A Puzzle Fiction.
By SHUKBURGH ASHBY.
IN 1712, SWINCUM-LE-BEAU was described as “most felicitously placed in its deep, becoming wood, and among the handsomest hamlets or small towns the author has yet seen.” The seat of the Fitzwalden Barony, Swincum Park, was once a fortified manor, counting among its guests Elizabeth I. The family would come to side with the Royalists, sheltering Charles I at the manor during the Civil War.
Much of St Lawrence’s in magnesian limestone, except later brick additions to the tower after the spire’s collapse in a fire of 1856. St Lawrence’s as a whole bespeaks of a time with a far larger settlement than is now to be found at the village of Swincum-le-Beau. Norman traces, e.g. rounded arch of the porch, with later dogtooth. The church was seemingly remodelled in its entirety c.1520, in a magisterial and austere Perp. Imposing 7-light window in the chancel, with stained glass remnants of the Fitzwalden family arms, the charge two foxes couchant, with an azure bend sinister. Idiosyncratic corbels of carved faces (of the masons?). Its clerestory suitably grand, with twelve 4-light windows. The Galilee porch perhaps overlarge, with odd elongated quatrefoil windows resembling arrowslits. A partial octagonal stair turret to the north-east of the tower, stopping where the Victorian brickwork begins. Two wide aisles with double-chamfered arches, supported on capitals carved with lavish foliage. The nave, chancel, and choir quite standard Perp. Though exceedingly tall for a village church, nondescript and emotionless overall.
FURNISHINGS. Some trace wall-painting on the ceiling of the chancel arch (escutcheons?). Original pews with pew-ends depicting the Fitzwalden armorial fox. Attempted beautifications of the 1750-60s done cheaply in an archaic baroque manner. These include the excessive gilding, now thankfully all but faded; carved putti embellishing the medieval masonry; and BOX PEWS of pine, stained to look like oak. ORGAN of c.1785 by Henry Holland, defunct. Typical brass eagle LECTERN of 1849, missing head. STAINED-GLASS windows by Kempe in the south aisle were commissioned by the 19th Baron Swincum: these are now plain glass after destruction during the Blitz. REREDOS, 1903, a particularly poor and untimely imitation of Sir George Gilbert Scott.
MONUMENTS. Unpretentious memorial to Richard Fitzwalden, 7th Baron Swincum, 1661, by Geoffrey Cavendish, Purbeck stone. The 7th Baron was thrown and killed at Marston Moor in 1644, when a Royalist musket-ball struck his horse. The inscription records this as the earliest known act of friendly-fire on English soil. Sentimental monument in the west end of the north aisle to Compton Fitzwalden (†1866), brother of the 18th Baron, depicted on his knees before St Peter, with marble wings and halo. Two small plaques commemorate the infant Fitzwalden twins Albert and Alfie, murdered 27 July 2006.
Formerly Swincum Manor, and continuously owned by the Fitzwalden family until bankruptcy saw its transfer to the National Trust in 1959. Original fortified timber manor house knocked down in the 1680s to make way for what makes up the bulk of the present building, by an unknown architect. Evidently the house proved too large for the Fitzwaldens, as is made clear by its current state of decay and unfinished Victorian remodelling. The present house an uncomfortable melange of C17 and C19, with seven bays. Originally the N front’s facade was brown brick with red brick dressings, now partially faced in Portland stone after the disastrous work of the 1860s. Three storeys, with an ambitious pediment and later lunette window. The roof shallow in pitch, with four equidistant chimneys. Above the doorway, a pretentious Venetian window with Gibbs surround; this motif is recalled in a Venetian doorway on Swincum Park’s S facade. Further Venetian windows adorn the E and W sides of the house, each inserted after the 13th Baron’s return from the Grand Tour.
The house’s plan once a simple square, the C18 wings have effectively tripled its width. These remain incomplete, the windows without glass and no roofs to speak of. Effectively they have given Swincum Park the appearance of a derelict terrace house, on a grand scale. The house’s INTERIOR continues the botched theme, the ground floor split unevenly into drawing room, ballroom and stairway. Upstairs, the influence of the 18th Baron is immediately made clear: the staircase splits, turning off to the left and right. This separates the second and third storey into two distinct apartments that lack access to the other. Richard Fitzwalden, the 18th Baron, is said to have taken a piece of chalk and drawn a line down the stairs, running S to N. The eastern apartment was built for the Baron and his mistress, and the western reserved for his wife, Emma Fitzwalden. On the ground floor, Emma Fitzwalden used the Venetian doorway to the S, and Richard Fitzwalden the door on the N front.
The PARK which gives the house its most recent name, is in fact not landscaped at all beyond the felling of the wood amidst which Swincum is built. As such, the house is encroached on at every cardinal direction by wilderness, and feels distinctly the lack of an avenue.
THE FLYING FOX, Church Lane. Granted its licence during the reign of Richard II, the
present building dates to the early-C18. Rather grand for a public house. Medieval beams incorporated into the later work display extravagant and lively carving of the Georgian period, featuring roses, acanthus, insects, and foxes. The doorway flanked with stumpy ionic columns. Five bay, with alternating sash and bay windows. The general sense one has is of a town hall in a spa town. Yet the elaborately carved cellar hatch leaves no doubt: foxes clutch foaming tankards.
THE OLD SCHOOLHOUSE, Pipers Street. Yellow brick and limestone, originally an C18 foundation but now mostly the work of Scipio Clark, 1845-6. Four storey and somewhat tower-like, space being at a premium when Swincum-le-Beau was bounded with dense forest. With Gothic turrets and an inelegant campanile.
ALMSHOUSES, Nos. 2-8 Pipers Street. Built not long after Swincum Park in the 1680s. ……….Curt and parsimonious.
Shukburgh Ashby is a writer and former academic. He taught architectural history in West Bengal and Cairo. He now lives in York, England, where he is employed as a gardener. A ‘puzzle fiction.’ he writes, ‘is a form where meaning can be found on two or more distinct levels: generally, this shows itself in a more obvious narrative, ostensibly the “main” one, and a separate, subtler level revealed only with hints, and left for the reader to decipher. Therefore it can be seen as a mix of both “passive” and “active” forms of reading.’