Monday, February 15, 2021

Ledbury, Herefordshire

Putting up a front

In the same street as my two previous posts is this building, one that has caught my eye before as I’ve driven past. It’s very much the kind of facade that makes you want to do a double take. On foot, this was possible, and the photograph is one result. It turns out to be a former Wesleyan Methodist chapel, built originally in 1849 but upgraded in 1884, when this elaborate frontage was added. It’s quite a statement in a sort of free Romanesque style: twin towers that decide to become octagonal partway up (they contain stairs to internal galleries), big windows, a really large rose window, yellow brick dressings contrasting with the red. A hundred years on from the refronting, the central part of the ground floor was altered – a pair of exterior staircases to the upper level were taken out and the rather dull central doorway block substituted. That was no doubt practical but seems to have been unfortunate visually. Now to make matters worse the whole building seems to be empty.

I don’t know more of the chapel’s history, but it’s very grand for a small town. However, judging by the large 19th-century houses further up the same street, Ledbury was clearly prosperous in that period. It’s in a rich agricultural region (lots of hop fields, together with mixed farming) and the town must have benefitted from the railway link. Ledbury was linked to the West Midlands Railway in 1861 and a branch to Gloucester was added in 1885. Some of the town’s Methodist population may have benefitted from the town’s new opportunities and put some of their profits into the church. What they built reminds us how bold some nonconformist architecture could be, and how the design of some of these buildings could draw on the variety of styles available during the most eclectic periods of the Victorian era.


Hels said...

Your former Wesleyan Methodist chapel (1849 and upgraded in 1884), was a very proud religious style in the 19th century - free Romanesque style with twin towers. Have a look at the Eldridge St Synagogue in New York, built in the same era (1880s).

Philip Wilkinson said...

Hels: Thank you very much. I was in fact thinking that there was something synagogue-like about the frontage in Ledbury, but I didn't follow up the thought. I'm sure there are other examples, but the New York one is stunning and I'm very grateful to you for drawing it to my attention. It was not only synagogues that used this style, though. The round-arched style did have its architectural advocates when architecture became freer in the late-19th century and it was no longer a case of a choice between classical and Gothic, or between different varieties of Gothic. Waterhouse chose a round-arched style for London's Natural History Museum, for example. In Bristol the style veered more towards a Byzantine look. I must keep my eyes open for more of this kind of thing.