Saturday, April 1, 2017

Castle Cary, Somerset


Reflected in the window of the shop in my previous post you can see the Market House (or Town Hall), the focal building at the centre of Castle Cary. Regular readers know that I am fond of market houses in English towns, precisely because of their function as all-purpose buildings and the way they act as a hub for so many places. Buildings like this are part market, part local government centre, part information centre, part museum, part clock tower… The list goes on.

This one was built in 1855 and so is a relative youngster compared to the Tudor or medieval examples seen in some towns. But it has the same layout as its forebears, with a partly open ground floor for trading, an upper floor originally for a corn market I think, and a top floor for assemblies and meetings.

The architecture is similar to earlier such halls too, with a row of shallow arches supported on simple cylindrical columns to the ground floor and simple mullioned windows to the top floor. In between, though, the middle floor has a surprising combination of round and arched windows, set in pointed (almost triangle) relieving arches. This touch, original as far as I know, was probably the invention of the architect, F C Penrose.

The Victoria County History records that the 19th-century market was not a great success, but that the building was valued as an assembly place and as a base for the local council as well as for such groups as the vestry, the poor law officials, education officers, and police. Clearly it still is much valued. It has recently been resorted and its rooms contain a museum and spaces for hire. It is still at the heart of the town.


Hels said...

I was looking at some of the English market towns you discussed that have an impressive cross to signify the town's market place. And to offer some of the sellers or buyers shelter as well. I particularly liked your examples of the cities Salisbury, Chichester and the market town of Malmesbury.

Can we compare these small but handsome market crosses to complex market buildings in places like Castle Cary? It the building in Castle Cary could be used as an assembly place, space for the local council, the vestry, the poor law officials, education officers and police, it must have been meant to be huge and multi-functional from the first design.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Hels - These two different but similar building types can indeed be compared.
The differences are partly to do with when they were built. Most of the civic functions (meeting place for various committees, for the council, base for the police, etc) came along after the old market crosses were built. So towns from the 17th century on built larger, more complex market buildings that combine the market function with that of town hall.