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Building - MT Woodlands Manor

MOBILE PHONE USERS WILL OBTAIN A BETTER EXPERIENCE IF ROTATED TO HORIZONTAL

 

THE DOMESTIC BUILDINGS OF MERE

Image: Mere Museum

The impression that the centre of Mere conveys is of an attractive old town lined with  grey sandstone buildings, roofed in tile or slate. There is a complete absence of front gardens - all the houses fronting directly on to the street. And fortunately with very few new buildings breaking up the charming pattern.

Medieval Mere

In medieval times all local domestic buildings would have been timber-framed and thatched. But don't think chocolate-box black and white: much more likely decaying hovels. No trace now remains of those buildings (the George Inn is stone- built with fake timber framing stuck on the front). One of the great hazards of those times was fire; the combination of thatched roofs and open fires frequently led to disaster. In 1529 virtually the whole of the town was burnt; later to be rebuilt again in wood. 

Although the buildings may have changed, the layout of the streets and the boundaries between plots would have been largely unaltered. The pattern of development had been established, probably more than a thousand years ago in Saxon times - lines of houses fronting the main through road - Castle & Salisbury Streets. These were all distinguished by narrow frontages and long narrow plots running back to the back lanes (Castle Hill Lane and North St) 

Image: Colin Anderson

And then, four years after the Great Fire of London, in 1670, 54 houses were destroyed in another catastrophe. the Mere we see today is at least the third re-incarnation.

Maybe We Should Try Stone ....

It is quite likely that much of the rebuilding in stone may be in response to the great fires. The local stone is not ideal for building; it is soft, and weathers poorly. Neither is it suitable for carving so ornate window and doors surrounds are rare. So cottage window frames are usually of wood set under a wooden lintel - "unadorned holes in the wall".  The local stone is usually seen as small rectangular blocks which could be laid in neat courses, but occasionally the appearance is more that of a rubble construction. Occasionally you will see a greenish stone used which is a much better quality stone. With the building line being hard against the pavement, porches are unknown. 

Slate was not available to replace thatch on roofs until the coming of the railways in the 19th C. A very few thatched buildings still survive away from the centre of the town. The very best houses had stone roofs but only one example remains - the Old Ship Hotel.

Several buildings, particularly along Church Street, had, and still have, a low arched entrance to allow access to the yards and stores at  the rear. Sometimes the houses were 'turned round' so that their doors faced these passageways rather than the street - see the western annex to the Co-op. During the 17th and 18th centuries Mere enjoyed a period of comparative prosperity, to which we owe buildings such as Deans Orchard, Dewes House, the Old Ship, and also "Hindley's House" [now empty beside Brainwave's] 

'Conundrum' in the square, which is typical of a simple cottage style. Wooden lintels and window frames, low ceiling heights and a steeply sloped roof indicates that it was probably originally thatched

Image: David Stokes

"Hindley's House" in the square, of a better class than the usual cottages, showing stone window surrounds and an attempt at an imposing porch (which in Mere could not protrude onto the pavement)

Image: David Stokes

In the latter part of the 19th century local businessmen such as Charles Jupe and Charles Coward built a number of cottage developments; good examples are the stone cottages in North Road.

 

The Coming of Brick

The coming of the railway towards the end of the 19th century led to the establishment of a brickworks in Gillingham producing a very hard durable orange brick. Although stone remained the material of choice in Mere, the brick was adopted to overcome the failure of the local stone to provide good corner stones. Thus you can see many stone houses in Mere which are outlined in bright orange Gillingham brick - either when built or when repaired.

 

The Grove Building built in 1892 used the new brick not only for the 'outlines' but also because it allowed the elaborate gables to be constructed

Photo: Wiltshire Council

The Old Bakery shows a wagon arch plus the use of Gillingham brick for 'outlining'

Photo: David Stokes

Fortunately few new buildings were built around the turn of the century entirely in brick. This the chemist's shop in the Square - replacing a very old thatched shop. 

At the same time, the Duchy built new housing near Wellhead and on the Causeway in the same brick. 

Photo: David Stokes

 

 

In 1926 the local authority built the first Council houses, in White Road, to be followed by those in Clements Lane and Barnes Place. In 1946, estates were built between Manor and North Roads, Bramley Hill, and the sheltered housing there and at Lynch Close. In the 1960's private developers built estates at Springfield, Lordsmead and Southbrook.

Recently Mere has become a popular place for people from the home counties to retire to. The estates built at the foot of Long Hill and on Duchy land at the Fields and the land behind the Walnut Tree pub have proved popular. The last of these, the Huntsgate estate, is well worth a visit since Prince Charles insisted that the houses be built in the traditional style and that a village pub be incorporated!

 


 

David Hope has produced an illustrated leaflet describing a self-guided walk around the old buildings of Mere.  It can be downloaded by clicking here Paper copies are available in the Mere Tourist Information Centre.


Michael Tighe has produced a detailed guide to the historical buildings of Mere - see top of left column.