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DOWNTON BUILDINGS

In this section I want to look at some buildings in Downton. I do not intend this to be a rambling description of the architecture nor a chronology of who lived there. Rather, I want to give you a feel for them and, as a way of looking at how we explore buildings, to consider why they are as they are and what was important to the people who built, altered and lived in them.

Buildings are living artefacts that continually change as people’s needs change and this is often forgotten. Think of how houses you’ve lived in have changed from your grandparents’ or even parents’ time - and why?

THE WHITE HORSE

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The White Horse illustrates two points when looking at buildings - context and status.

The White Horse dates back to the 15th Century and was subject to many changes over the centuries. You only have to look at it to see that it is well placed within the village and is an imposing building. Its position and size are important. Whenever you study buildings you must not look at them in isolation, as they are there, and in that form, for a reason. Some important questions are: what buildings are around them; what sort of settlement are they in (agricultural, industrial, rural, town); what is the geology (so building material available); what, and when, were the high and low points of the settlement (wealth, poverty)? In Downton, it was Bishop Roches in the thirteenth century who planned the development of Downton as a market town, where people could rent plots (Burgage plots) and have a right to vote and a say in the running of the town. So it started with high ideals.

As you can see, the building was well placed on a cross roads of the Borough (Gravel Close and South Lane, having been more important roads in the past than they are now). Its size is also large in comparison with others in the village so it was clearly a very important, high status, building.

This is certainly suggested by the evidence. Look at the sketches of what it was like in the 15th century and look at the detail of the roof timbers in the photograph – and you can see this was no ordinary building. Indeed the roof that exists now is of the finest quality and early timbers are extremely well preserved. The building clearly changed its use throughout its life and was probably, at one stage, two separate buildings. It has been, variously, a public space (market, meeting place), a house and large hall open to the roof serving, at some time, a civic function. But, by the 1600s, it was an inn and has remained so to this day.

The original timber walls were replaced, probably in the eighteenth century, by brick as timber tends to rot and those occupying the building then, like us, wanted to upgrade it. What survived is the roof – it was not visible from inside, so if it was sound, why replace it? In looking at old buildings the roof is often the key to the age of the building.

In short, the White Horse Inn is a good example of the evolution of a building and illustrates why studying its context and structure helps us to understand its historical significance.

In subsequent articles I will look at other aspects that help us appreciate and understand buildings

Nigel Walker (Dec 2018)


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Sketch by Edward Roberts 1993


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The roof @ Wiltshire Buildings Record