The Knut Houses, Farnish

There are only six of them (and the facades of two more that were incorporated into a nursery school), but they are an eccentric example of philanthropy at its best, or worse. Captain Kurt Canute, of Farnish, in spite of his Scandinavian name (his forebears were Danish raiders who settled on the island in the 10th Century), was a true patriot and a war hero of the Boer War. He claimed, also, to have participated in the battles of Islandlwanda and Rorke's Drift against the Zulus. Returning to Farnish after the war, having gathered a small fortune -- one doesn't really want to ask how -- he brought with him several loyal troops who had been under his command. How he chose to reward them, you can see by looking at the street plan below. Please read on...
[ The Six Knut Houses just off Gelling Road, down Smuts and Kitchener Streets. North is to the right ]

First of all, notice the grid layout and the identical (save for mirror imaging) layouts of the buildings. Notice, too, how small they are and how limited the associated land. A typical Knut House will be described below. If they weren't so well constructed, one might imagine a concentration camp -- after all, that atrocity was invented during the Boer War -- but this was not Captain Canute's intention; it was rather to provide housing for destitute and solitary veterans who had served under his command. Numbers 1 and 2, which were never actually built, were to have been a pub/clubhouse and a small hostel for visitors, no doubt on a larger scale than the dwellings. Plans were for 24 houses altogether, but Canute ran out of money (see below). The streets are bollarded at both ends to prevent entry for cars and are paved with cobblestones -- features that along with the architecture are pleasingly aesthetic.

One very obvious feature is the castellated tower-house plan of the buildings, small as they are, each fully defensible psychologically if not in reality. 'Every man's home is his castle' was in Canute's mind when he designed this project for his truly beleagured subjects. But each has its own back garden, because Canute, paranoid though he apparently was, believed in the therapeutic benefits of tending the soil.* In addition, Canute was his own architect, and as an amateur did not do badly, although the interior layouts could have been more sensibly arranged.

The ground floor (there is no cellar) is floored with stone flags. The front entrance opens directly into the dining room, but to protect against drafts there is a large wooden settle, designed by Captain Canute based on his sea-faring experience; it is seven feet high, with coat hooks and boot cupboards at the back and crockery shelving and sitting bench facing the dining area. The dining room has a sink overlooking an outside water cistern fed from the gutters. The hearth was provided with a Franklin stove. There is a coal or wood-buring fireplace in the drawing room, which also has the door to the back yard. Between the two main rooms is the spiral staircase built into a projecting turret. A small kitchen, a lavatory, and a larder/pantry complete the ground-floor layout.

Two bedrooms take up most of the second story. One of them ('master') has a full bathroom and a dressing room, and access to a terrace on top of the larder. The other, while labeled bedroom, was likely as not used by the inhabitant as a private study, as the veterans tended to be single and childless. In several cases, however, a house was shared by two men (no implications meant). There is no heating on this floor.

In all cases, the top or attic floor was left open and unfinished, to be customized in whatever fashion the owner wanted -- from toy soldier displays to junkroom. The roof was a simple gable with two chimneys and the conical top of the stair turret; there are no dormer windows.

All of the houses were modified slightly over the years, especially on Smuts St., which has been 'yuppified' in recent years. Nos. 3 and 4 have jacuzzis and central heating, for example. No. 7 Kitchener St. is mostly in its original state and has been pledged to the town by its elderly inhabitant for use as a museum. Mama Mia's Nursery School (nos. 9 and 10) preserves the facades on Kitchener St., thus maintaining its character, but they have been merged and consolidated into a single building at the back.

The Knut Houses are just outside the town of Farnisham/Nostril, where the road to Gelling turns north along the edge of Farn Common (known as "The Boggs"). Captain Canute enclosed a bit of the common, probably illegally though nobody objected, to do this, and picked a site across the road from his own house (see below). As mentioned, he intended to build 24 of these houses, in blocks of four, of which only six were finished and the basics of two more, but all six streets were laid out, with names from the Boer War, between the existing Gelling Road and a new street (Canute Rd.) along the edge of the common, and the alleys with their continuous sewer constructed. Local residents regarded the captain as being an eccentric lunatic, hence the appellation "Knut Houses" -- which name stuck -- for the project. No doubt the local builders defrauded the good captain during construction, because estimates were drastically exceeded by true expenses and the enterprise went bankrupt. The completed houses, however, were handed over to several worthy veterans.

