Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Ilminster, Somerset

Meeting place

When I was told that one name for this building in Ilminster was the Old Meeting, my first thought was that it was rather showy for the Quakers, who often favour domestic and unobtrusive buildings for their meeting houses. But it wasn’t a Quaker building but a meeting house for the Unitarians, who built it in 1719 and set it proudly towards the top of the hill on which the town centre stands. The structure has been modified several times since, with the addition of a schoolroom behind in the mid-19th century. Julian Orbach, in the Pevsner volume for Somerset: South and West, thinks that the large windows and the pedimented doorcases on either side may be 19th-century additions too – there are records of alterations to the meeting house in 1851, 1894, and 1913.

Whatever the precise history of the building, it still makes an attractive structure and if it looks a bit of a stylistic mishmash, such mélanges of Tudor gothic and simplified classical produced some attractive results in provincial town architecture of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. I’d call this example attractive too, although might some might prefer a more ‘correct’ mastery of detail – the pediments of the doorways conceal shallow segmental arches: an odd mix. But I’m pleased to say the building has found a fitting use as a local arts centre, with exhibitions held in the main space and the schoolroom behind converted to a café. The café spills out into the garden at busy times – and was still doing so in the summer when I was last there, with customers taking advantage of the fresh air to mix and enjoy a coffee in relative safety. A local asset, in good and bad times alike.

1 comment:

bazza said...

I thought exactly the same as you when I saw the sub-heading, Meeting Place! The eclectic mix of styles makes this building essentially English to me.
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