Sunday, September 21, 2014
Fifty years on
Looking at a cast-iron street sign in Bridgnorth recently, I was reminded of other places where I’ve seen such signs and one of these is the market town of Louth in Lincolnshire, a town that still retains a lot of its Georgian and Victorian buildings as well as a late-medieval church which boasts what I think is England’s most graceful spire. Something that struck me when I visited relatives in Louth as a child was not the buildings but the street names – Louth is one of the places, like York, that has many names ending in ‘gate’, a suffix that derives from a Nordic word for ‘street’ and dates back to Viking times. Louth has streets called Eastgate, Northgate, Upgate, Kidgate, Chequergate, and Gospelgate. I’m sorry I don’t have a photograph of one of the signs to share with you, but anyone who has a copy of Peter Ashley’s More From Unmitigated England will find a couple reproduced there.
Gospelgate was where as a small boy I went to visit an elderly great aunt, who lived in one of the Bede Houses, a small group of tiny dwellings around a courtyard on a corner. I did not know it at the time, but these houses for the aged were designed by James Fowler, one of Lincolnshire’s most celebrated Victorian architects. Fowler of Louth designed churches in numerous Lincolnshire villages and restored still more. Many local vicarages, houses, hospitals, and schools also began life on his drawing board. He liked Gothic, and did shops and houses in a vigorous Gothic, as well as churches.
For the Bede Houses, though, Fowler turned to a kind of brick Tudor revival style, with tall chimneys and stone dressings, matching the nearby Grammar School, which he also designed. The upper houses are accessed via very un-Tudor balconies held up on slender columns. Are these columns made of cast-iron? I think they might be. I remember the interiors of the houses as very small, but adequate. I hope they have been modernised inside by now, but I’m pleased that the exterior is very much as it was. It reminds me of visits long ago, plentiful supplies of sweets produced from my aunt’s cupboards, and puzzling over odd street names, some fifty years ago.
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Photograph of the Bede Houses by Richard Croft, used under this Creative Commons licence.