What remains of the project is a very picturesque example of town planning, and it is a pity it was never completed -- the houses eventually built on the other Boer streets are particularly hideous yellow-brick Edwardian workers' terraces. It should be noted, however, that the seat of the Mitherglew family, Seaview House, was built where Knut nos. 1 and 2 were to have been sited (apparently using stone that had been cut but not yet used by Canute's builders); this is a rather attractive building that harmonizes with the rest.

The Mitherglew House

This building, facing Mafeking St., which in turn has an open view to the harbor to the south, takes up the entire length of two Knut House units. There are two small self-contained ground-floor flats used by superannuated Mitherglews and a studio or workshop in the back yard, currently used by Sam Mitherglew for his model train set; unlike the Knut Houses, there is a cellar under the main kitchen. Another bedroom suite, for the housekeeper, is behind the kitchen. The garret floor, or top story, has a gambrel roof with dormer windows, and there is a terrace at the top of the central block. Mrs Mitherglew, the matriarch of the family, has her bedroom here -- it takes up that whole section.

Captain Canute's House

Canute's House
Ground Floor

Canute's HouseCanute's House
Upper Floors

Canute's House
Frontage on Gelling Road

Captain Canute himself a few years before starting construction of the Knut Houses built his 'castle' (which is now a home for unwed mothers) across Gelling Road from the Farn Common land he later built the project on. It is another exercise of his architectural style and resembles the rest. It is a T-shaped, three-story stone building with projecting octagonal and square wings containing stairs and lavatories. The top floor was a dormitory for his pensioners. Unfortunately, to the north of this house on that side of Gelling Rd. there is a row of appalling yellow-brick workmen's houses and small shops, and up Canute's Close, the Grammar School and Baptist Chapel.

Street Plan of West Farnisham

This is a small neighborhood on the edge of the Common just outside the old town of Farnisham. St Marhip's Cemetery is now the town burial place, since the old churchyard is full.

a) St Marhips OAP Home (home for destitute old people)
b) 'Yellow Bricks' (workers' row houses)
c) Mama Mia's Nursery School
d) The Knut Houses
e) Seaview (Mitherglew's)
f) Baptist Chapel
g) Jesse McBride Grammar School
h) School House
i) Headmaster's House
j) Gymnasium
k) Shops
l) Canute's House

Gelling Road, the main road to the west in Farnish, makes a very sharp turn to the north here, but proposals to tear down Seaview or Canute's House to build a roundabout traffic circle have been vigorously resisted.

Note: The shops on Scouts Row, by the way, are a general store cum post office, a tobacconist, a green grocer, and a small laundromat. St Marhip's Nursing Home is the only one on Farnish, having been built in 1912 by the benefactor Jesse McBride (who also built the Public Library). The Grammar School (100 or so students ages 5 to 11), and its extensive playing grounds and gymnasium, is the only official elementary school on the island, although there are smaller places of education elsewhere. The Baptist Chapel is the only 'conformist' non-comformist church on Farnish apart from the Methodist church in the town; there are a couple of small houses that host Mormons, Christian Scientists, and Scientologists (#6 Chaka St.), and there is also a Roman Catholic church in Farnisham. The yellow-brick row-houses at the bottom right along Gelling Road extend all the way to Farnisham (1/8 mile) and are now very popular because of their unobstructed view to the sea; although they are tiny 2-up, 2-down dwellings, the town council has refused to replace them with condos, mainly because of Mother Mitherglew's objections.

[* Whereas Grobius, who is not paranoid, just designs ridiculous web pages like this, and spends hours creating castles.
Beats fishing or golf.]

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