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Tag Archives: In 50 Buildings Series

  • Aberdeen in 50 Buildings by Jack Gillon

    Marischal College. (Aberdeen in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Aberdeen has all the appearance, and is furnished with most of the attributes, of a wealthy metropolis. It has all the public buildings which distinguish a capital. The streets possess the proper degree of regularity and elegance. It has busy crowds, in which the stranger soon loses himself; and its inhabitants, when inspected individually, are found to possess the dignity, the wealth, and the enlightened views, which are never to be found but in towered cities.

    The visitor enters the city by a long, spacious, straight, and regular way, denominated Union Street, which, when completed to the utmost of its designed extent, must turn out decidedly the finest thing of the kind in the kingdom. Previously to the opening of this way in 1811, the town was entered by a series of narrow tortuous streets.

    The most remarkable thing about Aberdeen in the eye of a traveller, is the stone with which it is built. This is a grey granite, of great hardness, found in inexhaustible profusion in the neighbourhood, and of which vast quantities, fashioned into small blocks, are annually exported to London, for the paving of streets. Though not polished, but merely hewn into moderate smoothness, this forms a beautiful wall, of a somewhat sombre colour it is true, but yet strikingly elegant.

    The Music Hall. (Aberdeen in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Aberdeen is a flourishing port, and is the seat of a set of active and prosperous merchants. It is the place where commerce first took its rise in Scotland. Having thus got the start by many centuries of every other commercial city, it has maintained all along to the present time a certain degree of advance; it is certain that in no other place is the mercantile science so thoroughly understood, or the commercial character carried to a pitch of such exquisite perfection.

    Aberdeen originally developed around St Katherine’s Hill, a prominence that stood in the middle of the present-day Union Street. The town was given royal burgh status in the twelfth century and the Castlegate, or Marketgate, was the historic heart of the medieval burgh. The harbour was fundamental to Aberdeen’s prosperity and the town’s economic importance.

     

     

    The Sir Duncan Rice Library. (Aberdeen in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    The rapid growth of Aberdeen in the eighteenth century resulted in its expansion beyond the tightly confined medieval streets around the base of St Katherine’s Hill. A number of new streets were formed during this period of planned expansion.

    In 1794, Aberdeen town council requested the engineer Charles Abercrombie to provide plans to rationalise the muddle of old unplanned streets of an increasingly wealthy and self-assured Aberdeen to connect the town to the surrounding countryside.

    Abercrombie’s bold plan proposed a significant Georgian rebuilding of the city with two major new thoroughfares – one running westwards from the Castlegate to the Denburn, and the other north. An Act passed on 14 April 1800 approved the construction of the new streets – the road to the west became Union Street and the road to the north was King Street. These new roads represented major engineering enterprises and set the context of modern Aberdeen. Union Street was a particularly challenging project – the street had to cut through St Katherine’s Hill, required a series of arches and a bridge over the Denburn. The generous scale of Union Street allowed the construction of buildings of substantial size and importance, and established Union Street as Aberdeen’s main thoroughfare. The street was named to commemorate the union of Great Britain and Ireland, in 1801. John Smith (1781–1852), Aberdeen’s City Architect, and Archibald Simpson (1790–1847) were the leading architects involved in this great remodelling of the expanding city.

    The Town House and Tolbooth. (Aberdeen in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    The predominant use of locally quarried grey granite up to the mid-twentieth century is a distinguishing feature of many of the city’s most important buildings, which gives them a distinct glitter in the sun and earned Aberdeen the sobriquet of the ‘Granite City’. The quality of the Aberdeenshire granite was internationally recognised and it was used for buildings around the world. The excavation of granite from the quarry at Rubislaw, which opened in 1740 and closed in 1971, created the biggest man-made hole in Europe.

    Aberdeen is a thriving city which has been synonymous with oil ever since the discovery of North Sea reserves in the 1970s. It has a proud and distinctive identity, a wealth of fine heritage buildings and more recent developments of outstanding quality. This has made the task of selecting fifty buildings to represent the best of the city’s architecture immensely difficult. This book takes the development of this rich and vibrant city as its broad theme, and includes buildings which seem to best represent the city’s long history.

    Jack Gillon's new book Aberdeen in 50 Buildings is available for purchase now.

  • Loughborough in 50 Buildings by Lynne Dyer

    Old Rectory, c. 1228. Close-up of the ancient walls. (Loughborough in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Loughborough. When I tell people I live in Loughborough, I am either asked “Where’s that?” or “Do you know Seb Coe / Paula Radcliffe / Liam Tancock / Tanni Grey-Thompson / Steve Backley [substitute here the name of any other sporting personality who may have been an Olympian or para-Olympian, recently]?” However, nobody ever asks me what it’s like to live so far away from the sea.

