A Sanctuary for Unwanted Buildings

The architectural historian Dan Cruickshank once said that, though he sounded callous or strange, he was often driven to tears by the destruction of old buildings, because, unlike people, they cannot ask for help, they have no rights, so these solid and useful records of humanity are often demolished  due to the demands of developers. In war time, demolition of buildings such as the beautiful bridge over the Drina at Mostar in former Jugoslavia was a deliberate act to divide communities, so its reconstruction was an act of peace and reconciliation, not merely an impressive feat of civil engineering. .

As the towns of Britain expanded, many old buildings were lost, and street furniture such as High Crosses either demolished or moved to country estates of the wealthy. Contractors employed to build new structures were generally given the right to the old building, so recycled or sold them as they chose. The Welsh town of Portmeirion was founded by Sir Clough Williams- Ellis to preserve old buildings under threat of demolition, but throughout the country can be found buildings, or pieces of carved stone that have been rescued and recycled, often in inappropriate ways. The wonderful National Folk Museum at St Fagans, Cardiff is another recognised retirement home for redundant buildings. This story of Swanage suggests how such things happened, as the final destinations can sometimes be quite strange, as are  their subsequent uses and attributions.  “

“Certain unwonted features in Swanage are due to the circumstance that two quarrymen of the town, by their industry and talents, raised themselves to the position of great paving contractors in London. They were ever mindful of their native village, and showed their tender regard by bestowing upon the place a few of the miscellaneous oddments which must find their way into a great contractor’s yard. Thus along certain roads about the town will be found iron street posts inscribed, “St Anne’s, Soho,” and “St Martins-in-the-fields.” In the High Street is the entire stone facade of the Mercers’ Hall, Cheapside, moved bodily to Swanage in 1882, balcony, doorway, puffy cherubs holding garlands and all. This piece of the veneer of London has an odd effect on the “fishar towne.” By the brink of the sea is an elegant Gothic clock-tower, very finicking, dandified and townish. It came from LondonBridge, where it had been erected – at the cost of many pounds – as a memorial to the great Duke of Wellington. As it was obstructive to certain improvements, it was handed over to the contractor, who, true to early memories, sent it to his beloved Swanage. Amongst other litter in the London contractor’s yard there would seem to have been some cannon-balls. The faithful paviour evidently had some difficulty in working these in for the adornment of his birthplace. Cannon balls suggest battle, but there had been no battle at Swanage. King Alfred, however, is supposed to have defeated the Danes in SwanageBay in the year of our Lord 877. Naturally enough, the contractor erected a pillar on the Marine Parade to commemorate this proud if dim event, and placed the cannon-balls on top of it. To some these missiles may appear inappropriate, as gunpowder was not invented until more than 400 years after the assumed engagement.”

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