The Manor: An Essay In Gothic Revival
by W. John McIntyre
If the architect of The Manor was a local man, he in all probability was Henry Harris, who began business in Aurora about 1855 (7), just after the coming of the railway had brought the village its first wave of prosperity and house building. Harris advertised in the Aurora Banner as a “Carpenter, Joiner, Undertaker, Paper Hanger, Glazier, etc.” and promised,
ALL kinds of house Joinery prepared to order on the shortest notice. Plans and Specifications of Buildings furnished. Estimates given for general repairs. All kinds of Saws sharpened.(8)
In a later advertisement, Harris proclaimed his skills at “Shaping,” “Scroll Sawing”and “Rustic Work” (9) — standard features of Gothic Revival building.
The front, or main, section of The Manor is essentially a two-story brick rectangle topped by a gable roof. Its facade is dominated by a high, pointed gable at the centre and a wide verandah — a North American innovation to lessen the effects of summer heat — which continues along the north and south sides of the house. From clustered wooden columns supporting a bell-curved verandah roof, spring pointed wooden arches, the pierced quatrefoil decoration of their spandrels recalling the stone tracery of Gothic cathedrals.(10) Giving access to the house is a wide front door, its upper panels embellished with the Gothic Revival work of the scroll saw. Around the door are sidelights and a transom with pointed wooden mullions. Opening off the front verandah are two pairs of glazed French doors flanked by louvered shutters. Above the front door and verandah is a small balcony reached by French doors accented by a wooden label, or drip moulding, above. The present wooden railing is not original to the house. (11)
Projecting onto the verandah on the south side are two bay windows, believed to have been added sometime after 1876 when the Hillary family occupied the house. The second-storey windows above, like those on the north side, are of the casement variety, capped by wooden labels. The roof line above them is broken by pierced bargeboards, or vergeboards, composed of several layers of wood to give a feeling of great thickness and intricacy. At the apex of the gable is a shaped wooden king post. Bargeboards and king posts continue their merry course around the eaves of the facade and the north side.
The red brick of the facade is laid in Flemish bond accented by a yellow brick belt course and quoins which define the corners of the house and its central gable. As is often the case in Ontario houses of this vintage, the brick of the north and south sides has been laid in common bond — that is, in several rows of stretchers alternating with a single row of headers, rather than in the more decorative pattern of header-stretcher-header as found in the Flemish style. Interestingly enough, a portion of the south wall of the house has at some time been repainted with coloured mortar and then pointed with grey mortar to produce a pattern which s pleasingly regular but has little or nothing to do with the actual placement of the bricks. Rising above the north and south gables are brick chimneys of patterned red and yellow.
After coming to the front door, the visitor to The Manor enters through a small vestibule. On the wall is a brass plaque reading:
ADVICE GRATIS DAILY
FROM 10 TO 11
This serves as a reminder that The Manor was built as a doctor’s residence and office. To the right was the doctor’s dispensary; to the left was his consulting room. Dividing the business from the family part of the house is a doorway with sidelights and transom identical to those of the front door.
On coming through the second doorway, we enter a wide stair hall flanked by two large rooms of equal proportion, both retaining their wide, moulded baseboards, door and window enframements and marble mantels and fireplace surrounds.(12) Directly above are four bedrooms and what may originally have been intended as a sewing room opening onto the front balcony.
From a landing, two thirds of the way up the gracefully curving stairway, double doors flanked by round-headed plaster niches open into a lofty ballroom or music room. This room and the room directly below , which is on a level slightly lower than the main section of the house, are part of a brick wing believed to have been added by Dr. Frederick W. Strange, the second owner of the house, about the year 1870. The ballroom is by far the finest room in the house. It is lighted by two tall windows, one facing north and one south, and distinguished by a high, coved ceiling enriched with wide plaster mouldings. Unfortunately, through the jarring of road widenings and ever-increasing traffic on Yonge Street, this room has suffered. Some of the best of the plasterwork has fallen; but enough remains to suggest the elegant setting this must once have been.
Beyond the ballroom is yet another wing, of timber construction, built by the Hillarys with money realised from the sale of family landholdings in Ireland. On the upper floor is a bathroom with its original copper tub installed in 1888 according to plans drawn up by the Toronto architect, David Dick, a relative by marriage.(13) Also here is a servant’s room and a narrow stairway leading down to the kitchen and its adjoining woodshed. Built-in cupboards in the lower half of the ballroom wing indicate that The Manor’s kitchen once was located here. The location of the first kitchen, however, is unknown. The earliest part of the house does have a cellar below it, but there is no structural evidence to suggest that a kitchen ever was located there.
Today The Manor stands as a monument to another time, another taste and another way of life. Its wooden fence has been reconstructed by the National Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada according to evidence found in an early photograph. Behind it The Manor defies the busy world outside, quietly, serenely, with a romantic charm which bespeaks the best of Gothic Revival.
N 0 T E S
7. Aurora Banner, Jan. 1, 1875.
8. Aurora Banner, Feb. 19, 1864.
9. Aurora Banner, Jan. 1, 1875.
10. Early photographs show that the west end of the south verandah of The Manor once was partially enclosed with tall windows probably added by the Hillarys; hence the absence here of the arches and spandrels found elsewhere on the verandah.
11. Early photographs show that a wooden sunroom, which probably destroyed the original railing, was added to the balcony. Fortunately, this appendage has now been removed.
12. Structural evidence in the cellar indicates that the fireplace in the north room was an early addition. The chimney on this side of the house was originally used only with stoves.
13. Dated plans of the bathroom and its cistern are in the possession of the Hillary family, Aurora.