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Victorian Ilfracombe

45-47 High Street

(Council Office, Co-op and Scarratt's)

This fine row of early Victorian houses can still be identified in spite of the changes to their facades and the demolition of No 45 on the corner of Northfield Road. The massive brick chimneys, each with 14 pots, and the row of dentils* on Scarrat's above the bay windows are the only visible remains of the original design. This is typical of many Ilfracombe buildings which have been adapted and updated to suit new purposes and fashions. The original design of the terrace is a reminder that once the High Street was primarily residential, with shops and businesses occupying the front rooms of dwelling houses, and only later being given over mainly to trade.

8K line-drawing

The sketch of the houses can be dated about 1874 from the decorations on the nearest house. These heralded the coming of the railway to Ilfracombe after a long struggle, hence the motto: NIL DESPERANDUM ("Never despairing" or "Don't give up"). Since the terrace is in the late Georgian (or Regency) style, it was most likely built in the 1830's, soon after Victoria came to the throne, or just before. The sweeping roof with its exposed dormers and overhanging eaves suggests a late Georgian, since earlier the roof tended to be hidden by a parapet. The plain rendered rubble walls with simple square headed sash windows and round headed doorways with their fanlights date them as contemporary with the grander terraces of the growing resort. The only decorative feature is the row of dentils under the eaves, and the surviving ones show how beautifully moulded they were. The ground floor levels were well above the street, and the sunken doorway and grill indicate cellars beneath.

The first alterations were made to the house on the corner of Northfield Road which was given a typical shop front and in a photo of about 1890 it displays a sign for the Ilfracombe Chronicle. In 1899 it advertised itself as "Wyatt's Circulating Library" as well as being a newsagents, its windows and walls covered with announcements of its various provisions. The Ilfracombe Gas Company took over the site in the 1930's (was it?) and rebuilt, giving us the neo-georgian (Art-Deco, as some call it?) show rooms that we have today, which, having served various purposes since British Gas deserted us, now provides a fascinating display area for the various projects the town has in hand. The monogram of the Gas Company survives over the door, and above that a fine mosaic of the town coat of arms by Shannon Ridd installed 1996.

The house next door acquired shop fronts in two stages, the first a confectioners next to the newsagents, then a photographers beside it. Holloway's, our local bakers, took over the confectioners in 1914 and in 1926 extended their premises to take in both shops, refacing the street front, replacing the dormer with a second storey and hiding the roof with a parapet, very much in the Georgian style. This building is now the Co-op and it blends in well with its neighbours.

In 1896 a Mr Mogridge transformed No. 47 into a butchers shop, giving it the shop front that we still have today, adding bay windows to the first floor and extending the dormers above to make what is in effect a second floor with double sash windows. He preserved however, the dentils, evidence of the original roof line. In 1996, to celebrate the Centenary of the business, Mr Scarratt, the present proprietor, displayed the development of this sight with a collection of old photographs which are still on view in the shop.

The slaughter house was in the yard behind the shop and Arthur Holloway tells me that he remembers having to protest to Mr Mogridge about the squealing that disturbed the customers in his cafe. Times are more peaceful now.

Jim Bates - February 1997

*Dentils:- In the December Focus these were wrongly called "lintels". As said there, they are rows of square box like decorations, usually under the eaves. (Rather like a row of teeth. Hence the name)

Created 18/4/99
Last Modified 20/4/99