Monday, September 14, 2015
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
Bells and railway whistles
Before we leave the world of Victorian brickwork, which has been occupying me for the last few posts, may I offer for your delectation the railway station at Bury St Edmunds.
I was in Bury a couple of months ago and though I didn’t get there by train I’m certainly an admirer of the railway station. It was designed by Sancton Wood, an architect with a large and diverse practice who is especially known for his railway work in eastern England. Wood had an unpromising start. He was educated at a progressive school in Birmingham, where children were encouraged to work as much or as little as they liked. Sancton Wood admitted that he worked very little, and what to do when he left was a puzzle. But the boy had shown an aptitude for drawing, and his mother was related to the architect Sir Robert Smirke, so the young Wood was sent off to Smirke’s office as an apprentice and studied drawing at the Royal Academy too. Luckily, he found that architecture was his métier.
By the time Wood went into practice in his own right, the railway system was expanding and offered opportunities for a young architect. He was soon preparing designs for buildings on the Eastern Counties Railway, and a few years later was also at work in Ireland, doing stations between Dublin and Cork amongst others. More stations (on the Midland and North Western Railway) followed, as did houses, schools, churches, and warehouses.
Stations such as Stamford (in stone for that stone town) and Ipswich show his talent for designing stations in a variety of suitable and engaging ways. Bury is particularly striking – brick with stone dressings, eye-catching gables, a strong-looking triple-arched entrance, and, on either side of this, attractive brick side bays with oeils de boeuf and stone pediments that break into a curve at the top, taking on a life of their own. There are lots of attractive details. The end wing in the foreground for example reveals neat brick detailing around the doorway and arch, some rather assertive mouldings, and a characterful corner treatment in stone, as well as the pediment and oeils de boeuf already mentioned. Another stand-out feature is the slender cupola-topped tower (there’s actually another matching one, on the other side of the tracks, but not visible in the photograph). All this makes not only a very satisfying and enduring building, but one on which the eye can linger, picking out details and admiring the inventive way in which they have been used and combined. It’s a station of which the railway company – and now, one hopes, the town – could take some pride.