Thursday, January 14, 2010

Shrewsbury, Shropshire


We want a rockery

In the Abbey Gardens by the river in Shrewsbury is an interesting rockery, made up largely of tantalizing fragments of old buildings. This very special rubble got here because the land was once a stone yard of belonging to a local family of builders, sculptors, and architects, the Carlines. The place is easy to miss as you hot-foot it across the river on the way to the abbey, but it’s well worth a pause. The collection includes various statues, a carved stone head, part of an Ionic capital, a clock face, a coat of arms, and other fragments of moulding and carved stone. Presumably they came from altered or demolished buildings, and most of them must have found their way here in the 19th century.

For the most part, it’s not known which buildings these carvings came from. The main exceptions are the fragment of Ionic capital and the figure of Justice, shown with her scales and accompanied by ears of wheat, a cornucopia, and the Shropshire coat of arms. These came from the town’s old Shirehall, a building designed by a local man, Hiram Haycock, and demolished in 1834.

Justice has seen better days. Her surface is flaking and only part of her iron scales survives – they’re vulnerable in this position. And yet I like the way these stones have been unselfconsciously preserved by being incorporated into a rockery, finding a use that would have surprised their creators but must have given pleasure to locals and visitors alike. I’ve never fancied a rockery of my own, but if it could be like this I might change my mind.

9 comments:

Katya said...

Interesting stuff. Are they mostly fragments from 19th century buildings? Or are there earlier pieces too?

CherryPie said...

Is that where the Cadfael experience used to be?

Philip Wilkinson said...

Katya: The demolished Shirehall was built in 1784, and I think the other fragments are late-18th or 19th-century.

CherryPie: I'm not sure where the Cadfael Experience was, but I think this collection of architectural bits and pieces, plus the garden in front of it, have been there a long time.

Peter Ashley said...

Marvellous stuff. It reminds me of a tiny public garden in London where there are the huge carved pediment decorations taken from a demolished building in the city.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Peter: Or those columns and things from the Roman site at Leptis Magna in North Africa, peculiarly transported to Virginia Water.

martin said...

It works for me. At least they're placed somewhere where they can be seen,rather than slung onto a skip.

Thud said...

The monumental carved remains of the seamans home languished in Liverpool city centre unloved and neglected until recently...I preferred them that way rather than whatever fate the concil now has in store for them.

Wartime Housewife said...

I know this place! The Boys and I spent a lovely day in Shrewsbury a few years ago and we came upon this garden quite by accident as we were looking for somewhere to have our picnic. We had such fun seeing who could find the most interesting fragment. We had no idea what it was. I shall amend the photo album!

Philip Wilkinson said...

Wartime Housewife: These chance discoveries are so often the best.