Friday, November 1, 2013

Dunstable, Bedfordshire

Sweet and simple

Trim 18th-century brickwork, perhaps of 1717, the date on the rainwater heads, marks out the Old Sugar Loaf as a building of some consequence, and a plaque says that there has been an inn on this site in the centre of Dunstable since 1660. It was a first-class posting and coaching inn by the time of its 18th and 19th-century heyday, a place where travellers liked to stop, especially if their coach arrived in time for dinner – the early menus were said to be lavish. But what caught my eye of course was the sign, a gigantic conical sugar loaf placed atop the rather stripped-down, Regency-looking Doric portico. Eyecatching, bold, and literal, it does the job, I suppose, though it's hardly the most artful of the unusual English inn signs I've spotted in my travels.

The thin bands running around the cone seem to be the wires of fairy lights, which presumably enliven the scene at night. The idea of sparkling lights reminds me that the sugar loaf also looks like one of those 'volcano' fireworks that spark and splutter on bonfire night. Here's to architectural (and semiological) fireworks.


Hels said...

All the coaching inns I have ever seen seem to have been nicely designed and well made, even when they weren't particularly large. I can imagine that before young people went on a long and uncomfortable coach ride, their mums told them to be careful of tacky inns and eateries. The Wrong Type of People hang out there.

Hopefully the horses were well looked after as well.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Hels: Yes. Choice of inns is something often mentioned in the novels of the times too - I seem to remember it comes up in Thomas Hardy. There are some rollicking descriptions of inn hospitality in Dickens (sides of beef, bumpers of sherry), but also critical responses to some inns in the travel-writing of the 18th and 19th centuries. I must look into this in more detail.

Stephen Barker said...

A couple of points, why is the sugar loaf painted grey, either it should be white or if wrapped up sugar bag blue.

The use of large signs may have been more common in the past. A painting of Market Harborough around 1805 shows the Angel Hotel with a life sized carved figure of an angel on top of the porch, which no longer exists. In Hogarth's series the Election one of the paintings shows an Inn with a large carved lion which looks to be a ships figurehead. The lion is rather toothless suggesting England is decline due to the machinations of it's politicians, thus it ever was.