    It’s clear though, isn’t it, that since hardly anybody has heard of Loughborough, often doesn’t know where it is, and knows little, if anything, of its heritage, that it’s my job to change that. This was my purpose in writing a book entitled Loughborough in 50 Buildings.

    So, what makes Loughborough stand out from other UK towns? What about Loughborough is important – either to its own history and development, or at a national level? How is Loughborough at once different and yet, at the same time, the same as other UK locations? Why write a book about its buildings?

    The cemetery chapels viewed from the Leicester Road entrance. (Loughborough in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Well, an examination of the buildings of Loughborough, however brief, throws up both similarities and differences with other towns, and through a discovery of these buildings, the history and fortunes of the town become apparent. We may not have the listed buildings of, say Stamford (Lincolshire), nor the cathedral of Canterbury (Kent), the Tudor buildings of Stratford nor the suspension bridge of Newport (Monmouthshire), but we do have listed buildings, and a fair few locally listed buildings, not to mention a whole host of non-listed buildings, all of which give Loughborough its uniqueness and really are worth shouting about, and shouting loudly.

    The buildings I have chosen to include in Loughborough in 50 Buildings are a quirky mix of ages and styles, of form and function, and – shock - some of them aren’t actually habitable buildings, but structures of huge significance to the town. A temporal range is included, starting with an Iron Age hill fort and some of Loughborough’s earliest buildings like the Manor House, the Guildhall, the Old Rectory and the Parish Church. Then moving through the Georgian period, to the expansion of the town in Victorian times, and even greater expansion in the 1930s. Today, the town continues to develop and even some 1960s buildings get an entry, with 21st century buildings and structures bringing us bang up to date.

    The messenger factory viewed from Hospital Walk. (Loughborough in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Trades of yesteryear are represented in buildings like the Guildhall, the industrial units of Messengers, Morris and Brush, the service industries by the auction mart of Garton and Amatt and the banks of Lloyds and NatWest. The social life of the inhabitants of Loughborough are shown in the Sparrow Hill Theatre, the cinemas and bingo hall, as well as in the Temperance Hall and the town pubs. The educational life of both town and gown is evident from buildings like the Warner School and the university Towers hall of residence.

    The whole life span of Loughborough’s inhabitants can be traced from birth, perhaps at Radmoor House, to death and burial at the town cemetery. This book looks to the future with the impressive initiative to reinstate the Great Central Steam train line from Leicester to Nottingham.

    Loughborough in 50 Buildings is my first published book. Well, actually, it’s the first book I’ve ever written! I am a regular blogger (lynneaboutloughborough – no surprise there then!) and I write short articles for a variety of publications, but never before a full-length book. Was it difficult? In a word, ‘yes’! Finding time to dedicate to researching and writing as well as continuing to do the ‘day job’ and keep up with other interests and commitments, required a lot of planning and dedication, but it resulted in a great sense of satisfaction. Oh, and a good deal of self-doubt! What if I’ve got something wrong? What if people who read it come back to me with queries and questions, with counter-arguments and criticisms? Well, I have told people to do just that! Much of history is about an interpretation of the facts, and some of those facts are simply nowhere to be found, or are well-hidden, or have been superseded by further information coming to light that isn’t yet freely available. If my readers don’t tell me about things they think are wrong, about things where they have more information than I do, then I will never learn, and after all, life is one life-long learning journey.

    So, you may have a number of questions about Loughborough in 50 Buildings to ask me.

    Radmoor House viewed from Radmoor Road with its bay window facing the park. (Loughborough in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    What was your favourite building?

    I loved them all – that’s why I wrote about them! But, if I had to chose one, I think it would be Radmoor House. Its position along a residential street that is effectively a dead end (it used to lead through to the main ring road, but now only leads to the College buildings). Its sideways orientation facing a park, but surrounded by a substantial hedge on three sides, means that the full magnitude of the building is not visible from the roadside and one could easily walk past it without giving it a second thought or a second glance. Which is what I used to do when I was a student forty years ago, and which was why I was intrigued enough to investigate its history. And what a history it has!! Lived in by some prominent local industrialists, being a nursing home and the birthplace of many local people, and now a College building, this has to be my favourite.

     

     

    The former Odean, now Beacon Bingo. Hathernware partnered with red brick. (Loughborough in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Was there a group of buildings that appealed to you the most?

