Saturday, August 14, 2010

Abingdon, Oxfordshire


Uncommon markets (2)

Of all the town halls that take the traditional form, with arches for a market on the ground floor, Abingdon’s is probably the most imposing. Its size is a reminder that Abingdon was once the county town – of Berkshire, not the Oxfordshire that it has found itself in since the sorry bodge that was the local government reorganization of 1974.

This stupendous building was constructed in 1678–82 by Christopher Kempster, one of the master masons who worked for Christopher Wren on his projects in the City of London. No architect is recorded. Maybe Kempster did the drawings, maybe Wren himself was involved – Pevsner points out that the large first-floor windows are like the ones Wren designed for the library of Trinity College, Cambridge. Whoever did the design, it’s a triumph, from the vast arches to the dainty cupola set in the middle of the hipped roof. Although it is made of traditional ingredients, combining the old market-hall concept with Classical details and the familiar hipped roof, it still manages to surprise and impress: there is nothing quite like it.

12 comments:

amadi_construction said...

hi, interesting post....great site
good luck

Terry said...

Wow, there are more of these?

Hels said...

yessss... it reminds me EXACTLY of the old market-hall concept, only much larger and more sophisticated. I imagine the arches on the ground level created a space that was also excellent on cold or wet days.

Is it still used as a town hall today?

Philip Wilkinson said...

Terry: No more quite like this, I'm afraid! In fact Abingdon Town Hall is a very hard act to follow.

Hels: There's a museum, which I've not visited, in the upper room now. The ground-floor space is spacious, although it can get a bit windy. There was a move to glaze the arches, but I don't think there's a good case for this - the building was designed to be open at the bottom.

The Vintage Knitter said...

That is such an impressive building and beautiful too. I was in Minchinhampton last week and there is such a contrast between Minch's modest market hall and this!

Philip Wilkinson said...

VK: Yes indeed. Although Minchinhampton's market is lovely in its modest way.

shui-long said...

Magnificent, isn't it - and I know of no town hall/market hall to compare for grandeur. There's a museum on the first floor now, and the basement is sometimes open (on Heritage Days), complete with the gas engines that at one time pumped the town water supply.

Most of the market towns in Berkshire had something similar, if more modest - a meeting room on the first floor, with open market space underneath. That at Windsor was completed by Wren in 1690, one at Wallingford dates from 1670, and a more homely late C17 version at Farringdon - all worth seeing. A similar building in the middle of the market place at Newbury was demolished and replaced by a Victorian building to one side - not bad of its type, and the Victorian town hall at Wokingham is also interesting (Poulton & Woodman, 1860).

Philip Wilkinson said...

Shui-Long: Yes, these are all interesting - well, I've not seen the one at Wokingham, but know the others. In fact I was admiring the one in Wallingford (and much else in that interesting town) just the other day.

bazza said...

The biggest surprise of this post, for me, is that Abingdon used to be in Berkshire! As a child we had family connections in Oxford and even then I presumed Abingdon was in Oxfordshire.
Wonderful piece of architecture by the way.
Also, thanks for the link. A few regular commenters have told me they came here and liked it although it looks like none of them have commented yet

Peter Ashley said...

Glad to see they haven't put glazing on the lower floor- as threatened. They talked of a lift too. For another very like this, but not as tall, see the incredible Customs House in Kings Lynn, Norfolk.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Peter: Yes, the Kings Lynn building is superb. And, from what I remember from when I saw it a long time ago, its setting is really good too.

Lanky Tiger said...

We are refurbishing this building - it will be very sympathetic and will be back to former glories. Once completed it will be one of the finest buildings in Oxfordshire. Watch this space!