Architectural curiosities: Priory Street

23 10 2009

At a first glance you probably wouldn’t notice anything unusual on this rather lovely 1830s terrace of four houses in Priory Street on the corner of Hewlett Place. Look closely at some of the details though, and it obviously wasn’t finished off in quite the way it was intended. Whether it’s the result of different builders and owners applying their own tastes and style decisions, or whether it’s simply a case of the development running out of money, remains a mystery – it could of course be a bit of both.


These are the first two houses in the terrace. The obvious difference is in the windows. The first house has three bays in the upper storey while its neighbour only has two, and the two tall thin windows on the ground floor are substituted next door for an altogether more ostentatious single one, although they are similar in style. More subtly, the second house has fewer glazing bars in the window over the door, and its front railings, although matching those of the first house, are lacking in the delicate curvaceous scrolls in between the rails. Otherwise the houses are designed to match. They both have panelled giant pilasters (i.e. decorative fake columns which span both storeys) topped with capitals, each decorated with a very pretty anthemion motif. Except – whoopsies – the capital on the left hand side is missing. Maybe it was always absent, but it’s probably more likely that it fell off at some point. Above each of the capitals is another panel with a wreath design … except that the one in the middle is blank – not sure whether or not it was meant to be like that.

If you look at the top of the houses they have a carved ornamental bit on top of the parapet. Not easy to see the detail in the photo above, so here is an enlargement (zoomed in from the same photo).


On the first house we have a panelled tablet and a beautifully delicate scroll carved with acanthus leaves. But …


On the second house – erm … no carving. The basic scroll shape is there, but it’s blank and still waiting to be carved. The cornice underneath is also simplified.

An even more striking example of the unfinished carving on the second house is right there on the ground floor window. You can’t see it too well in the main photo above, but when you zoom in …


The main part of the window is beautifully finished off with carved wreaths and a pair of scroll console brackets … lovingly detailed with acanthus leaves. But the scroll ornament on the top is blank – still in its “ready-to-carve” stage.

This kind of unfinished detail is usually a matter of running out of money, and that’s certainly the impression here when you move on to the other half of the terrace …


Although the design is the same across the whole terrace, there is a very obvious move to economise on these third and fourth houses. The panelled pilasters are gone – replaced with a very plain, narrow and simple pilaster with no capitals and no decorative panels. They also have the same ‘unfinished’ roof ornament seen on house two … blank scroll outlines with no carving. The railings are simpler too, and lack the ornamental finials seen on the first two houses. Not everything is compromised though … they still have the ornate ground floor windows, and a variation in the front door, which is inside an arched recess.

These four houses were most likely built in the late 1830s. Their site is shown on the 1834 map as a mere plot of grass, but interestingly the map shows the rest of Priory Street laid out for the building of another longer terrace which was never completed. Only the central and end pairs of houses were built by 1834, and the rest of the plot remained vacant until well into the 20th century.

Just as an aside, the pilaster capitals with the anthemion design appear to be absolutely identical to the ones that occur on Thatcher’s Tea Room at the bottom of Montpellier Street, way over on the other side of the town centre.


Priory Street, left and Thatcher’s Tea Room, right.

I assume they were both pre-cast, from a commercial pattern. It’s not just the anthemion design that’s the same either … the giant panelled pilasters are also exactly the same.



One response

11 12 2009

It looks like you are a true expert. Did you study about the topic? haha..

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