    Yes, I’d have no hesitation in saying I am absolutely fascinated by the numerous Art Deco buildings we have in Loughborough, all clad in Hathernware, and still as striking today as the day they were erected. This includes the current Odeon, the former Odeon (now a bingo hall), the building formerly associated with the local newspaper press, the Blacksmith’s Arms and a jewellery shop – to name but a few.

    What was most exciting thing about the writing process?

    For me, the most exciting thing about writing was the way everything seemed to be interconnected. The same Loughborough folk popped up in association with several buildings, the same architects designed a number of the buildings, the same builders were involved in erecting several buildings, the same brick manufacturers made the bricks used to build the buildings, and if I mentioned Hathern Station Brick and Terra Cotta Company once, then I mentioned it a hundred times. Apart from the local connections, there were moments when I could connect Loughborough to many other places in the UK. What place hasn’t got its connections with the Civil War? What UK church wasn’t renovated in the nineteenth century by Sir George Gilbert Scott? What town or city didn’t suffer from outbreaks of plague and cholera? Even the smallest of locations had a cinema at one time. And what hamlet, town or city hasn’t got a war memorial? Connections with nearby local places are made through architects like Watson Fothergill working in Nottingham and Newark, and the Goddards in Leicester and Kettering, and with larger cities like London in the use of Portland Stone, and the prolific use of polished Scottish granite across the country. And what connects Loughborough to almost the whole of the UK and much of the rest of the world? Taylors Bellfoundry. Hathernware (previously Hathern Station Brick and Terra Cotta Company), Ladybird Books and Loughborough University.

    Now that you’ve written one book, would you write another?

    Ah, that would be a ‘yes’! Secret Loughborough is due for publication in 2019!

    Lynne Dyer's new book Loughborough in 50 Buildings is available for purchase now.

  • Stoke-on-Trent in 50 Buildings by Mervyn Edwards

    Former Burslem Town Hall, 1994. (Stoke-on-Trent in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    One man’s meat is another man’s poison. It’s a hoary adage that often springs to mind when I consider the buildings of Stoke-on-Trent or indeed any other city. Stoke has a particularly poor building conservation record – which is a stomach-churning but very necessary accusation for me to make, considering the city’s undoubted and abiding reputation for creativity. Like many other areas – though not all – its building stock is a jarring mishmash of just over 190 listed buildings juxtaposed with concrete banana crates, soulless office and residential blocks and some particularly gruesome manifestations of post-war development.

    Part of the problem with Stoke’s architecture in the last sixty years has been the relative lack of originality. When I gaze, glumly, at many new buildings I see a tepid harking back to the past that attempts to give structures a dignity and gravitas. This is perhaps offered as a sop to the traditionalist but fails on two levels. Firstly, it is better to preserve the past rather than copy it. Secondly, we need to be designing exciting, high-quality, visually-challenging buildings that can be our proud legacy to future generations. Stoke is not alone in not having picked up the gauntlet. I never cease to smile when I read Thomas Hardy’s description of the High Street Hall in his 1886 novel, The Mayor of Casterbridge (he writes of fictional Dorchester). He scribes:

    “It was Palladian, and, like all architecture erected since the Gothic age, was a compilation rather than a design.”

     

     

    Walkers' Nonsuch factory, 2012. (Stoke-on-Trent in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Truth be told, some of the finest buildings in Stoke-on-Trent ape past architectural styles but are nevertheless a feast for the eye. Burslem Town Hall doffs its cap to several and is one of the city’s most handsome landmarks. However, there are very few post-Thatcher era buildings whose design can be described as being influenced by lateral thinking, eccentricity and daring.

    My book, Stoke-on-Trent in Fifty Buildings (2018) was never intended as a Top Fifty picked in order of merit. It deliberately lists some odd and hopefully annoying choices such as the Walker’s Nonsuch factory in Longton and the Vale Park football ground in Burslem – buildings that are of their time and tell a particular story.

    Port Vale vs Shrewsbury, 2013. (Stoke-on-Trent in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Stoke is sometimes too proud and too parochial to learn from other areas, but I am a huge advocate of comparing and contrasting. When you consider what other cities have achieved, could Stoke not be more madcap and more venturesome? Why can't we have shopping malls as architecturally risky as the Trinity Leeds Shopping Centre or the Selfridges building in Birmingham? Or exciting mixed-use development such as the canalside Nottingham One?   Could you imagine something like Blackpool’s famous Comedy Carpet in Market Square, Hanley? And, rising above it, an iconic structure such as the Dublin Spire? At the very least, can’t we have architecture that teaches, that rips up old paradigms and encourages cultural events or public art?

