Small is beau­ti­ful

Dream cot­tages come in many forms, from the half-tim­bered to the stone-built. Mary Miers casts her eye across the coun­try and looks at the full panoply of rustic beauty they have to of­fer

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

Mary Miers ex­am­ines the lo­cal dis­tinc­tive­ness of cot­tages

The Cotswolds

Warm, honey-coloured oo­lite stone is the leit­mo­tif of the Cotswolds, which form part of the great sash of lime­stone that runs di­ag­o­nally up Eng­land from the Dorset to the Yorkshire coasts. This ter­race in Broad­way, Worces­ter­shire, is con­structed of rub­ble, but less mod­est cot­tages have walls of ash­lar or roughly dressed blocks, stone mul­lions and drip moulds over doors and win­dows to shed water. Finely carved stone dec­o­ra­tion cel­e­brates the skills of the old Cotswold ma­sons; Pevs­ner de­scribes Broad­way as one of the show vil­lages of Eng­land. Roofs are cov­ered in stone slabs, of­ten so thick and knub­bly that they re­mind one of oys­ter shells.


Suf­folk has no stone to speak of, so brick and cob are the tra­di­tional build­ing ma­te­ri­als, the lat­ter set be­tween tim­ber studs and ren­dered or weath­er­boarded. (A de­light­ful fea­ture of East Anglia is or­na­men­tal ex­ter­nal plas­ter­work known as par­get­ting.) Church Cot­tages in the shadow of St Mary’s, Cavendish, sport the char­ac­ter­is­tic ‘Suf­folk pink’, which harks back to the an­cient prac­tice of mix­ing the lime­wash with nat­u­ral pig­ments, us­ing berries or pigs’ blood, for ex­am­ple (blood was thought to have a wa­ter­proof­ing prop­erty). Thick thatch with deep, water-shed­ding eaves curves de­li­ciously over the eye­brow dorm­ers and ir­reg­u­lar forms of this 16th- to 17th-cen­tury group, topped with dec­o­ra­tive ridges to show off the thatcher’s skills.


West of Ched­dar Gorge, which marks the edge of the lime­stone band run­ning down from the Cotswolds, the pal­ette of the land­scape turns a rich, earthy brown. Towns and vil­lages are char­ac­terised by the ruddy hues of the lo­cal sand- and lime­stones, as seen in this pair of 16th- to 17th-cen­tury cot­tages. They stand be­side the pack­horse bridge at Aller­ford on the edge of Ex­moor in west Som­er­set and were formerly thatched, as is most of the vil­lage. Prom­i­nent lat­eral chim­ney stacks are a fa­mil­iar fea­ture in Som­er­set, al­though this cir­cu­lar topped ex­am­ple dates from a 19th-cen­tury phase of pret­ti­fy­ing es­tate im­prove­ment.

West Coun­try

A typ­i­cal Devon cot­tage, with a wheat or reed thatch, white­washed walls of un­dressed lo­cal stone and tim­ber-mul­lioned win­dows. Devon has the great­est di­ver­sity of build­ing ma­te­ri­als in the West Coun­try, in­clud­ing chalk and flint (south), brick (north), lime­stone, sand­stone and gran­ite. It also has the great­est con­cen­tra­tion of struc­tures made of cob (a mix of mud, dung and straw), which you can see here in the lit­tle out­shoot and the wall on the op­po­site side of the road. Cob cot­tages are usu­ally white­washed or ren­dered, the give­away as to their ma­te­rial be­ing the thick­ness of their walls (in­di­cated by deep win­dow em­bra­sures) and a charm­ing ir­reg­u­lar­ity to sur­faces and an­gles.


These cot­tages in Burn­ham Mar­ket are good ex­am­ples of the north Nor­folk ver­nac­u­lar, in an area of salt­marsh and for­mer ports so gen­tri­fied that it’s of­ten dubbed the Gold Coast. In the ab­sence of good build­ing stone, walls are a mix of flint and peb­bles con­tained by brick quoins. In more elab­o­rate ex­am­ples, flint is mixed with other ma­te­ri­als to cre­ate pat­terns, such as the che­quer­board de­sign of knapped flint and chalk blocks no­table around Cromer. Red pan­tiles and thatch are the tra­di­tional roof­ing ma­te­ri­als of East Anglia.

Surrey hills

Think Helen Alling­ham’s pic­tures of rose-bow­ered Vic­to­rian cot­tages, most of which were painted in Surrey. In this wooded area, walls are tim­ber-framed with brick in­fills, some­times with a jet­tied (slightly pro­ject­ing) up­per floor. When not pro­tected by paint or lime­wash, tile-hang­ing of­ten pro­vides an at­trac­tive fin­ish. Pegged clay tiles cover roofs that are of­ten pic­turesquely hipped or (as seen here, at Oakhurst Cot­tage, Ham­ble­don) half hipped be­neath chunky brick chim­neys.

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