Sezincote near Bourton-on-the-Hill, Gloucestershire, was an early 19th century attempt to replicate the architecture of the Mughal Emperor Akbar who ruled from 1556 to 1605 and was known for his conscious mingling of Islamic and Hindu architectural styles. His ancestors had conquered a culturally diverse subcontinent and were keen to integrate them. The adoption of this combination of Islamic and Hindu styles is therefore not merely capricious. (Compare this with Brighton’s Royal Pavilion with its Indo-Saracenic exterior and its Chinese interior — of which, more below.)
The word Sezincote has French parentage, in the word Cheisnecote — combining chêne and cot or côte — giving “home of oaks” or “hillside of oaks”. (English pronunciation begins surprisingly with the sound of the word seize, not that of says.) Oak trees remain in evidence today in Sezincote’s wonderfully sylvan valley, although newer, specimen trees crowd around the house — which may originally have been the work of landscape gardener Humphrey Repton. Either way, the setting is timelessly English, even when it is home to an imagined slice of India
The Sezincote estate was bought by John Cockerell in 1795 upon a return from Bengal where he had been a colonel in the East India Company. His friend Warren Hastings, who had been India’s Governor-General, had property nearby. Cockerell’s younger brother and heir, Charles, asked another brother, Samuel Pepys Cockerell, to design a house for him. S.P. Cockerell had been surveyor to the East India Company and was an architect in his own right. Sezincote’s design was worked on jointly by S.P. Cockerell and by the artist Thomas Daniell who had travelled extensively in India, producing oils, watercolours and aquatints of Indian architecture. The joint experience of these two men enabled Sezincote to be executed with a degree of authenticity. Whether this excused them for planting a building that some at the time thought reflected the paternalism of the Raj or the wealth of ‘nabobs’ is an open question. (Hastings was impeached for corruption in 1788 and subsequently exonerated in 1795, receiving a handsome stipend.)
The building’s Muslim details show in the ‘onion’ dome, the chattris (small domed minarets on the corners of the building and the chajja (the deep, projecting cornicing with brackets under the eaves). Hindu details show in the many carved lotuses and the ‘peacock tail’ arches and window fanlights. Inside, Sezincote is executed in a Greek revival style and no attempt was made to Indianise it. Today the place is a private home which is also available for hire as a wedding venue (which explains the Hindustan Ambassador car and tuk-tuk parked outside in the second photograph above).
I happen to like Sezincote. In spite of its incongruity in a beautiful corner of rural England, I found it gentle on the eye and not in the least discordant. Its orange-coloured stone reminds me of the yellow-ochre sand and limestone crépis used so adorably on French buildings. I’ve also long lived near enough to Brighton’s Royal Pavilion to be at ease with that building’s truly bizarre history. And of course, the two buildings are related in that the Prince Regent visited Sezincote in 1807 and was so taken with what he saw that he instructed John Nash to remodel his Marine Pavilion in Brighton along similar lines. A painting by Thomas Daniell hangs in Sezincote’s entrance hall to mark the moment when the Prince’s coach arrived at Sezincote. The rest is indeed history.