May 17th – The Festival of the Kissingate

Never underestimate the ability of Buentoillitants to wilfully misinterpret history or small details in the service of a festival or celebration. Today’s festival is down to one such misinterpretation, namely a misspelling of a last name intermingled with, and used as an excuse to celebrate, an ancient folk tradition.

Architect Bellatrix Kissine was the foremost purveyor of grand kilnerstead architecture, a style which she developed from the decorations commonly found on the homes of tile workers in the Sleade Yard district of Buentoille. The doorways and windows of Sleade Yard homes are surrounded by colourful tiles, often painted like flowers growing up a trellis, a cat or dragon sleeping on the sill, and other imaginative designs.

The older examples of the folk kilnerstead style clearly use broken or faulty (i.e. the glaze did not take properly) tiles which were taken from the pottery factories of the area by workers to decorate their homes. Older buildings can be identified by the mosaic-like appearance of the tiled designs, which were placed before the style caught on and tiles began to be custom-made to adorn the outside of houses. The grand kilnerstead style, on the other hand, uses only custom-made tiles, usually textured, featuring raised designs with a limited colour range, and it covers entire buildings, not just sections.

Kissine was from a family long-entrenched within the potteries of Sleade Yard, and both her mother and father worked with clay; her mother was a glazer and her father was a kilner (someone who operates a kiln). From a young age, Kissine exhibited an excellent sense of proportion and accuracy, and was a remarkable drawer; as such she was taken on by an architect as an apprentice, and before she was twenty she had been awarded the contract for her first civic building, the Sleade Yard wellhouse. Little more than a hut, the structure which was built to house the pumping and water purification apparatus shows a little of the style Kissine would later develop; the natural curves of the arches, the sloping roof that eventually meets the ground at each corner, the way in which the space guides the entrant to a central point (in this case, the well itself).

By the time she made the Gate, the entryway into Sleade Yard, her home, Kissine had been commissioned to build a number of other civic buildings, including a bathhouse and library, and the grand kilnerstead style which she developed in the process dominates the district to this day. You would think that a building almost entirely covered in tiles would be all flat surfaces and right angles, but this is not the case with Kissine’s constructions: as with the wellhouse, natural arches and sloped roofs are a common element, although unlike that early example the walls are covered in the complex, raised designs of terracotta tiles. Key features, such as fired clay figures in recessed alcoves, are picked out with colourful glazes, but most is left in the natural, earthy red terracotta colour.

Given her impact upon the district, it is only natural that the people of Sleade Yard would wish to celebrate her memory in some way. Given that she only died 200 years ago, you would think that today, the day of her death, yet that is not the focus of today’s festivities. Granted, the Union of Potters and Clay Workers does hold a tour or two today, pointing out the stories told by the complex arrangement of the tiles on Kissine’s buildings, but far more people gather at one particular construction, the last building that Kissine designed before she died, the Sleade Yard Periphery Gate, more commonly referred to as the ‘Kissingate’.

For thousands of years there has been a tradition in Buentoille that if two lovers are out walking and they come across a gate, one of the lovers may deign the gate to be a ‘kissing gate’ and extract the ‘toll’ of a kiss before they allow their counterpart to pass. The tradition is old enough that few know where it came from, although presumably it began after the invention of tolled roads or entryways. Claims that the term ‘kissing gate’ comes from a particular form of gate with two gateposts on one side which the gate ‘kisses’ between as it opens have been repeatedly proven untrue.

It’s easy to see how attributing Kissinge’s name to the gate she had designed would lead to associations with the ‘kissing gate’ tradition, and the design of the gate certainly doesn’t dissuade this; the gate is a solid construction, a low arch like a whale’s back breaching the water’s surface, in which several entries are cut. The central gateway is the largest, allowing for the passage of goods and vehicles, but on either side are five other, much smaller passages, which only allow one person to pass at a time. These passages provide the perfect place to stop your lover and demand a kiss.

This isn’t to say that the lovers who flock to the Kissingate today do so with no knowledge of the woman who built it; most know that the gate was never intended for the purpose they give it, but why should that stand in the way of an excuse for a good snog? A particularly popular spot on the gate today is the westernmost passage, wherein the wall is ‘signed’ by Kissine; on all her buildings she included one particular tile depicting a lover’s kiss.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Rain Falls in my Heart: a Festival
  • The Day of Lost Toys
  • The Festival of Articulated Vehicles