Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Tenbury Wells, Worcestershire

The Tenbury oval

When I began this blog some ten years ago, the very first building I featured was the extraordinary spa at Tenbury Wells in Worcestershire. When I chose it to start me off, I had some inkling that it provided the kind of qualities – architectural originality and quirkiness, strong colour, striking form, unusual materials, and the fact of being little known – that might be ones I’d be celebrating often in the posts to come, and so it has proved. I had another inkling, that at some point I should return to Tenbury Wells and share another of the town’s remarkable buildings, the Market House, also known as the Round Market, which shares several of these qualities.

So here it is. As with the spa building, it’s quite unlike what we’d expect. Victorian market halls, it’s true, do sometimes use striking brickwork to help them stand out. But you’d have to go a long way to find another quite like this, a ‘round market’ that’s actually oval in shape, with walls of a mix of red and blue brickwork, and a roof, set on brackets, that slopes up to a ventilation feature at the top. It’s a building, what’s more, that uses a delicate form of Decorated Gothic in its window tracery, which combines trefoils, quatrefoils, cusps and arches within a series of rectangular frames.

This original design of 1858 was the work of James Cranston, who was also (surprise, surprise) the architect of the spa building. He seems to have been a Birmingham man who did a lot of work in Worcestershire and Herefordshire (including the usual Victorian architect’s staple diet of schools and church restorations).* In Tenbury, he was given a chance to shine, and took that chance with considerable flair. The town got a building that still, nearly 160 years after it was built, is being used for buying and selling: a good record in these times of out-of-town and online retailing and a tribute to those who have kept it going and to its original architect, unsung but well worth celebrating. 

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*If he’s the architect I think he is, he had a son of the same name who played cricket for Gloucestershire under W G Grace and once made it into the England team to play against Australia.


Anonymous said...

The architect James Cranston (usually given the epithet "of Oxford" and later "of Birmingham", but it seems originally from Herefordshire) seems to be quite obscure. I have not found a comprehensive biography, but there are pieces to put together.

It seems certain that the Gloucestershire cricketer (and articled clerk) James Cranston, with an obituary in Wisden, was his son.

Among other things, he designed the Cathedral in Bermuda that burned down in 1887. For a time he was associated with Dorchester Abbey. He seems to have died around 1887, and was buried in Breinton, Herefordshire, where some of his ancestors are also buried. I have not found a birth date.

His grandfather also James Cranston seems to have come from Glasgow, but owned a house called King's Acre there, and founded the "Cranston and Mayo" plant nursery, later known as the King's Acre nursery. There is an onion, Cranston's Excelsior, and at least two apples, King's Acre Pippin and King's Acre Bountiful.

The Scottish nurseryman James had a son also called James (perhaps the father of the architect?) who it seems planted cedar trees around the county, including one in the churchyard in Breinton where he and his father are buried.

The village was known for his nurseries, and the first of the Wyevale nurseries was also founded here. It also has connections with the Bulmer cider family, and a person called Charles Dodgson (related to, but not *the*, Charles Dodgson) is buried there.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Fascinating, anon: thank you. I wondered if Cranston 'of Oxford' (and Dorcheser Abbey) and Cranston 'of Birmingham' were the same person. If I'm in the RIBA Library with time on my hands, I'll try and see if they have anything else on him. I didn't know about the apples – sadly they're not in Chtistopher Stocks's excellent book FORGOTTEN FRUITS, but there are so many apple varieties.

I found online an 1861 census record giving: James Cranston, Architect & Surveyor, aged 39, born Holmer, Herefordshire, living at the time of the census in Edgbaston, Birmingham. That would give a birth year of c. 1822.

bazza said...

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Philip Wilkinson said...

Thanks, Bazza. Your appreciation is much appreciated!

Anonymous said...

