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Victorian Ilfracombe

The High Street

Looking east from the Lantern Gallery

The bend at Northfield Road neatly divides the High Street into two, each section having its own distinctive character. The eastern arm tending to be higher and more enclosed than the western.

The sketch gives a view of the north side of the western arm. Every building is different, both in style and height, and yet they blend into a fine range of Victorian shops with one or two lower and earlier buildings. This is an example of how the emphasis on the vertical in windows and other details enables a varied set of facades to come together with a curtain like effect.

Nearest on the left is the first purpose-built Post Office of the town, designed by W.C. Oliver of Shapland & Petters in Barnstaple. A sturdy structure of Marland brick and stone with Gothic revival windows on the first floor. Later the Post Office moved two or three doors up to the fine early twentieth century building designed by Allan T. Hussell, our local architect. Its bays and detail are very Flemish, presenting a fine row of curved gables to the street. The Clarence is set back and so hidden, but beyond that is the fine row of tall shops that make up the heart of the street. In the distance is the old market hall, now the Victorian Restaurant with the panels by Roger Dean in the arches below, fascinating to study, but badly lit.

The south side of the street with the clock tower designed by W.H. Gould, another local architect, is hidden by the end of the Queens Hotel (now being renovated). In front of this is a survivor of the Old Ilfracombe. A two story cottage wedged between the higher buildings. The pastry shop nearest to the right has fine wooden bay windows which still retain their sashes, and ornate ironwork railings above the shop front, crowning one of the bays. Ilfracombe was rich in ironwork before weather and World War Two removed it. It is good to see that here and there it is beginning to return.

Strung across the street are the "fairy lights", one of the most delightful features of our High Street, (when they are lit), far superior to the coloured Christmas decorations other towns put up, and we have them all the year round.

The Watermouth bus went past as I drew. There is no better way of studying architecture of the town than from the open top of a bus.

Jim Bates - June 96

Created 17/4/99