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
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.
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
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
Photo: Wiltshire Council
The Old Bakery shows a wagon arch plus the use of Gillingham brick for
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
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
In the 1960's
private developers built estates at Springfield, Lordsmead and
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.