The King and Queen: a brief survey of pantomime, mockery and modernity in the Mock-Tudor

The King & Queen pub (1931-32) on Marlborough Place is arguably one of the most jarring architectural sights in Brighton. Flanked on one side by a relatively unremarkable four-storey Victorian office building and on the other by an austere neo-Georgian bank premises, its absurdly clownish Jacobethan parody seems to stand in gleeful defiance of its conventional neighbours.  It is a structure that embodies the term ‘Mock-Tudor’ in the fullest sense, as I’ll go on to explain.

The King and Queen

The King and Queen

Mock-Tudor or Tudor Revival architecture is an architectural style which had its beginnings in the latter half of the 19th Century and experienced a surge in popularity from the early-to-mid-20th Century. It is characterised by a somewhat incongruous union of an insistence on nostalgic imitation and modern industrial tools and materials. Half-timbered facades on upper floors are constructed with uncanny geometric accuracy, diamond-paned windows are framed by plastic double glazing and all the quiet uniformity of the modern British suburb is brought to bear on the vernacular conventions of Tudor architecture. Evelyn Waugh noted in A Call to the Orders with characteristic polemic bitterness that “It is almost impossible now to take any real delight in Elizabethan half-timber – logical and honourable as it is – because we are so sickened with the miles of shoddy imitation with which we are surrounded.” Indeed, the Mock Tudor style was roundly derided upon its resurgence in the 1930s as a style reserved for dimly nostalgic nouveau-riche philistines. Harry Mount, in his gentle survey of British architecture A Lust for Window Sills, recounts a satiric verse of the 1930s entitled The Song of the Sussex House-Agent:

Four postes round my bed,

Oake beams overhead,

Olde rugs on ye floor,

No stockbroker could ask for more.

A modern Mock-Tudor suburban house

A modern Mock-Tudor suburban house

  It might be difficult to appreciate the aesthetic appeal of the Mock Tudor but its emergence does tell us something about the prevailing cultural attitude of Britain in the early-to-mid-20th Century. Paul Fussell in his wonderful book The Great War and Modern Memory illustrates this very well. He describes how the First World War acted for many as a kind of crystallisation of the malignant forces of modernity: the sublimation of the individual into a vast industrial complex and the destruction of cultural and natural beauty in the name of economic progress. After 1918, modernity seemed to be inescapable and omnipotent. The popular reaction to this was an inherently conservative one: a retreat into an idealised ‘Merry England’ in which peasants dwelt happily in charmingly ramshackle hovels, nobles and lords pranced about their castle grounds composing whimsical ditties on lutes and roses of the deepest red grew in every window-box. Fussell recounts how the trenches of the First World War were conceptualised by homesick infantry as “English country gardens” on the sides of which, on occasion, soldiers planted rows of flowers. Soldiers wrote earnest letters home entreating their loved ones to describe in detail the English countryside. Some even spent entire correspondences eagerly recounting a favourite view or remembered cottage. It is not difficult to see how this fed into architectural convention: nobody wanted to live in a palace anymore. Now, everybody wanted to live in a cottage.

What makes The King and Queen an interesting building is that, despite its apparent total embrace of the conventions of the Mock-Tudor, it manages to resist the regressive desperation of the majority of its architectural peers. It employs almost every single cliché of Tudor architecture: elaborately decorated high-pitched gables, moulded stone door and window cases, towering bays with leaning jettied upper floors, the obligatory half-timbered facade and innumerable other conventions of what John Betjeman disparagingly termed “Jacobethan” architecture. The overall effect of this manically exhaustive collection of Jacobethan clichés is not one of being whisked hastily away to some lapsed agrarian golden age but rather of derision and mockery: in taking the Mock-Tudor to its logical conclusion and cramming a relatively small structure full of just about every convention the 16th Century has to offer (even going so far as to place an actual wood-carving of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn on the facade of its left bay), The King and Queen ends up gleefully clowning the architectural movement it ostensibly represents. It is a deliberately absurd pantomime of the earnest but blindly reactionary nostalgia of its counterparts. It is explicitly ‘Mock-Tudor’, in the most literal sense of the term.

About raspurr

criticism not only welcome but utterly necessary
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