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Friday, July 12, 2024
Arch-i-text: The Regency manor

If you could afford a craftsman-built house in the decade after the War of 1812, the choices of architectural style were few.

Of course, the venerable Georgian remained the dominant preference among the traditional crowd, while English Neo-classical designs offered a decorated facade without any hint of American taint.

Finally, if you wanted to follow the latest fashion in architecture, the newest style from England was the Regency, like the cottage built by Judge Butler in 1817.

But, that was a cottage and, among the well-heeled in town, perhaps a little modest? What to do, what to do? How could one be in fashion and make that all important success statement?

The answer came in late 1818 when the plans for the new Upper Canada Legislative Assembly building were approved for construction in York. Finished in 1820, the central massing of this building featured a Regency design but it was big, two storeys, and very impressive.

It wasn’t long before the pens of local architects were busy rendering drawings of residential interpretations for clients among the moneyed class. Possibly the first of these manors (and to my knowledge one of the oldest surviving examples in the province) built in NOTL was John Breakenridge’s circa 1823 home at Mississauga and Centre streets, but it was certainly not the last.

These imposing homes were “the’’ choice for many country estates and prosperous farms.

Consider the mid-19th century Roselawn House on Lakeshore. Set well back from the road, down a long driveway, this home sits on a small rise with treed lawns to the fore. The classic cubic form’s facade is appointed with three stacked bays containing two very large main-floor windows balancing the prominent central entry.

By this time, the decorative elements had lost any hint of the neo-classical borrowings used on early Regency homes, replaced by clean, elegantly simple built-up mouldings that convey a slight sense of the oriental. Anchored by a brick watertable, the walls rise to equally uncomplicated frieze and brackets under a typical hipped roof appointed with four tall chimneys acting almost as finials to crown the composition.

Regency manors survive here and there across Niagara-on-the-Lake. If you’re looking, watch for the cubic form as your first clue.

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