We're excited about our project. We really are. But it's a bit like when you go to the optician. It's a routine appointment, no headaches or blurring to report - all is well, you're just set for a sign-off for another couple of years. Then at the end of the eye puffs, zooming in and out of a picture of a barn in a field (they do still do that, don't they?), and jiggery pokery with double-sided magnifying glasses, the optometrist pauses ......casually pops some lenses into the Heath Robinson frames....... and POW! Suddenly everything is clearer and rather more fantastic.
In a funny kind of way that's what happened this week - well an Edgar Wood equivalent.
It's been in the diary for a while that David Morris and Andy Marshall from The Edgar Wood Society will be dropping by. David and I have been in email correspondence and he's been good enough to share some really interesting stuff about Briarcourt. All I know about Andy is that he's an architectural photographer and, judging by his twitter account, a pretty successful one at that. They're coming to take some pics and have a coffee and a chat.
It's first thing in the morning and I'm filled with great hopes that the spring sunshine will reward them for their journey with beautiful light for the photographs. However, a combination of rush hour traffic and our fickle microclimate conspire against us, and by the time they arrive, the light has been sucked back behind Lindley cloud. David and Andy seem undeterred and as we wander back from their car towards the house they naturally drift into discussion about the flow of lines and surfaces, the architectural devices Edgar Wood has used, and how they relate to Edgar's other buildings. Though keen to understand more, I leave them to make the best of what light there is.
After re-fueling on coffee, we start to compare notes on the interiors. With expert eyes, Andy and David 'read' each room, noticing not only the features but how they connect with each other and surmising what Edgar's design intentions may have been. Drawing on their extensive knowledge of his wider body of architecture and the buildings that inspired him in his formative years, they piece together a timeline tracing the earlier design influences he brings to his Briarcourt scheme and the new elements which echo through his later work.
David's thesis is that Briarcourt captures an important transition point when Edgar is just beginning to blend traditional Jacobean and vernacular elements with the organic shapes of art nouveau. What's more, whilst the art deco period as we know it is some 20-30 years off, possible precursors can be seen in the dynamic angular forms he borrows from the 16th and 17th centuries and peppers throughout the house.
Edgar's immersion in The Arts and Crafts Movement is also strong during this time. It's known that he is a highly skilled designer-maker as well as an architect, so there's a real possibility that some of Briarcourt's interior features are not only designed by, they are actually made by Edgar Wood. Mind-blowing! David drops into conversation that Edgar was blinded in one eye by wet plaster just a couple of years before Briarcourt was built, as he hand-crafted a ceiling. This, to my mind makes his achievements even more awe-inspiring.
I'm more than happy for the misconceptions I've picked up about Edgar Wood being solely a flamboyant theatrical type to be corrected. Yes, he was an artist with a strong sense of his own aesthetic, but according to David, evidence suggests that he was actually quite a shy, modest man - much happier to be working hard behind the scenes than promoting himself; and keen to please his clients as well as express his own tastes through his architectural commissions.
So what about David and Andy? Where has all this knowledge come from? Why the fascination with Edgar Wood?
David explains that his original training as a surveyor took him into building conservation via town planning. Through his work as a conservation officer around Rochdale and Middleton - Edgar Wood's birthplace and another hotspot for his buildings, his interest in the man and his work developed*. For Andy, a degree in history, a love of architecture, and exposure (pardon the pun) to amateur photography in his formative years led him to combine and professionalise his skills and interests. He is now commissioned to photograph historic and contemporary buildings across the UK and abroad, but as a native of Middleton himself, Edgar Wood's architecture remains a specialist interest. Both Andy and David play very active roles in the Edgar Wood Society and the Edgar Wood and Middleton Townscape Heritage Initiative - a project which has secured £2m of Heritage Lottery Funding to put towards restoring, protecting, and promoting the architect's artistic legacy in his home town. Really impressive and important work.
My mind is fizzing and sparking with all the exciting new insights they've shared, but before Andy and David head off, there's just time to pick their brains about some fireplace restoration work we're starting. It's in one of the rooms we've been stripping in preparation for redecoration - no original wallpaper here, just some new plaster and mustard-coloured paint flaking to a sort of Kelly Hoppen taupe underneath.
.....a typical Edgar Wood undercoat and paint combination so it turns out!
*If you'd like to know more about how Edgar Wood's architecture evolved in Middleton, I'd really recommend reading David Morris's paper 'Here, by Experiment': Edgar Wood in Middleton