Your News: Time to restore this historic house to its former elegance?

Your News EMN-140228-120734001
Your News EMN-140228-120734001
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This month I would like to share my thoughts, and those of Bourne Preservation Society, about Wake House.

It may not look all that enticing, certainly in its current deplorable state, but it is a prominent feature of North Street, and it still presents its once elegant early 19th century façade to the passer-by. Its precise date of construction is not totally clear.

Bourne’s historian, J.D. Birkbeck, says it was ‘described in 1836 as being newly erected with the law offices, stable, granary, yard and garden ground’. This was the last year of William IV’s reign, a time when buildings of this symmetrical Georgian plan had mainly given way to early Victorian Tudor Gothic, a totally different style, so if this is correct, the house is a little unusual for its day, and was certainly not in the forefront of fashion.

But it has also been suggested that its date is closer to 1800, and this would put it back in the mature Georgian period that its appearance most suggests. Anyway, it is elegant enough in its simple classical manner, or would be, if it had been properly maintained, and it is a good enough house to merit its listing at Grade II.

The house would reveal more of its intended elegance if it could be restored to its original form. It has sadly undergone many inappropriate changes, and incorporates a former public house, the Old Windmill Inn, to the left, which was never part of the original house. Its integrity would be restored if the two buildings could once again be separated, and if the entrance, now stuck uneasily between them, could be put back in the centre of the main façade where it belongs. The house would then show its true original proportions.

But even as it is, it enlivens this northern end of the Bourne Conservation Area, which rather lacks architectural distinction – imagine this part of North Street without it.

It also has the advantage of a very interesting history – one that should be exploited much more than it has been. Charles Worth was, and remains, an extremely important figure in the history of clothes design. As Birkbeck puts it, ‘at first he was intended for a printer’, and indeed he was apprenticed to one in the town centre, but his true interests soon took him to London where he was apprenticed to Swan & Edgar, and he then made his way to Paris for a career that was to make him famous all over the world for his fashion designs. He was made a member of the Legion d’Honneur, and his funeral was attended by the French President himself. Later his design house also went into the perfumes business.

His father, William Worth, was the solicitor who bought Wake House, or according to Birkbeck, built it, having demolished a pub, the Waggon and Horses, to do so. The question arises as to when and for how long Charles actually lived at Wake House. William Worth appears to have left Bourne shortly after he acquired or built it, selling it to William Darwin of Elston Hall in Nottinghamshire, who let it to G.W. Willders, another lawyer who took up occupation, and may have taken over his practice.

Charles Worth was born in 1825, so if his father acquired or built Wake House in 1836, he was 11 at the time. According to Birkbeck, William Worth had sold the house and left Bourne by 1840, probably because of the financial difficulties he got himself into, so if Charles lived there, it would seem to have been for a maximum of 4 years. Be that as it may, the fact that the building is undeniably associated with him makes it a hugely important part of Bourne’s history, and one that must be cherished.

Bourne Preservation Society wishes to see the building restored, and ideally, we believe it should be reinstated to its original form as discussed above, by separating it from the adjacent building, and restoring it, financed perhaps by the proceeds of sale of that smaller wing. If this proves impossible, it should at least be thoroughly and carefully repaired, saving as much of the original fabric as possible. The windows, for example, must be carefully reinstated as good quality wooden sliding sashes.

There may be some debate about the appropriate type of sash. At present it has sashes with vertical glazing bars near the frames, called ‘margin panes’, of an early 19th century type, rather than in the ‘six over six’ Georgian style. It seems that these windows must have been put in after 1890, as a very useful photograph of that date exists, showing the house with the much more typical Georgian ‘six over six’ panes divided by slim glazing bars. Depending on the true date of the house, the latter may be more correct.

There was also an earlier porch, probably the original, with elegant Ionic columns supporting the classical pediment, which is much more pleasing than the existing one that is obviously quite modern, and in the wrong place. There is also a certain amount of good original interior detailing which needs to be carefully preserved.

We are having discussions with various parties at interest including the relevant local authorities, one of them being the landlord, and the current tenants, to see if suitable restoration can be achieved.