Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Tamworth, Staffordshire

Uncommon markets (1)

I’ve posted at least once before about my liking for traditional English town halls – the kind that form a central landmark in a town, often with a space for a market beneath and a wooden turret or cupola on top. This is one of my favourites, and it provides a stunning centrepiece to the town of Tamworth. I admire its chequered brickwork, its simple Tuscan arches under which the market was once held, and the collection of engaging details on this end wall. I suppose if I were being critical I’d say that the generous round-headed windows and the triangular pediment with its enormous dentils are enough – the design doesn’t exactly need all the bits in the middle – the clock (a later addition), the plaque, the heraldry. But, cluttered as they are, they add to the charm of this building and to the information it imparts.

The plaque, for example, tells us that the town hall was built by Thomas Guy, no less, the founder of Guy’s Hospital in London. Guy, whose mother came from Tamworth, made his money as a publisher and bookseller in London. He made some generous gifts – to St Thomas’s Hospital, to Guy’s itself, and to Tamworth, where he built almshouses as well as the town hall. The coat of arms relates to Guy too, and also appears on Guy’s hospital in London.

In spite of his benefactions, Guy had a reputation for being mean. Perhaps that’s partly to do with his reaction in 1708, when he was unseated as Tamworth’s MP. In response he excluded Tamworth residents from his almshouses, restricting them to people from the nearby area and to his own relations. But at least by then the people of Tamworth had their town hall. He couldn’t take that away from them.

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Bazza, at the blog To Discover Ice, has a post about the Guildhall at Thaxted, which is the timber-framed 16th-century grandparent, as it were, of the Tamworth town hall and other buildings of its ilk.


Terry said...

What a doll. Thanks so much.

bazza said...

That'a superb structure Philip.
It reminds me of a lesser buiding of similar style which is in Thaxted, Essex (or possibly Safron Walden, can't quite remember.)
You, of course, may know it!

Philip Wilkinson said...

Bazza: Both these places have halls with market space below, but both with lots of timber in the structure, unlike Tamworth's brick. The Thaxted one is a stunner.

@christheneck said...

The space below is known as the butter market. I presume this will mean something to someone (assuming it's not the obvious).

Philip Wilkinson said...

@christheneck: A lot of towns had a butter market and very often this was under the arches of a town hall or market hall - it seems to have been the place where dairy produce and eggs were sold, not just butter. There was often a meat market too, which was usually referred to as the shambles (sometimes flesh shambles, or occasionally fish shambles), after an early word for stall or table.

bazza said...

Philp, I have just published a post about the Guidhall at Thaxted and included a link to this blog!

Philip Wilkinson said...

Bazza: Terrific. I'll link back to it from here.