    Instead, Stoke, along with its development partners, comes up with ideas such as the tidy but timid Unity Walk shopping complex in Hanley – which has now been shelved – and pats itself on the back for its ingenuity. Granted, Stoke is not an affluent city, but if it is truly serious about emerging from the shadows of Manchester and Birmingham then it must find the will and the imagination to reject the safe and the mediocre and embrace pioneering design. It might take its cue from one of Staffordshire’s greatest figures, Reginald Mitchell, who remarked:

    “It is not good enough to follow conventional methods of design. It is essential to invent and evolve new methods and new ideas.”

    Mervyn Edwards' new book Stoke-on-Trent in 50 Buildings is available for purchase now.

  • St Albans in 50 Buildings by Kate Morris

    St Peter's Church. (Kari Lungaard, St Albans in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Patronal saint’s day in St Albans – Albantide 2018

    22nd June, the height of midsummer, is the day on which the Feast of St Alban is celebrated, and celebrated it is, in a big way, in the town named for that saint, which grew on the site of the execution of Alban, the first recorded British Christian martyr.

    The Alban Pilgrimage will take place in 2018 on Saturday 23rd June, culminating in a re-enactment of the execution of that citizen of Verulamium on the hill overlooking the Roman city in the 4th century. The spot is outside the West End of the modern cathedral and the drama will be followed by a Festival Eucharist in the church. The procession begins at St Peter’s Church at the northern end of the town and makes its way through the market area to the Cathedral and Abbey Church, which began its life as a shrine to the martyr on the site of his execution.

    This celebration and festival day is truly of national significance for the culture of this island, given the impact of the event on the development of Christianity in Britain. Locally, the procession is a highlight of the community year, with the multitude of twelve feet tall carnival puppets depicting the saint, Roman soldiers, lions, gladiators, horse drawn chariots, played by 300 or so adults and children.

    Rebuilt in the 12th century by the Norman invaders, the abbey was all but destroyed completely in 1539 following Henry VIII’s dissolution of monasteries. Only the abbey church and the great gateway entrance survived, having been bought by the newly formed Corporation as parish church, school and prison.

    The West End of St Albans Cathedral. (Kari LundgaardSt Albans in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    These buildings form a notable introduction to the story of the medieval and modern city of St Albans which grew over the last one thousand years in South West Hertfordshire, just 20 miles north of London on the old Watling Street. The story is told in my recent book St Albans in 50 Buildings published in February this year. The town has a remarkable number of buildings to illustrate how it developed from being the premier abbey of the land in the Middle Ages, to staging post for packhorse trains and wagons, tourist destination and commuter town. Designated a city by Queen Victoria following the creation of the new Diocese of St Albans in the late nineteenth century, with the Abbey Church as its cathedral, the town had a long and interesting history as a corporate borough with a thriving market throughout the early modern period. With trade and transport at its heart, it hosted not only the Establishment with parish government, but a significant range of dissenting congregations, all of which leave us chapels and meeting houses to remind us of the town’s diverse and wide-ranging history.

    Industrial buildings from the cotton, silk and straw trades as well as printing and other trade premises remain as well as ancient inns and grand eighteenth century town houses, mostly now in commercial occupation, allowing us an insight into the social history of the town, which can truly be said to represent a microcosm of that of the English nation as a whole.

    St Albans in 50 Buildings with a map identifying the location of each of the buildings described, provides not only a good history read, but acts as a guide book for the thousands of tourists and new residents in the town. It also provides a taster for further investigation into the pattern of development of the town and its many more interesting buildings from all periods.

    For information about the Alban Pilgrimage https://www.stalbanscathedral.org/whatson/the-alban-pilgrimage/

    Kate Morris' book St Albans in 50 Buildings is available for purchase now.

  • Yeovil in 50 Buildings by Bob Osborn

    Millennium Blue Plaque (Supplied by author)

    It is frequently difficult to establish the history of an old building unless there is early documentary evidence. I recently came upon such a case with the building 1&3 Princes Street, Yeovil, Somerset (which features in my book Yeovil in 50 Buildings) on the corner of today’s Westminster Street. Until recently the earliest known occupant of the building was a printer named William Porter around 1830 and a Millennium Blue Plaque was erected on the building to this effect. However, a chance purchase of several old leases on an internet auction site enabled me to uncover much of the unknown earlier history of this building.

