Thursday, December 1, 2022


Looking up and up

A few weeks ago found me in Bedford in the rain. The conditions were far from ideal for looking up, or looking at anything very much except for puddles and other pedestrians. But another strident modern shopfront sent my eyes skyward briefly and they alighted on this. It’s the upper part of of a Victorian shop, built in a style usually called Venetian Gothic, which is to say that it features rows of arched windows, polychrome masonry (here brick and stone), some fancy carving, and some elaboration of detail in the gable.

This sort of thing was once common in English town centres, but World War II, redevelopment, and the stresses of time have put paid to a lot of it. There are also variations, like the similar ‘Bristol Byzantine’, some of which survives in spite of the devastation wrought on that city by the Blitz. This particular example dates from 1871 and was designed by Bedford architect John Usher for Henry Adkin, who was a gunsmith. The owner’s initials are carved into the upper central window. No doubt Mr Adkin sold high quality firearms, maybe even the sort with chased decoration on the metal parts. If so, his premises had a swagger to match. Best of all, but hard to see in the challenging light, are the two pinnacles that rise up from either side of the gable. They’re carved dogs – gun dogs, of course – and were made by an Exeter sculptor, Harry Hems. Adkin was clearly after the best, and others have agreed. In 1993 the two gun-dog pinnacles were stolen. They were later found in a local car park and put back in their rightful place.

The last member of the Adkin family in the business died in 1952. Soon after the shop was sold to Dunn’s, the men’s outfitters chain, who must have liked the look of the place given their penchant for faux-Tudor or faux-medieval shopfronts. Now sandwiches are there.*

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* Or rather, were there. The premises are now to let, as a reader has pointed out. I was so intent on the brickwork that I failed to spot the sign in the window.


snaprails said...

Looks like sandwiches /were/ there but didn't prove popular so it's now to let. We have to hope that the next tenants treat it sympathetically.

Philip Wilkinson said...

snaprails: True, and well spotted! I'll add a note to the post.