Your News: The great buildings that graced the streets of Bourne

Anthony Jennings - Arnold's
Anthony Jennings - Arnold's

Leafing through the pages of Historic Pictures of Bourne, by Michael McGregor, my former fellow Bourne Preservation Society committee member, makes me reflect on what we might have saved if we had been more actively concerned about Bourne’s heritage in the first half of the 20th century.

The photos in the book may not be as sharp as modern ones, but they give us a great insight into the good old buildings that once graced the streets of Bourne, but are no longer with us. At the grander end of the scale, for example, there is Abbey House in Church Walk, destroyed in 1878 (or 1879 according to Birkbeck’s History of Bourne) for a new vicarage, itself long since abandoned by the Church and turned into a residential home. This great house presented quite a spectacle when viewed from the Abbey Lawn, as can be seen from the photo.

By comparison with Abbey House, many of the buildings we have lost had little pretension, being modest vernacular houses or small commercial premises. But these are the very buildings that are so vital to the character of a market town, with a kind of charm that grand houses sometimes lack. Good examples of modest dwellings were the handsome old vernacular cottages in Eastgate, next to the home of Raymond Mays, humble perhaps, but with a lot of character compared to their new equivalents on the housing estates that disfigure Bourne’s new suburbs. These old cottages may well have been pre-Georgian in their origin. Talking of that, it is disturbing to think how many 17th century buildings may have been lost. There are now very few pre-17th century structures left in our country towns and villages, and even those of the 17th century are rare, and it is always a good test of the charms of a town to see how many remaining houses date from those Jacobean or Restoration periods of the early and late 17th century. In Bourne, they are now disconcertingly few, whereas there is still quite a bit of Georgian architecture.

In West Street, next door to the premises of Mills & Baxter, Michael’s book reveals (on adjacent pages 40 and 41 of for those of you who have a copy) not one but two fine earlier buildings that were once on the site of the current Boots store. The first was Arnold’s Boot and Shoe Warehouse, an old vernacular building with a steep roof and projecting dormers. From the photo this appears to have been a very early building probably dating back to the 17th century if not even earlier, and a gem of its kind. It was sadly replaced in 1914 by a quite different building, but also distinguished in its own way. This one was in a fashionable neo-Georgian style, polite rather than vernacular, for D. Horn Outfitter. It had rusticated quoins, keystones over the windows, prominent dormers and dentillated cornice, all very much in the Queen Anne manner. It was also a positive feature of the streetscape, but is now gone in its turn, having been replaced by the existing utilitarian structure, of no architectural merit whatever.

The photo (on page 52) of the Bull (now the Burghley Arms) in the market place, was taken in the days when it was a more coherent building than it is now. It is shown displaying a fine classical porch, now gone. Adjacent to it, on the north side, the photo shows two charming vernacular structures with old shopfronts, the larger building having what may have once been a mullioned window at the side, such a window implying a building of 17th century or even earlier origin. The neo-Jacobean Lloyds Bank replaced it, and the contrast is extreme, as in the case of the D. Horn building, the old being informal and vernacular, the newer being excessively mannered and polite. Not that the bank is by any means a bad building, and any decent town needs a few structures that symbolise wealth and prosperity, but the earlier one was so evocative of an old market town.

The photo on page 61 reveals, in front of the Mason’s Arms, Ashby Swift’s Riverside Studio in South Street, with the Red Lion pub across the street. This was obviously a much nicer structure, modest though it was, than the charmless Darby and Joan Hall that replaced it in 1959. Unlike the present building it invites the eye to look up the street as a foretaste of a pleasing town centre.

The following page features (apart from the horse and cart owned by Wherry’s) the feedstuff bagging warehouse that used to stand on the corner of South Street and Church Walk, before it was pulled down, the site being still vacant now. It shows a good brick building with Georgian windows capped by stone lintels and prominent keystones, more distinguished than the smaller warehouse beside it and a great loss to the town. At least the smaller one was allowed to remain, and it has now been well and sensitively restored. The importance of warehouses, granaries, barns and local agricultural and small commercial buildings of this kind to a market town can easily be overlooked but it is immeasurable; they may be of little architectural pretension but they are often enormously satisfying because of their honesty and their place in a town’s history.

The pages of Michael’s book reveal so many more interesting buildings that are now sadly lost in the name of so-called progress, that I shall have to get back to this subject in another column.

Photos reproduced by kind permission of Michael McGregor.