Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Old House, Hereford

click photo to enlarge
The remains of the past that we see around us are there through either design, chance or a mixture of both these factors. Archaeologists tell us that humans have always revered ancestors and their artefacts, and much of what remains from earlier centuries has been kept for this reason. Visit an English town and you may see a medieval market cross, or the remains of one, something that long ago shed its purpose, but that succeeding generations have maintained because it is a comforting presence, a mark of the continuity of the settlement. Churches, castles, houses and other buildings usually survive because they are still able to fulfil their original purpose, but also because people like the reminder of the past that they embody through their materials, style and shape. However, looking at some buildings you wonder why they alone survived when so many similar structures didn't. I recently visited a building in Hereford and discovered why only a single house remains from what was once a notable town-centre terrace.

The Old House bears the date 1621, probably the year of its completion. It is a timber-framed building of the kind popular for more than two hundred years. It may have been associated with the butcher's trade because the coat of arms of the Butcher's Guild (including crossed pole axes used for slaughter) are mounted over the door in the south porch. That suggestion is strengthened by the fact that it was once part of a street called Butcher's Row. A painting of 1815 by David Cox shows it in its original context. I don't know what motivated him to paint this subject but it may have been the threat posed to the medieval buildings and the town's street plan by Hereford's "Paving, Repairing, Cleaning and Lighting Commissioners" who were anxious to modernise the centre and reduce the fire risk caused by old, decrepit, wooden buildings and narrow streets. They undertook their work from about 1810 to 1854 using coercion and compulsory purchase orders to buy and remove old buildings. By the late 1830s only two people held out against the Commissioners - the owners of the Market Hall and The Old House. In 1862 the Market Hall was demolished leaving The Old House isolated but surviving. Thereafter it housed a number of businesses including a saddler, china shop, fish shop, grocer, and two banks. In 1928 Lloyds Bank, the owners, gave the house to the City of Hereford who turned it into a museum in 1929. It has served this purpose ever since.

photographs and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 24mm
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/160 sec
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  -0.67 EV
Image Stabilisation: On