Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Trowbridge, Wiltshire

Staggering architecture

This is a building that startled me in two distinct ways when I was looking at the wonderful 18th-century clothiers’ houses in Trowbridge the other week. Jammed into a corner between two of these classical almost-palaces, this building is constructed of the same creamy limestone and is also in a classical style. But look at the detail! At the top, a triangular pediment with a cornice that sticks right out from the main wall, producing deep shadows and emphasising the very large dentil blocks that punctuate its lower edges. The bottom of the triangle is interrupted in the middle to make room for swathes of carved ornament that hangs deep down on either side of a window and extends upwards into the triangular space made by the pediment. In the middle there’s a blind oval with four exaggerated stones – one at the top in the position of an arch’s keystone, the others matching it on the bottom and sides, like the cardinal points on a compass. Lower down this end wall run pilasters with deeply cut blocks of stone, each pilaster topped with more carved ornament.

So what was this highly ornate building that caught my attention and made me rush across the street so that I could examine it more closely? At first I took it to be an especially showy example of a clothier’s house, the residence of someone who had more of a taste for the baroque that the apparently more classically minded neighbours on either side. It was, of course, something quite different and much later: the imposing offices of Ushers Brewery, built in 1913 to designs by local architect W. W. Snailum in a style sometimes called brewer’s baroque. Thomas Usher had established their brewery in the centre of Trowbridge in 1824 and by 1913 the firm must have been doing well. By the mid-20th century, they had expanded hugely but were no longer so profitable and were eventually taken over, like so many provincial brewing firms, by a larger company, Watney Mann. When the baroque office building was put up in 1913, Usher’s must have been growing and optimistic of further success: the architecture seems to reflect that.

I began this post by saying that this building startled me in two ways. What was the second surprise? It was more sudden, and less pleasant. When I crossed the road to look at this extraordinary architectural confection more closely, keeping my eyes on the stonework and not on the ground beneath my feet, I tripped on a metal bar meant to stand upright to define a parking space but actually hinged down, parallel to the ground, and fell flat on my face, my smartphone and my dignity slipping from me instantly. The Resident Wise Woman, crossing the road more slowly than I, was soon behind me, and a passer-by was also offering help. I was, thankfully, able to climb to my feet unaided, and although I was bruised on my knees and chin (the main points of impact), I sustained no lasting damage. It has, though, made me warier of looking up without watching where I put my feet, not wishing to repeat what happened when I went to look at this doubly staggering building.


Joe Treasure said...

So our intrepid reporter risked life and limb to get the picture! I expect nothing less.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Joe: Indeed. Life goes on. Limb not in bad condition; knees if not medieval perhaps edging into the Stuart period. Stay safe – in every sense.