Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Cirencester, Gloucestershire


One of the old school

I’m not exactly snow-bound, but the weather and the need to catch up with work after New Year mean I’m not going far in search of buildings right now. So here’s a building in a local town that I particularly like.

Cirencester is one of the essential towns of England. Its many old buildings in creamy limestone, its winding streets, its Roman remains, its vast medieval church, its adjoining great house and park (the park hospitably open to the public), add up not only to the essence of a Cotswold town but to the essence of many periods of English history. There is so much here that the place could sustain a buildings blog of its own.

Although it’s a Roman town, and the Romans loved straight lines, Cirencester’s streets curve continuously, opening up and closing vistas as one moves along them, object lessons in townscape, each bend bringing visual and historical surprises. This building is sited where a road bends and meets another, so if you are driving past and not dodging other dashing objects, you are hit between the eyes by this extraordinary end wall.

And the doorway and widow, with their larger-than-life surrounds of stone blocks (exaggerated Gibbs surrounds in archispeak), not to mention that roundel at the top, are guaranteed to grab the eye. It’s Powell’s School, originally the Yellow School, opened in 1740 and named in honour of its founder, Mrs Rebecca Powell. No doubt the roundel originally bore and inscription to tell us as much. It’s on this narrow end wall because this is where most passers-by would see it, although the main façade, on the quieter road, is handsome too.

In the mid-18th century when this building went up, there were no state schools, only independent foundations like this one. They are sometimes understated pieces of architecture, but occasionally had a grandeur, like this one, that both commemorated the founder and, one hopes, inspired the pupils. Schools are important enough to be given decent buildings, it seems to say. Here’s to that.

6 comments:

Peter Ashley said...

What an incredible side wall. A contender for a book on Bonkers Architecture for sure.

Neil said...

Interesting that the school was founded so early by a woman - I wonder if there was any idea of educating girls?

Philip Wilkinson said...

Neil: Yes. The Yellow School was for girls; there was already a Blue School for boys. Should have put this in the post, but I was distracted by Gibbs surrounds!

Anonymous said...

'And the doorway and widow ...'?

Philip Wilkinson said...

...'affording delightful prospects'...

Jake Coventry said...

Quality article. Really interesting point you have made -"Cirencester is one of the essential towns of England. Its many old buildings in creamy limestone, its winding streets, its Roman remains, its vast medieval church, its adjoining great house and park (the park hospitably open to the public), add up not only to the essence of a Cotswold town but to the essence of many periods of English history. There is so much here that the place could sustain a buildings blog of its own."