Saturday, April 24, 2010

Blandford Forum, Dorset


Glorious Bastards

In 1731 a fire swept through Blandford Forum in Dorset and destroyed most of the town. The task of rebuilding was given to two memorably-named brothers, William and John Bastard, who combined the roles of architect, surveyor, carver, and designer of plasterwork. The Bastards created one of the most beautiful town centres in England, with a Market Place lined with finely detailed houses, a grand Town Hall, and a large church at one end. The streets leading off the Market Place were also rebuilt.

This building at the end of the Market Place opposite the church shows the quality of the Bastards’ work, which is carefully detailed in a rather playful classical style with hints of the baroque. The walls are brick, laid mostly in courses made up of headers, and there are lots of details picked out in white. The architects took a great deal of care over these details – look at the upper row of windows, with their curving aprons below and their protruding ‘ears’ above; the meticulous details around the windows on the middle-floor (originally the main floor of the building); the central pediment, its baseline ‘broken’ to accommodate the round-headed window. And the pilasters that seem to support the pediment are special too. At first glance they have Ionic capitals with spiral volute decoration, but when you look more closely you see that the volutes are actually the 'wrong' way round. These are capitals taken from a design by the Italian baroque architect Francesco Borromini, which the Bastards would have seen engraved in the book Studio d’architettura civile di Roma by Domenico de’Rossi, a publication that did much to publicize the designs and details of Rome’s baroque architects in the early-18th century. The close-up below is from a nearby building, where the spirals are still very crisp and clear.

So what was this lovingly detailed building? Not, as one might think from the central carriage entrance, a coaching inn, although there is such an inn, with an almost identical frontage, just along the street. In fact it was originally three houses. John Bastard liked the left-hand one so much that he lived in it himself. He was indeed both a clever and a lucky – fellow.

'Borromini' capital, Red Lion, Blandford Forum

4 comments:

Iain Robinson said...

Lovely building which I have always admired. There's a very nice mono spread of it in the Shell Guide to Dorset (Pitt-Rivers).

shui-long said...

What a splendid building, and thank goodness no-one's been allowed to "develop" it. I don't think ageUK should have been allowed that fascia board, though...

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thank you both for your comments. The photographs in the Shell Guides are, as usual, an inspiration. The fascia board is a poor thing, isn't it? Such a shame that shop owners in general can't pay more attention to the design of their shop fronts, not just to sticking the corporate sign up.

Peter Ashley said...

An unusual thing, I should think, the wholesale rebuilding of a town from scratch after it's been burned down. Although I think the same thing may have happened in Holt in Norfolk?