Fabulous folk art in Leeds (no, not that one)

Fascinating though Victorian ecclesiastical heritage can be, I’m concerned that this blog shouldn’t get too church-heavy, so here is something completely different – a building that is every bit as colourful and exuberant as architecture already featured here, but apparently off everyone’s radar. Leeds Castle is one of Kent’s big tourist attractions – or at any rate, it was before COVID-19. The eponymous village is eminently worth a look. It is uncommonly pretty, full of historic buildings and lies in a very attractive setting with the North Downs as a distant backdrop. But by an unfortunate quirk of geography, it attracts traffic for entirely the wrong reason. It is strung out along the B2163, a useful through-route connecting several major roads, and on the narrow village street journalistic clichés about HGVs thundering through acquire genuine depths of meaning. Though no sane human being wants to see beautiful countryside carved up, it is hard not to sympathise with the calls on numerous placards displayed along the way calling for a relief road.

Flint Cottages: general view of the street front

Still, were it not for that, I doubt I would ever have discovered Flint Cottage on Upper Street. It looks as though the builder went to town with the leftovers of a Victorian tile merchant’s depot. In addition to picking out the date of construction in red and black, the builder added an inscription stretching the whole width of the street front recording that the two houses were ‘Built by and in memory of James Tomlin born [date illegible/nonsensical] also of Hannah his wife born April 21 1821’. The walls seem to be built of prefabricated blocks of knapped flint, which, if really the case, represents a rather advanced bit of construction technology for the date. I have no idea when such blocks became widespread (could anybody tell me?), but my impression is that must have happened in the 20th century, when economics dictated that it was more cost-effective for flint to be set into concrete blocks at a production plant than laid in courses on site – a slow, labour-intensive process, after all. Some of them have green bottle bottoms – a favourite device of Shaw and Nesfield – set into them. The flint blocks are of the same dimensions as the stone blocks used for the quoins and for large sections of one of the end walls, which are very good quality and look like they might be spolia. The blocks of local ferruginous sandstone are smaller and less finished, but contribute extra colour and texture. These are modest houses and the design is nothing remarkable for their date of construction, but my goodness, what an enjoyable and exuberant piece of folk art this is! In a conservation area, but not separately listed, all further information gratefully received.

Flint Cottages: three-quarter view, showing the flank wall

Published by Edmund Harris

Heritage professional and architectural historian residing in Canterbury. All views expressed here are my own and do not represent my employer.

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