-140826-163138001

Reverend Elkington with his corgi in the rear garden of Buckingham vicarage in 1964. PNL-140826-163138001

By the way, the writer was in error about the origins of Castle Hill: it arose, layer by layer, sand on gravel and then clay, all mingled with morainal rocks, the whole having been transported from Wales by glaciers and then dropped as they melted during the last Ice Age.

In today’s part of the essay, the writer returns down Church Street to the vicarage, more recently Walnut Yard which has been added in 2014 to the burgeoning estates of the University of Buckingham.

“Between the churchyard and the church stands the vicarage, a building of no pretension, but of some antiquity.

“The ‘writings’ fix it at 400 years. It is a long, low, rambling building, such as our forefathers devised when land was not an object.

“Its gables front the street in which direction the view from it has nothing very attractive. But behind it exceedingly pleasant, the rooms opening upon a long garden which extends down to the river; here, too, rushy, sedgy and willowy.

“The opposite ground rises sufficiently to shut in the prospect with a studious privacy. From the garden the house reminds one of Gilbert White’s house at Selbourne, and with its irregular roofs and embowering trees and church spire, here also seen to advantage, is unquestionably very pretty and picturesque.

“It is undergoing repairs, conceived, apparently, in a judicious spirit. Towards the street the gables are being finished with barge boards (which a little feathering would improve) and pendants. An adjoining house has a curious twisted chimney, which passes the art of modern Buckingham builders; for, it is said, the vicar has endeavoured, without success, to get it imitated.

“There was a popular notion that when Stowe went to the dogs, the days of Buckingham were also numbered; and, beyond a doubt, it feels the closing of so gigantic an establishment.

“But it looks quite as cheerful and prosperous as ever; and it is possible enough that the patronage of the great house, all things considered, was but a feverish matter of late years. There is a vague dream in the brain of the good people of Buckingham that they may live to see th departed glories of Stowe again revive, which is about the same thing as dreaming of living to the ears of Methusalah.

“It is indeed possible, though perhaps hardly probable, that in this generation a Duke of Buckingham may reside there, and the upholstery may reclothe the dismantled chambers; but what magic wand shall bring back again the treasures of art and virtue, and all that garniture which was in itself a history of: “Wits and black eyes, skittles and the king.”

“The hammer of the auctioneer has echoed through these princely rooms, and the ugly dissonance moans through them yet.

“The household deities have been scared away; and railroads shall have become obsolete, and men shall travel with the speed of the electric telegraph, before the dignity and the prestige of the ruined house shall be as they have been.”