Approaching Taplow village from the north, the tall Lutyens-style chimneys of Wickenden are clearly visible as one passes the village boundary. But not everyone could be aware of the interesting details that are hidden from view by the plain exterior of the back wall of the house.
The land adjoining the front of the property has been home to Taplow Cricket Club since 1859, and in the 1960s, Raymond Locke, then president of the club, bought the Victorian cottage that occupied Wickenden’s site at that time, and demolished it in order to build a modern bungalow. When he sold the bungalow in 1988, it was bought by John Midlane, another ardent cricket fan and member of the village club, and his wife Iris.
The Midlanes were unsuccessful in their attempts to enlarge the bungalow, but gained permission to demolish it entirely and build a new home on the site. Plans were drawn up by architect Gavin Charlton-Brown, who lived in Cookham and, with his wife Sarah, had become friendly with the Midlanes when their sons attended
St Pirans’ prep school in Maidenhead. Carlton-Brown devised a fascinating design that incorporated not only superb, grand features in the style of Lutyens, but also some more intimate details that reflected John’s great love – cricket.
The front door is flanked by two stone pillars in the shape of cricket stumps. There is a third stump, of course, but this is inside the house, clearly outlined in the stone floor of the entrance hall, as though felled by a giant bowler. Originally the stumps supported a pair of bails, over the threshold, but these were removed in order to make way for a more pleasing arch above the door, and are now set into an internal wall. Inside the house, the discreetly placed details continue – stumps instead of banisters along the galleried landing and on the staircase, which also has cricket balls on the newel posts at the top and bottom, and more stumps in the stone surround of the drawing room fireplace.
Like the bungalow that preceded it, the house is positioned to give a perfect view straight down the wicket. Indeed, local lore has it that Raymond Locke liked to lie in bed, watching the matches over the bowler’s – or umpire’s – shoulder! The view from Wickenden’s drawing room, with its gracious Lutyens-style window rising up to the full height of the first floor, is spectacular, with not so much as a low fence to interrupt the eye of the observer. This does have its disadvantages, however, since visitors to cricket matches may occasionally be found wandering in the garden, not realising that they have strayed on to private land.
The design of the house is not entirely given over to cricket, however: there is one small, but telling, architectural detail that has nothing to do with the game. When the plans were being drawn up, Iris Midlane insisted that there should be something of her choosing in the house and so, set into the brickwork above the front door, there is a stone carving of the flower that bears her name.