Originally published in Arkadia magazine, November 2013.
As you wend your way through Sherborne you cannot ignore the architecture. Its beauty lies not only in individual buildings but in the combinations of periods and styles that line up like a living architectural sourcebook. Medieval and Georgian buildings sit shoulder to shoulder along Cheap Street, Sherborne’s retail backbone, and throughout the town the influence of the Victorians winds its way through this earlier architecture, embellishing it in spectacular style.
Let’s take it from the top, quite literally, and start at No. 1 Cheap Street. This prestigious address belongs to The Julian, a stunning example of an early 16th century stone town house and one of Sherborne’s oldest buildings. Now home to the Sherborne Tapestry Centre, The Julian has been an inn and a hospice. A few yards away is the Toy Box, a good old-fashioned independent toy shop with gorgeous Georgian shop windows and 8 rooms packed to the rafters with toys and games.
Nearby, Winstone’s, a beautifully arranged bookshop, allows you the chance to relax with a book and a coffee. Sherborne boasts several beautiful threshold mosaics and here you’ll find the name ‘Curtis’, providing a tantalising clue to one of the shop’s former identities.
Oliver’s Coffee House greets you with a stunning art deco shop front of curved teak and coloured glass, dating back to 1927 when the shop was home to Mould & Edwards. What originally opened as a butchers shop in 1884 later became a ‘general provisions merchants’. Oliver’s now specialises in light lunches, classic cakes and other wonderful things made from locally sourced ingredients.
Three doors down you’ll find Maddie Brown. This beautiful 17th century shop was once occupied by ‘noted Sherborne tailors and outfitters’, Lowman & Sons, established in 1876. These days the suits have been replaced by beautiful objects for the home, including furniture and lots of gorgeous gift ideas.
In the time it takes to cross the street, we have gone back another 200 years, to the 15th century and the fascinating medieval timber framed buildings that dominate this part of Cheap Street. Now occupied by Henry Willis, antique silver specialist, and Four Seasons boutique, Shoemaker’s House is a stunning 15th century jettied building that was also once a candle maker’s shop.
Nearby, the building occupied by Almondburys and White Feather dates back to a similar period but hides behind a later façade.
Other examples of timbered buildings include Abbeylands, on the corner of Abbey Road, which still bears the Roman numerals carved into the beams to aid its 17th century construction.
As we approach The Parade at the bottom of Cheap Street we are met by an array of fascinating buildings, including the bow-fronted former Sherborne Bank of Saving, built in 1818 and now occupied by Orvis. Originally the People’s Supply Stores, dating back to the 17th century, 78 Cheap Street later became Rodman’s Stores and finally, in the 1930s, The Three Wishes Restaurant.
Now occupied by Tenovus, No. 84 became home to Dyer’s Cycle Works in 1895. The beautiful art nouveau shop front dates back to around this time, as does the ‘Dyer’s Cycle Works’ mosaic threshold.
Across the road, a few steps into Long Street, there’s a striking memorial to Sherborne’s heritage in the form of a preserved fragment of an anonymous building, bearing the following inscription: “This oakwork is part of the front of the ground floor of a sixteenth century house which stood on this site. It had been much mutilated and overlaid with plaster, but was laid bare when the house was demolished in 1926.”
Walking along Half Moon Street, we can’t ignore Sherborne Abbey. As much a feat of engineering as it is a work of art, this magnificent building, with its origins dating back to 705AD, has been reinvented time and again, each alteration working with, not against, what has gone before. In this sense the Abbey is the very essence of Sherborne wrapped up in one building. Ageing Victorian stained glass by Pugin complemented by John Hayward’s breath-taking Great West Window, installed in 1997, shows that time can pass gracefully in the right hands.
St Johns’ Almshouse, nearby illustrates this too. Founded in 1437 to care for ‘twelve pore feeble and ympotent old men and four old women’, it was extended almost seamlessly in 1864.
It seems only right to finish our tour at this point, standing by two of Sherborne’s most iconic buildings. Remember though that this is just one of countless possible routes and that I have only mentioned a small selection of the wonderful shops that help to make this town so special.
If you find yourself in Sherborne on the hunt for Christmas presents, I hope you will also take the time to appreciate the gifts that the past has left behind for us all to enjoy.
Arkadia magazine is available from selected outlets throughout Dorset or online here.