Character Building - Steve Wallis looks at local variations in building material in Dorset

PUBLISHED: 09:48 20 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:51 20 February 2013

Character Building

Character Building

Steve Wallis looks at local variations in building materials and how the use of such local materials once influenced architectural styles

Steve Wallis looks at local variations in building materials and how the use of such local materials once influenced architectural styles

Much of Dorset's character is based on the variety of its underlying geology. There are many different types of stone, sometimes even within a small area. That stone affects the character of the landscape, of course, but it also affects the buildings we see around us.

In the days before heavy goods vehicles, transporting stone cost a great deal of money, so most people built their homes and other structures from material that was available locally. If they could get stone from a nearby quarry, that was what they would use - if good-quality building stone was not readily available, they used other materials such as timber, cob and, in recent centuries, brick.

So, as you travel round the county, you will notice local variations in the materials used in older buildings, which also have often influenced the local architectural style. The following photographs are an attempt to illustrate this and prove the variety and charm of Dorset's vernacular architecture.

Odd things can affect the buildings of a place. At Yetminster, for example, individual farmers were not tenants of a lord of the manor but owned their own land. So, they were able to build up their own wealth, which they showed off by constructing large, good-quality houses for themselves. This effect can still be seen today in Yetminster (above) - there are lots of such houses dating from the 16th to the 18th centuries, built of the distinctive limestone of the western end of Blackmore Vale.

In the past, many practically minded people built houses with straightforward designs. Where these designs had features in good proportions and where the buildings have survived without too many later additions, they can be very attractive. Pictured left is such a cottage in Stourton Caundle, between Sherborne and Sturminster Newton.

Here is the stuff of chocolate-box covers: it's in Durweston at the south-east corner of the Blackmore Vale. Much of the front wall of this thatched 18th-century cottage (right) is covered in a pink plaster or render, while you can also just see the exposed stone and brick of the lower part and the brick end wall.

Often, a mixture of materials was used in the walls of a building. Sometimes this was because the outside was to be covered in plaster, which in some cases was later removed; sometimes it was the result of piecemeal repair. The overall effect of the mixture of brick and flint on this cottage (pictured above) in Stourpaine is very pleasing to the eye.

Along the edge of the chalk that runs diagonally across the county, there are outcrops of greensand. The name gives away the colour, or at least the tinge, of this stone that was much used in nearby villages and in the town of Shaftesbury in particular. The above example is the Ship Inn in that town.

In many parts of the county, brick was used during the last few centuries either where stone was not available or because it was relatively new and so considered fashionable. This Victorian example (pictured below) is in Gillingham - this northernmost of Dorset's towns is not renowned for its architecture, but this is one of a number of fine buildings in the area behind the parish church.

I cannot leave out the Isle of Purbeck. Its local limestone is much used throughout that area, not only in buildings but also for the field boundaries that help make the distinctive local landscape. The best quality limestone from the Isle is known as Purbeck marble, which has been used in some of England's greatest buildings. Pictured above we see some of the more 'ordinary' variety, used for a pub and cottages in Corfe Castle village. The stone slates on the roofs also came from local quarries.

Abbotsbury has many attractions for the visitor, including the quality of its buildings, almost all built of the local limestone. Looking broadly at a group of properties in the village, the stone seems to have a golden hue, but look closely at the individual stones on this cottage (pictured right) to see the variety of shades in which the stone comes.

Chalk does not seem a good building material - you would think it too soft and liable to dissolve. However, some chalk can be used, particularly the form sometimes known as 'clunch'. On this 17th-century farmhouse (pictured above) in Lower Kingcombe, towards the west of the county, the larger blocks are chalk.

Stroll around Bridport and you soon notice how many of its buildings, especially those built of brick but also some of the stone ones, are covered in white render. Below you can see a couple of examples in South Street, or rather one white example and a cream one.

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