B U I L T H E R I T A G E
Buildings play significant role in how a place ‘feels’ – it is in the fabric of buildings that we can read the stories of a town’s past.
Local distinctiveness is a good way of understanding that the layers of physical history, culture, nature and geography jostle with more ephemeral experiences, combining to create layers and fragments, old and new, visible and invisible, all of which influence private and communal experiences of a place like Bridport.
Buildings play significant role in how a place ‘feels’ – it is in the fabric of buildings that we can read the stories of a town’s past. The particular tone of stock bricks and stone, of slate, straw or timber that make up humble dwellings or grand institutional buildings tell a story, describing the local geology, skills, traditions and social history. In Bridport, this physical character of the buildings and streets reflects a long history of flax and hemp manufacture in the town, and expresses something unique: an enduring relationship between the nearby agricultural landscape and the town’s industrial history.
With its origins in the Saxon period, there is an unusually large number of surviving burgage plots in the town – these long narrow strips of land, adjoining the main high street, add significantly to the historic character and were retained because they were useful to the flax and hemp industries of the town. Burgage plots became ropewalks and spinning ways, then came the mills, warehouses and textile factories that have employed people in the town and surrounding villages for over 600 years in the manufactured of rope, net and twine. At its most productive, Bridport rope products were sought after all over the world and employed over half the town’s population. There are no other places in the UK where the character of the urban environment was so heavily shaped by what was growing in the nearby fields of West Dorset – this fertile, well-drained soils and relatively mild climate made it ideal for growing flax and hemp.
Bridport’s buildings add a significant layer to the local distinctiveness of the town, with a range of locally-fired bricks and quarried stones which strongly contributes to the character and quality. Brickwork is ubiquitous, particularly in the Georgian and Victorian facades, but there is also a distinctive, domestic architecture in the stuccoed late Regency and Early Victorian villas which lie on the edges of the historic core of the town. Further out into the nearby villages of Bradpole and Bothenhampton, now part of the town, stone buildings are prevalent – simple yet durable with thick stone walls and a lime or clay render applied to the interior and exterior walls. Openings for doors and windows were typically formed in timber, or more expensive stone. Roofs were formed from timber joists were typically clad in thatch or slate. The historic harbour at West Bay retains elements of the 19th century harbour and is characterised by a number of 18th and 19th century warehouses, together with elements of a late 19th and 20th century small seaside resort.
The Skilling neighbourhood of Bridport was one of Britain’s earliest housing schemes designed to Garden City principles – affordable, good quality, utilising local materials and promoting a healthier living environment by integrating dwellings with outdoor space. New housing should be equally ambitious – meeting local needs by providing for young and older people as well as families and offering alternative to traditional forms of ownership and management.