Wednesday, 22 August 2012

ENCHANTED ~ Dragon Cottages

A cottage at Haslemere, Surrey Helen Allingham

Like many parts of Britain the area of Wiltshire we live in is graced with old cottages both thatched and red brick tiled. When I was a child I decided that the tiles were from dragons or sea serpents and I named the cottages adorned with them 'dragon cottages' because they looked as if they had scales. Children's minds are funny things!

A Green Dragon and his scales

Tiles hung on a side of a building

This one even has a dragon ridge on it's roof!

As I grew up elsewhere I did not set eyes upon an English dragon cottage save in books and magazines until I landed upon this sceptred isle in the 70s.

Magical Cotchford Farm

The first that I saw in person were in Sussex. I had to make pilgrimages to many favourite authors homes, and to historic houses and gardens. Many of them were hung with red clay tiles. I was in Heaven, but sadly in those days only photographers carried decent cameras and so I have just slightly blurry photo memories of those early halycon times in the English countryside I loved so much.

Cotchford Farm was dear to my heart for two reasons, it had been the home of Winnie The Pooh author A.A. Milne where he wrote the Pooh stories for his young son Christopher Robin and later in the 60s the last home of the very talented but ill fated boy-child, Rolling Stone Brian Jones.  There are statues of the Winnie The Pooh characters in the garden and more than a slight air of sorrow pervades it, but the farm house is so pretty.

Christopher Robin and Pooh 1925 at Cotchford Farm

Another favourite childhood author of mine was Rudyard Kipling. I loved that he adored cats and his poem The Cat Who Walked Alone is still a favourite of mine and Mrs Black's. I had to visit his house, and was delighted to find that it too was hung with clay tiles!
Bateman's home of Rudyard Kipling

Bateman's is the wonderful Jacobean manor where poet Rudyard Kipling lived from 1902-1936. It is in Burwash, Etchingham, East Sussex and is open to the public via The National Trust.

Bateman's National Trust

I never tire of looking for buildings hung with red tiles be they humble or grand and now I take photographs. The workers cottages we live in have a few dragon scales and our particular cottage has quite a few Dragons inside and out as we collect them.

I love the elaborate tile decoration which you find all over Britain on cottages, grand houses and shops. 

This is the magnificent Merchant's House, Marlborough, Wiltshire
Courtyards and alleys in Marlborough

This building is cheating a little as strictly speaking these are not tile hung, but built into the fabric of this wonderful old bulding at Kingsclere. I can still imagine them as Dragon scales, for quite a special Dragon. It's a most loved place of mine. The initials on it are of one of the greatest ever racehorse trainers John Porter (2 March 1838 – 21 February 1922) who built Kingsclere on the Hampshire Downs and also founded Newbury Racecourse in Berkshire. During his career he trained racehorses for royalty and his horses won twenty three British Classic races including the Epsom Derby seven times. Some of his most famous horses include the Triple Crown winners  Ormonde (1886), Common (1891), and Flying Fox (1899).  You can read more about him and Kingsclere here: National Racing Museum.

While I was growing up in America I collected books about England, especially those with illustrations of country cottages inclduing my 'Dragon Cottages'. I knew I'd live here one day and it kept my dream alive to look at them.

One of my favourite artists was Helen Allingham,  (26 September 1848 – 28 September 1926)  the  English watercolourist and illustrator of the victorian era. I know her view of England is a romantic one, but that is the point isn't it? I love the way her paintings are so soft, almost always include animals and birds and do have a dreamy quality to them.

A cottage at Shere, c.1875
Where I grew up a few people had prairie style gardens, but not many. It was thought in those days that your garden, or 'yard' as Americans call them, should be a tidy place. My Great Grandmother was a magical woman. Very self sufficient, a little mysterious and set in the old ways. She had a tiny cottage a cat and a cottage garden. I still remember her sweeping her dirt path to keep it free of weeds and less dusty.

Kentish Garden, Helen Allingham

Although her cottage was in a rural backwater of Northern California she may have been the one who first set me dreaming of the world beyond, of castles and kings and dragon cottages.


  1. Beautiful pictures and I love these old houses. Have a great day.


  2. Being a lover of dragons, I LOVE your dragon cottages. Looks like dragon scales to me!

  3. Lovely photos. I've visited Batemans but not A. A. Milne's old home. It looks a great place to visit - if only to see the Winnie the Pooh characters!

    1. It's not far from Pooh Corner and the bridge where you can play Pooh Sticks. A nice summer visit.

  4. This was really interesting!
    Yes, these do look like dragons scales, and what a wonderful imagination children do have.
    I think your great grandmother's garden would have been heavenly!

  5. Ah, thank you for sharing such lovely pictures. Love them! My favorite type of garden is a cottage garden--all wild and free and glorious!

  6. What a lovely story you're told us...most of us creative ones have someone to thank for our inspiration...glad yours was your grandmother and so glad you're living in a place you've always dreamed of. My idea of home heaven is also a cottage with a totally unruly, but flower filled garden! Have a lovely week. Sharon x

  7. Thank you for this lovely lesson in British architecture. The photos were marvelous. How I would love to visit your beautiful country . . . but I am delighted to be able to follow you on your journeys through hill and dale.
    Thank you for sharing.
    Have a great day, Connie :)

  8. How lovely that you appreciate our hanging tiles so much and all those bits and bobs that adorn houses. Mr Kipling was a local lad and my neighbours daughter owns the house where he lived as a child - I had to pop over there recently and it is a lovely charming place (though I don't think he was too happy there as a child) - no hung tiles though!

  9. Minerva,
    The thatched and red brick tiled traditional cottages are so nostalgic, soothing and fabulous!! The walls with scale-like red bricks are just graceful!

    In Kobe there is a western style house nicknamed "House of Scales" built in 1905 for foreigners. Now this beautiful house is a popular sightseeing spot.

    In Japan a dragon is a deity of water, and also one of four directional guardians.

    I love traditional houses very much. Box-like modern buildings are boring. In Japan still there are a lot of thatched houses, it is interesting the way to shingle a roof with thatch is quite different.

    Thanks a lot for sharing beautiful stories and photos.



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