Heritage conservation at our front door

Fulford Place

Buildings and architecture, Cultural objects, Tools for conservation

Published Date: Feb 15, 2007

Photo: Fulford Place

The term “porte-cochère” has continental flair, though humble origins. In French, it means “carriage door” and originally referred to a covered entryway into a courtyard large enough to admit a horse-drawn carriage. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, the porte-cochère became fashionable and evolved into a porch or portico-like structure, an elaborate architectural element announcing the front door of a public building or private mansion. It is the place where people are brought by chauffeurs, where a vehicle stops only long enough for its occupants to alight sheltered from the elements.

The porte-cochère of Fulford Place in Brockville is a visitor’s penultimate destination. After moving through the west stone gates with their elaborate wrought iron work, visitors then follow the serpentine driveway to reach the elliptical arched opening of the porte-cochère, coming to rest before a great pendant lantern. You have arrived!

This porte-cochère is appropriately grand, incorporating a low front wall and corner piers of “Governeur” marble supporting a wood cornice and balustrade. Each side has a wide bay for vehicles and a narrower one for pedestrians. Each opening is also spanned by an elliptical wood arch simulating stone. The front elevation features three semi-circular arches supported by four pairs of wood columns with capitals of the Composite order.

In the spring of 2006, the Trust restored the porte-cochère. This work included re-building sections of stonework that had shifted, structural reinforcement of sagging roof framing and the repair and repainting of columns and other wood elements. The column capitals were the originals, made of a composite plaster material that had weathered badly. The specimen in best condition was used to prepare a mould that was, in turn, used to cast new replacement capitals in a composite plastic material. With the architecture restored, attention turned to the remarkable lantern that illuminates the marble steps of the front door landing.

This lantern resembles a miniature circular temple with heavy translucent glass walls. It stands four feet tall and combines classical architectural elements – fluted pilasters with bases and capitals, acanthus leaves and anthemion – adorning a six-bay, domed circular structure. The form of the lantern is reminiscent of ancient circular temples.

Despite its noble pedigree and unknown origins, this lantern is made of neither stone nor bronze, but of iron. While there are stronger rings, straps and brackets of wrought and cast iron, the decorative sheet-metal is thin and susceptible to rust. Over the years, these adornments had rusted to the point of perforation and even of disappearance. Enough remained, however, that conservation and partial restoration were possible. This was achieved through the generosity of private donors and of the conservator, who conserved the lantern and fabricated various missing elements.

As a result, visitors to Fulford Place may appreciate the restored porte-cochère and lantern as the enlightened results of many centuries of classical European precedent.