A Brief History of Gateposts

Spinfish April + 131
Formidable pillars leading to St Catherine’s Lighthouse.

Have you noticed that there aren’t many gateposts around these days?  They used to be everywhere.  Every terrace, cottage, house would be fronted by two posts supporting their raison d’etre, a gate.

I’m not aware of any campaign to put them on the endangered list. Nobody wears a teeshirt saying Save Our Gateposts.  Architecturally perhaps they aren’t spectacular but look around and it is amazing what you can deduce from a single column.

Many of those ubiquitous 19th/20th century posts have been sacrificed to make way for that modern must-have convenience, the car.  What was once the front garden is concreted over and drivers squeeze their wheels into a space the size of a doormat.  The sight of a front garden filled with hollyhocks and snapdragons grows increadingly rare.

Sophie Dawes House, St Helens
Sophie Dawes House, St Helens. Sophie, daughter of  Dickie Dawes, oyster digger and smuggler, rose to be the heriress to the duc de Conde, heir to the French throne at the time of the French Revolution.

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The gatepost, with or without its gates, says alot about whoever put them there.  With a burst of civic pride,  the pillars below were erected with the installation of some village toilets. Loath to leave them plain, the decision was taken to enhance them with an added feature. How the design was chosen is anybody’s guess but the ball marks the entrance to the Gents while the mound leads the way to the Ladies.

GATEPOSTS 008GATEPOSTS 009

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Individuals frequently stamp theirpersonalities on their gateposts.  Whether you prefer a lion, a pineapple or a stone urn is a matter of preference. Shorwell (2)Pineapple BonchurchGatepost Undermount3825

Above all, gateposts with or without their gates, set us thinking: What lies beyond?  By their very nature they defy the observer to venture over the threshold.

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Old gatepost Sandrock Road Niton
Old gatepost leading to nowhere, Sandrock Road Niton

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Gateposts at Knighton

These prestigeous columns mark all that remains of Knighton Gorges(pronounced Kaynighton to distinguish it from Niton, mentioned above). It was reputed to be the most beautiful house in the Isle of Wight, cursed because its first owner, Hugh de Morville was one of the assassins of Thomas Becket in 1180.  A later owner, Tristram Dillington drowned himself in the pond after bis beloved wife and children died within weeks of each other. To avoid having the estate confiscated, his servant loosened his horse’s girth to make it look like an accident

In the 18th century the owner George Maurice Bisset turned it into a branch of the Hellfire Club. Among its nefarious members was the politician John Wilkes. Maurice then eloped with Lady Seymour Worsley whose husband Sir Robert, sued him for ‘criminal conversation.’  Instead of the £20.000 he was expecting, the judge awarded him a shilling for having encouraged the affair.  A few years later, Bisset decamped to a gardener’s cottage on the estate and ordered the house to be razed to the ground, rather than allow his daughter to inherit.  Her crime?  She had married a vicar.

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These solid pillars mark the entrance to East Dene at Bonchurch, the boyhood home of poet Algernon Swinburne. The only one of his siblings not to be born on the Isle of Wight, he is buried in the village church.

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Tower Cottage at Shanklin, a ‘cottage orne,’ built for General Sir James Viney after the Peninsular War. Reflecting the fashion of the day it copied humble country dwellings, although with all the latest conveniences. Perched on the edge of Shanklin Chine, it was demolished in the 1960s when it became unsafe.

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Luccombe Hall, once the home of Earl Jelicoe, the house was destroyed by fire in mysterious circumstances and like many such mansions, replaced by a bungalow estate.

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Entrance to Hawkridge Farm, Totland, stripped of decades of ivy to reveal its stonework.

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Gates to Westhill Manor
Gates to Westhill Manor, Shanklin, formerly the home of Dimitrius Scaramanga, Greek merchant. His wife dispensed largesse to the people of Shanklin, including the Scio hospital. Now turned into flats.

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One of two entrances to Shanklin Manor. Formerly the home of the White Popham family, it became the property of the Workers Travellers’ Association and once hosted the Labour Party conference.

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A private house at Freshwater. The footpath veers sharply to the left at the gates so that the house keeps its secrets.

Wandering around your neighbourhood, it is perhaps worth stopping to stare at the pillars and posts and columns that quietly guard houses and ask yourslef “what lies beyond?”

 

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4 thoughts on “A Brief History of Gateposts

  1. Who would ever have thought that gate-posts had such a story to tell. Well, I suppose a historian would think along those lines. You’ve certainly opened my eyes to my surroundings and from now on I shall be looking at gate-posts and pondering their history. Nice pictures by the way.

  2. I see that you are following my blog, whatever that means. Welcome and thanks. It is not very active.

    I liked your piece in gateposts, we have a a pair of large old gateposts made from large stones, capped with low angled pyramids. The wide farm gate has now gone, it lies forlornly to one side gradually being covered by ivy and vegetation. I suppose people got fed up with having to get on and off the tractor to open and close it.

    Regards,
    Richard Baker

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