Saturday, June 20, 2015
Approached via the canopied entrance front on the left of my first photograph, the Town Museum and Public Rooms in Bodmin is a fairly standard piece of late-Victorian free Gothic verging on Elizabethan revival: rather plain mullioned windows, tall chimneys, shields. But the long side elevation is something else: inventive and so full of interesting details that it’s easy to forget that this is essentially a symmetrical frontage (a gable at either end, a row of five big windows in the middle). One end has an oriel window, the other a stone balcony above a pair of narrow windows and below some plate tracery and a banded arch – there's a circular niche still higher up. There are further variations in the openings at the lowermost level, to take into account the sloping site.
You can see, in this interesting facade, the West Country architects, Ralling and Tonar of Exeter, expressing the interior uses of the building (part hall for meetings and shows, plus a smaller hall, service rooms, and a museum on the lower ground floor) and flexing their muscles stylistically. It’s 1891. Architects in London such as Norman Shaw have been developing free Tudor and ‘Queen Anne’ styles for some time. Building styles are getting freer in all kinds of ways. But the builders of Bodmin had another card up their sleeve that was lacking in leafy Queen Anne suburbs like London’s brick-built Bedford Park.
Stone. Lots of it, in great variety of colour and texture. Quite a lot of it is slatestone or killas, a local stone much used in Bodmin; there is also another local stone, elvan. These account for much of the multi-coloured grey to russet walls. There are also granite and Ham stone dressings. Put together, this mix makes for a shimmering fabric that reveals its full beauty in sunlight but is impressive on a cloudy day too.