Sunday, September 21, 2014

Louth, Lincolnshire

Fifty years on

Looking at a cast-iron street sign in Bridgnorth recently, I was reminded of other places where I’ve seen such signs and one of these is the market town of Louth in Lincolnshire, a town that still retains a lot of its Georgian and Victorian buildings as well as a late-medieval church which boasts what I think is England’s most graceful spire. Something that struck me when I visited relatives in Louth as a child was not the buildings but the street names – Louth is one of the places, like York, that has many names ending in ‘gate’, a suffix that derives from a Nordic word for ‘street’ and dates back to Viking times. Louth has streets called Eastgate, Northgate, Upgate, Kidgate, Chequergate, and Gospelgate. I’m sorry I don’t have a photograph of one of the signs to share with you, but anyone who has a copy of Peter Ashley’s More From Unmitigated England will find a couple reproduced there.

Gospelgate was where as a small boy I went to visit an elderly great aunt, who lived in one of the Bede Houses, a small group of tiny dwellings around a courtyard on a corner. I did not know it at the time, but these houses for the aged were designed by James Fowler, one of Lincolnshire’s most celebrated Victorian architects. Fowler of Louth designed churches in numerous Lincolnshire villages and restored still more. Many local vicarages, houses, hospitals, and schools also began life on his drawing board. He liked Gothic, and did shops and houses in a vigorous Gothic, as well as churches.

For the Bede Houses, though, Fowler turned to a kind of brick Tudor revival style, with tall chimneys and stone dressings, matching the nearby Grammar School, which he also designed. The upper houses are accessed via very un-Tudor balconies held up on slender columns. Are these columns made of cast-iron? I think they might be. I remember the interiors of the houses as very small, but adequate. I hope they have been modernised inside by now, but I’m pleased that the exterior is very much as it was. It reminds me of visits long ago, plentiful supplies of sweets produced from my aunt’s cupboards, and puzzling over odd street names, some fifty years ago.

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Photograph of the Bede Houses by Richard Croft, used under this Creative Commons licence.


Hels said...

The brick Tudor revival style, with tall chimneys, stone dressings and small darkish rooms, was certainly monumental. But compared to the handsome Georgian terraces proudly facing the world, this one looks almost fortified against the world.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Maybe the photograph makes it lookl a bit more monumental than it is. There's also a sense of cosy domesticity about the building.

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

"Almshouses" might make a separate genre for investigation cf. the Merchant Adventurers' building sandwiched among the high-rise offices in Bristol - nowhere to get a decent photo.

bazza said...

I believe I have mentioned before that I am a great admirer of English brickwork. Louth looks like the kind of town that I should visit!
There are many interesting sites of Victorian and older almshouses around London.
(Listening to Julian Bream playing some Villa-Lobos Preludes)
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s fabulous Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

Philip Wilkinson said...

Yes, there's plenty of good brickwork in Louth, some Georgian, some Victorian.

Eileen Wright said...

Almshouse hunting is one of my website projects and I love the look of these in Louth. They're very similar to Wynards Almshouses in Exeter, which were built in the 15th century, rebuilt and altered in the 17th and 18th centuries and restored in 1863-4. It's very interesting to see how they both have the same delightful look, one through design and the other through accretion.

Adrian Kirton said...

I realise this is now an old article, but as a Shropshire resident born in Louth it recently caught my eye. My late Aunt was a warden for the Bede Houses back in the late 1970s and lived in the adjoining House, no. 27 Gospelgate.
The apartments were indeed modernised around that time when proper bathrooms were added. If you look at the far right of the photo a small section of modern building shows where these were added. Where there was no room to extend at the rear of the building they had to remove one dwelling to provide the required extra room in the remaining ones.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Adrian Kirton: Thank you so much for this informative comment, which I've just found. It's good that the Bede Houses got proper bathrooms not so long after my great aunt died.