I only have partial information, but for what it's worth:

James Cranston, born 1821 or 22 in Holmer, Hereford (and still living there in 1851) was associated with the Oxford Architectural Society in the 1840s; in 1844 they published his survey drawings of the C14 Bartholomew Chapel (Bartlemas Chapel) Oxford and Dorchester Abbey. Cranston started the restoration of Dorchester Abbey for the OAS, but the work was taken over by Butterfield. Cranston was responsible for re-roofing the nave of Sparsholt, Berks (1844), restoration of the chancel of Forest Hill, Oxon (1847), restoration of Towersey Oxon (1851).
In the 1850s he moved to Birmingham, and had an office at 2 Bennett's Hill, Birmingham in 1858; that year he married Jane Whitworth, and their only son (also James) was born 1859. The family was living in Edgbaston in 1861 and 1871, and Cranston's office was at 1 Temple Row West, Birmingham according to 1862 and 1868 directories. My information indicates that James Cranston died towards the end of 1871 in Edgbaston.

His son James played cricket for Gloucestershire 1876-83, Worcestershire 1885, Warwickshire 1886-7, Gloucestershire 1889-91, when he was considered one of the best left-handed batsmen in England. Played for England in Test Match against Australia in 1890. His career was ended when he suffered a fit on the pitch in 1891. Died Bristol 1904.

Francesca said...

What a lovely building. As you say, the round shape is so distinct and quite unusual for a Victorian market hall. And the colour of the brickwork is striking. In general, the way that you highlight lesser known examples of brilliant architecture is really interesting, and sets this blog apart from others that cover the more predictable listed buildings. Thanks for sharing.

FZN said...

Beautiful description, and what a gorgeous building! Really harkens back to history and a completely different style of construction - that roof is so interesting to look at!

Philip Wilkinson said...

Shui-long: Thank you so much for that information. I had wondered whether James Cranston 'of Oxford' was the same man. The revised Pevsner volumes for Herefordshire and Worcestershire mention him in connection with numerous buildings in those counties.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thank you all for your appreciative comments.

Paul Bayliss said...

Thank you for a very interesting blog.

Would you or one of your learned contributors know where James Cranston's archives are kept, please? We did discover the whereabouts - somewhere in Herefordshire, I believe - but then forgot where we had found this information before getting round to pursuing it. Our recent attempts to rediscover the archives have proved unrewarding.

Some of Cranston's work is of great merit, particularly his domestic buildings. Not sure about the Pump Rooms, which were described by the late Alan Brooks as Chinese Gothic, but really belong on the end of a pier. On the other hand the Round Market, based on a much earlier form, is a delightful asset to Tenbury.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Paul: Sorry, I don't know the answer to this. It would be worth enquiring at the Herefordshire Archive and Record Centre, as Cranston did a lot of work in the county and he lived there. But he also had an office in Birmingham, so that would be another possibility.

Paul Bayliss said...

Thank your for that, Philip. I will certainly try the Herefordshire Archive and Record Centre, and if they cannot help, then I will ask of their counterparts in Birmingham.

I think it likely he designed our house, but we will find out.

Paul Bayliss said...

Philip, I have now seen your earlier blog and the revision of 2012. Forgive me - I had assumed Alan Brooks had applied the label, Chinese Gothic. It seems neither he nor Pevsner used that precise term. I like your description - part greenhouse, etc.
I doubt if Cranston expected the Pump Rooms to last over 150 years, to undergo painstaking restoration with Lottery funding, and to provide not only an office for the Town Clerk but the chamber for Town Council meetings.
Interesting to see James Lee-Milne got the date wrong. So did Alan Brooks when describing our house, He dated it to 1870 but we have a photo of 1871 showing one wall covered in Ivy, and we know there was a mortgage of 1864, so even he could find dates a little tricky!

Philip Wilkinson said...

We all have trouble with dates! The publishers of the Pevsner series, Yale University Press, are I believe always pleased to here from people with corrections, for eventual incorporation in revised editions of the guides.

Paul Bayliss said...

Greenhouse !


These remarkable designs for horticultural greenhouses were published in the same year as Cranston was asked to design the Pump Rooms.