Saturday, July 11, 2020

Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire

Local hero

Looking at this little bit of pleasant small-town classicism on Tewkesbury’s High Street, I was reminded what a rich resource the vocabulary of classical architecture has been for provincial builders and architects. A pediment, some pilasters or half-columns in the right proportions, maybe a little statuary, and you are on the way to a pleasing, balanced facade, and one that seems to speak of the civic virtues too. And civic virtues are relevant in this case, since the building houses Tewkesbury’s Town Hall.

But pausing outside it to look more closely on a walk under the relaxed conditions of lockdown-light, I noticed that this building has not just one but three pediments – one on the facade, one further back and higher, and a tiny one on the bell turret. The rear pediment is there because the original Town Hall was built set back from the street in 1788. The street facade in front of it was added in 1857 as the entrance to the town’s Corn Hall, the place where farmers would come to sell their grain. So what we’re looking at here is two halls in one: Town Hall at the back, Corn Hall at the front.

The facade, when you look closely, expresses the Corn Hall’s purpose symbolically with the sculpture, which is by Henry Frith. The two figures flanking the clock represent Agricultural Labour and Ceres, Roman goddess of fertility, farming, and corn in particular. There are also sheaves of corn carved on the left- and right-hand corbels, which double as the keystones of the arches that contain the windows – and there’s carved corn around the clock. Pevsner compares the design, by Gloucestershire architect James Medland, to that of similar facades in Cirencester and Gloucester. Cirencester’s Corn Hall bears similar lavish ornament, while the entrance to Gloucester’s former Eastgate street market, now the entrance to the Eastgate Shopping Centre, is a much larger and more monumental three-arched and pedimented design, with similar proportions to the Tewkesbury building. All three structures are by Medland’s firm.

Hats off, then, to a little known local architect working in a classical idiom and producing decent buildings that have acted as landmarks and valued facilities for over 150 years. Given the rate at which some of our more recent buildings have succumbed to structural collapse, safety issues, neglect, or changes in fashion, such people deserve our appreciation.

1 comment:

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

Yes, hats off indeed. And please give us more Tewkesbury, since I still can't visit in person!