Reprinted from Newsletter 113, dated 2004 October

Local distinctiveness

Adrian Pearse

A talk by Richard Raynsford

Richard Raynsford, a former senior planning officer at Mendip District Council and honorary member of the Conservation Society, gave a presentation on local distinctiveness or “what makes places different?” on September 24 in St Mary’s Hall.

Even in such a comparatively small area as the Mendip District he was able to illustrate the very wide range of local materials and styles incorporated in the built environment, itself forming only one aspect of a diverse natural framework. Building stone ranged from dolomitic conglomerate at Draycott, carboniferous limestone at Charterhouse, white lias at Chewton Mendip, pennant stone at Oakhill and inferior oolite at Doulting to blue lias at Lydford — and with brick in those areas where stone supplies were limited, as at Glastonbury. Similarly, roof coverings ranged from slate, stone tiles and various patterns of local clay tiles to thatch.

A large old stone house stands in a field.

The Meare manor house was a summer palace of the Abbots of Glastonbury. It was built before 1340 and remains one of Mendip's most interesting and distinctive buildings.

A tour of Mendip’s villages revealed many features of note that help to give them their special characteristics. Doulting has extensive 19th-century development designed by Skipper, complementing the great mediaeval barn. Cranmore has an unusual farm building with inset bottle decoration. Nunney, apart from the impressive French-style castle, retains a working farm in the village, once an almost universal feature but now increasingly rare. Lullington has a most ornate village pump, and Falkland has prehistoric sarsen stones beside the village stocks on the green. The George at Norton St Philip is one of the few half-timbered mediaeval buildings in the region. Rook Lane Chapel provides a striking example of Nonconformist chapel architecture at Frome, where there are many fine buildings with distinctive features. A traditional pub, the Seymour Arms, survives a Witham Friary; the Manor House Inn at Ditcheat uses local brick in gothic-revival style when it was more fashionable than stone.

Mediaeval domestic architecture can be seen at Home Farm, East Pennard, and 18th-century attempts to modernise the facade of older buildings are clearly displayed at Pilton House. Here, as at North Wootton, a ford survives.

Shepton Mallet has two striking railway viaducts and an impressive Victorian factory complex; Croscombe has two ancient manor houses. In addition to its outstanding ecclesiastical buildings, Wells possesses a fine example of mediaeval town planning and has striking modern buildings such as the Regal Cinema. Glastonbury uses colour to improve on plain brick and render, and has an outstanding pre-war post office. Street likewise has much 1930s architecture, notably the Greenbank swimming pool complex.

To conclude, Richard highlighted the dramatic scenery of the district, from the frosted levels to the view of Brent Knoll at sunset. Assuredly for such a small area, Mendip has a great diversity to be appreciated and enjoyed.