The pictures of Sezincote I’d seen over the years had made an impression and this was the year I’d finally see it. In planning, I discovered that it and nearby Chastleton House would be open the same day, on Friday of the week I’d be spending in Gloucestershire, so onto the calendar they both went. Chastleton opened earlier and that determined the order in which I’d visit them.
I left Chastleton, had lunch at The Greedy Goose, where the A436 meets the A44, then drove 7 miles, past Moreton-in-Marsh, to Sezincote in the early afternoon. Walking up the winding driveway through the grounds and seeing the house for the first time was as satisfying as I imagined it would be. The design of the building, Georgian with Indian design elements such as the prominent onion dome, is called Neo-Mughal and strongly appeals to my love of eastern esthetics. Early for the 2:00 tour, I walked around the grounds while waiting for our small group of visitors to assemble by the front door.
Photography wasn't allowed inside the house but trust me when I say the interior was a shock. I’d fully expected the romantic South Asian theme to extend to the decoration of the house but I was wrong. While lovely in a purely European way, nonetheless, as I walked around the house the feeling of disappointment never left me. I couldn’t help but wonder if the fact that I’d never seen a picture taken inside was intentional, even on their own website I now realized, to support the impression of Sezincote as wholly Indian inspired. But I think it’s a mistake to seem to hide the fact that the mystique of the East stops at the door. The interior of the house was indeed beautiful, marred only by expectation, when the contrast could be emphasized in a positive way.
I’m not the only visitor to comment on the contrast of exterior to interior design. Jan Sibthorpe, in her Sezincote case study states “The basic structure of the house is that of a typical Georgian villa, of which the exterior has been given a ‘strong infusion of Mughal architecture’. The interior, in stark contrast, is neo-classical in design.” She resolves what could easily be seen as a conflict of styles, “The complexity of the Indian stylization…is blended with the symmetry and order of European neo-classicism, allowing for the conflation of East and West: an elaborate Eastern exterior belies an interior that operated as a functional domestic space.”
Rather than a successful merging of the 2 styles, the house symbolized to me the ambivalence of a colonial master, a veneer of appreciation for the esthetic of the ruled, while retaining the heart of a ruler in the interior, the most personal aspect. So, while I disagree with her conflation conclusion, the study, the story of Sezincote's creation and the Cockerell family, is an interesting one and may be read in its entirety here.
After the house tour I went into the long conservatory extending from one side of the house on the hillside, for tea and cake. Then I explored the grounds, going up the hillside where I found farm buildings in a complimentary “moghal” style. I spent a long time wandering in the garden and, when I finally went on my way, the beauty of the garden had soothed the unsettled effect that the house had had on me and I was very happy I’d seen it at long last.
In the Conservatory
For more information visit Sezincote's website:
Next week, a drive north into Worcestershire to Croome Court.
Find all episodes of ‘PortMoresby in England’ here.