Every town has its notable quirks and features that it has accumulated over its lifetime; this week’s post highlights the quirky street furniture we have in Sherborne.
I think that ‘Street Furniture’ is important and most interesting, and I find it a lot of fun searching for these items. Each one demonstrates bits of Sherborne’s history, and gives me some insight into lost social behaviour.
From the years of 1680-1879, fire marks are the pictorial metal plaques that were placed on the walls of buildings showing the distinctive markers of the respective Insurance Brokers, as a way of self advertising and early identification in an emergency, should a fire break out.
The fire mark showed which brigade was responsible for fighting the fire and salvaging any of the contents. The best fire marks in the town that are still to be seen are at the St Johns Almshouses in Trendle Street. There on the South wall, look up to the windows above, and under the first window nearest to the Chapel on the left is a West of England metal plaque.
There are others at:
Little Knapp, 41 Acreman Street, on the East wall, “Royal Exchange”.
Sherborne Castle on the West wall, “Westminster”.
Abbey Pharmacy in Cheap Street, “The Pheonix” – a legendary bird said to have set fire to itself, and then rose from its ashes,- this plaque is now displayed inside the shop on a shelf on the right hand side. According to Don Carter who owned the Pharmacy for 40 years, there were three fire engines in Sherborne, and they would only put out the fire if the building was registered to the insurance agency they belonged to(!)
No. 3 The Green also had a tin Pheonix mark, but in the 1960s when the cottage was being restored it disappeared never to be seen again.
It is now illegal to remove a fire mark from a listed building, but so sadly over the years, many have disappeared as they seem to be valued as collector’s items.
Digby Estate House Number Plaques
If you’ve not yet read my earlier post on these, then read on; The Digby white enamel plaques that feature the Digby ostrich, an upturned horseshoe in its beak, printed in black above the estate number are still to be seen in a few places in the town. Mainly in Trendle Street, Westbury, and Hound Street, and many on the doors of the cottages in nearby villages like Bradford Abbas, Longburton, Yetminster and some as far away as Hazelbury Bryan and Mappowder. Sadly as the Digby Estate sells off many of its properties these delightful number plates are seen less and less.
Splash Backs or ‘Nuisance Stones’
These are stones to prevent nuisances(!) Sherborne always had many public drinking houses. In the days long before Public Conveniences, corners in/near these drinking houses had fitted triangular stones in an attempt to prevent men urinating there, or if they did the splashes would wet their trousers and reaching home they would be scolded as the wives would see the evidence of where they had spent the evening.
Two remaining examples are The Julian at the top of Cheap Street, and in South Street where the old Mermaid Hotel was.
Long before roads were tarmacked and pavements had paving stones, the roads and streets in Sherborne were very wet and muddy. So boot scrapers were provided in all the doorways and Sherborne has many many excellent examples.
I think the best example is just inside the Abbey Porch. This was a specially designed foot scraper in Victorian Norman style when the Abbey was restored in 1850.
At Greenhill House there is an elaborate footscraper, and at the now converted “Green” there are three scrapers.
See how many you can find along Newland and Long Street.
During the Second World War many railings were removed for the “war effort”. But luckily some do still remain. Outside the Almshouse in Trendle Street are the specially designed cast iron railings, with the posts having lovely large finials displaying the Bishops Mitre. (The Bishop of Salisbury as we are in the Diocese of Salisbury). But long long will they remain before being damaged by the heaving traffic that continually pounds along Trendle Street….?
Another lovely set of railings are outside what was the Digby Estate Offices (up until a year ago), at the top of Cheap Street.
Also some more to be seen are around the garden of Duck House in South Street.
Just a few handsome Victorian lamp posts survive now in town. Many beautiful gas lanterns were demolished in the 1960s. So sad.
But there are just a few ornamental map brackets still to be seen:
Above the front door of ‘Melrose’ in Hound Street.
Outside the front of the Post Office in Cheap Street.
Outside ‘Raleigh Lodge’ in Castleton, and at the Lodge to Sherborne Castle.
Now we have to live with ugly concrete and metal lamp standards of dreadful design. Oh how I mourn the loss of these lovely lamp posts….
The Public Weighbridge
As the Western end of Half Moon Street bends to the left, at the junction of Trendle Street, outside the Abbey Gates and the Almshouse, in a cobbled area surrounded by flowers beds is a small semi-circular building. It has a curved red brick back, with a stone archway and wooden door facing into the road.
This was the Public Weighbridge House, built in the 18th century.
The public weighing machine is believed to be still in situ, but the weighbridge itself was removed for road widening in the 1950s.
Years ago, before cars and lorries, people transporting animals and goods by horse and cart were obliged to stop and be weighed, then charged the price according to the cost displayed.
Not much different to the car parking machines in the public car parks today – except it was a much more enjoyable occasion!
The Sherborne Conduit
This lovely hexagonal building stands at the lower end of Cheap Street, in the market area. It was built in the early 16th century byt he then Abbot of the Benedictine Monastery, John Meere.
Originally it was attached to the North Wall of the Abbey Cloister, and served as a washing place (the Lavatorium) for the monks before they went into the refectory for their meals, and also to shave and have their hair cut.
There would have been little clay or stone basins and lead pipes with constant cold water from the Coombe stream or the Newell Water.
Inside there is a fine vaulted roof, and Abbot Meere’s initial ‘M’ are on all the vertical tracery of the five faces of this hexagonal structure.
In 1553, once the monastery was dissolved and it had become Edward VI’s Grammar School, (now, of course, Sherborne School,) the school no longer had need of it, and moved the conduit house to the market place.
Sherborne School continued to own the building but gave it to the town in 1933. By custom, it is said, the Boys of the School never walk through it.
What details will you spot on your next walk through Sherborne?….