    Although there has undoubtedly been a building on this site for centuries, the date of the present building is difficult to ascertain. From one of the leases, dated 1835, the earliest known occupier of the site was a saddler, John Reeks (died pre 1764), and his family during the early eighteenth century. Very little is known of John Reeks the Elder. It is known that in 1716 John Reeks, 'Sadler of Yeovil' took on Jos, son of Samuel Lester, as an apprentice. The Poor Rate of 1729 recorded that John Reeks paid 1½d Poor Rate on property in the Manor of Hendford. At this time 1½d was ‘average’ so unlikely that it would have been such a large building as the present 1&3 Princes Street. Between 1737 and 1739 he served as a Churchwarden at St John's church.

    John Reeks the Younger (1713-1770) was presumably the eldest son of the above John. He was baptised at St John's Church on 31 December 1713. John the Younger attended Pembroke College, Oxford, and matriculated in 1731 aged 18. He was awarded a BA from Corpus Christi College, Oxford, in 1734 aged 21, an MA in 1737-8 aged 24, a Bachelor of Divinity in 1745 aged 32 and a Doctorate of Divinity in 1756 aged 43. He was Rector of Stratford St Anthony cum Hanny, Berkshire, in 1769 but died the following year, aged 57. Although he would probably have inherited his father's property, the saddlery would most likely have been taken on by John Reeks the Elder's younger son Thomas, who was also a saddler. He had presumably served an apprenticeship with his father that worked alongside him and finally assumed the business after his father's death.

    The Reeks family was followed by Samuel Toms (a deed of 1770 notes that a farrier by the name of Samuel Tomes was active at this time). In turn, he was succeeded by a solicitor and banker Samuel Watts the Elder.

    My 1835 lease refers to Samuel Watts the Elder "who erected and built the said messuage or dwellinghouse". Samuel Watts the Elder was born in 1734 and died in 1820, so it is logical to suppose that he had the building constructed around, say 1760.

    Samuel Watts the Elder's son, Joseph Watts, is known to have 'modernised' the building prior to his leaving Yeovil in 1812. Assuming he carried out the alterations around 1810, this would have meant that the building was then some fifty years old and therefore a fashionable facelift would not have been unreasonable. The building was re-fronted by Joseph Watts in the then-fashionable Regency style and had a new low pitch roof with wide eaves at the same time.

    Nos 1 and 3 Princes Street, seen from the High Street. (Yeovil in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Yeovil Bank, probably founded around 1810, was a private bank established by Samuel Watts the Elder (when aged about 76) and it is very likely that his bank was located in this building. Certainly, his sons' bank was later located here and it is surely not unreasonable to speculate that the bank of the sons was a continuation of the bank of the father, albeit under different names.

    A reference in the London Gazette in 1812 refers to the bank as Watts Marsh & Co (run by Samuel the Elder's sons, Samuel and Joseph Watts, and Thomas Marsh). In 1815 it was announced that this banking partnership was dissolved by mutual consent under the signatures of Samuel Watts the Younger, Thomas Marsh, Thomas Bullock, and James Glyde. In 1856 a writer referred to Yeovil's third bank as “the Bank of Messrs Samuel (and) Joseph Watts and Cayme." By 1822 (Pigot's Directory) the bank had become Samuel Watts & Co. It would then have gone out of business on 8 November 1823, when Samuel Watts the Younger, scrivener and banker, was declared bankrupt.

    My earliest lease of the property, dated 9 November 1815, was made between Thomas Bullock, Gentleman, James Glyde, Gentleman and Samuel Watts the Younger, Gentleman, (all of Yeovil) of the one part and Markes Lambe, Surgeon of Yeovil, of the other part. James Glyde and Samuel Watts were brothers-in-law (Glyde married Watts' sister Mary) and Thomas Bullock was the brother of Watts' mother, Mary née Bullock.

    From the 1835 indenture it is known that the property was divided by another lessee, Thomas Sydenham - "which said messuage or dwellinghouse hath been lately divided by the said Thomas Sydenham into two Dwellinghouses with front Shops and the same are now or later were in the occupation of the said Thomas Sydenham and his tenant Thomas Hain." It is known that by 1829 the building, or at least the southern half of it, was occupied by William Porter (see above), therefore Sydenham must have divided the property between 1825 (the date of my third lease which only speaks of a single property) and 1829 when Porter was in occupation – which brings us to the known history of the building as described on the Millennium Blue Plaque.

    Bob Osborn's new book Yeovil in 50 Buildings is available for purchase now.

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