Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Five early pieces: 5
My final reprise (for now) is one of my smallest buildings (and one of my shortest posts). The roundhouse in Melksham...
This small surprise is tucked away in a side-street in the Wiltshire town of Melksham. It’s an 18th-century structure, built, Melksham being a wool town, as a wool-drying room. When the wool trade declined in the 19th century many such buildings were no doubt demolished. But this one survived, playing down the years a multitude of roles – armoury for the local volunteer militia, feed store, business premises, tourist information centre, and museum. England has many specialized structures like this, the often odd-shaped remnants of local industries – oast houses and lime kilns come to mind. Often they seem designed so precisely for their original function that adaptation appears impossible. But with a little imagination, many of them have been recycled to the delight both of their users and of passers-by.
Postscript 2012 This small paragraph contains a large truth: that the survival of historic buildings often depends on finding new uses for old structures. Even a highly specialized building like the roundhouse has lasted more than 200 years because people have found different things to do in it and with it. Sometimes a change of use requires some adaptation of the building, but a little sensitive alteration is better in the vast majority of cases than demolition or dereliction. Let’s hear it for thoughtful adaptation and sensitive reuse.