Monday 5 November 2018

A Touch of Gaudi in Knutsford

Strolling with my cousin around the very pleasant little town of Knutsford, Cheshire – yes, Elizabeth Gaskell's Knutsford, the original of Cranford – I suddenly came upon this extraordinary building. The tower with the curiously irregular top is the Gaskell Memorial Tower, and it's just one element in an architectural extravaganza that also includes what were originally the council offices and a coffee house, all together in one crazy, randomly fenestrated whole. The walls, of sandstone and Portland stone, are inscribed with what seem to be the names of every historic figure ever associated with Knutsford (and the titles of Mrs Gaskell's novels), and the Tower is decorated with a bust and a bronze relief of Mrs G. A second, lower tower, with a domed top, rises beside what was originally the King's Coffee House, designed to attract the locals away from the pubs.
  The building, completed in 1907, was the masterwork of a local amateur, Richard Harding Watt, with some architectural assistance. It is of course completely out of place in Knutsford  – as it would be anywhere – but it's great fun, in its blatantly incorrect, wholly 'tasteless' way, and parts of it are really rather attractive. It's probably as close to Gaudi as any building in England. Pevsner, unsurprisingly, was not impressed, remarking that 'any Fine Arts Commission now would veto such a monstrous desecration of a small and pleasant country town'. Not a great one for fun, Sir Nikolaus.

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