Sectional Preface: Urban Design

Pages lxxxii-lxxxiii

An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the Town of Stamford. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1977.

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Urban Design

Stamford is a town of discrete buildings. Terraces and groups of buildings forming a unified design are notably few, and where they exist are on a small scale. Each house is an individual creation and bears but little relationship to its neighbour. Gilbert of Cestreton may have built a terrace of three tenements just W. of All Saints' Church in 1257, but they do not survive (Rot. Hund. 1, 351). Nos. 15–17 High Street (179), of c. 1700, form a terrace of three houses and no. 14 matches them very deliberately, and this group is the earliest remaining example of conscious street design (Plate 92).

Occasionally in the 18th century imposing elevations were produced by building pairs of houses. Nos. 66–67 High Street St. Martins (237) are an unusually impressive example, and the front of 8–10 High Street St. Martins (206) gives no indication of the meanness of the houses behind. Nos. 9–10 Ironmonger Street (246) are an unequal pair of houses, the two bays of no. 9 adding to the grandeur of the four bays of no. 10. Nos. 18–19 and 25–26 High Street (180, 184) are similar pairs, where the appearance of a very large house is produced.

The Earls of Exeter were the major landowners in the town, but most new work on their estate was done on building leases, so that control was usually indirect and houses were rebuilt as individual tenements rather than as parts of a large scheme. Indeed, it seems that in the early 18th century the finest buildings in Stamford were mostly put up by people other than the Earl and his tenants. The 9th Earl (1725–93) was the first to engage in a programme of systematic rebuilding to a uniform design, though the piecemeal nature of the operation resulted in a series of individual buildings. Between 1780 and 1795 seven blocks of houses were built in St. Mary's Hill and St. Mary's Street. Nos. 11–12 St. Mary's Hill (337) were built in 1780, and 14–16 St. Mary's Hill with 31–32 St. Mary's Street (339) followed in 1781. In 1784–5, 34–36 St. Mary's Street (366) were built; in 1790–1, 1–2 St. Mary's Hill (331). After the 9th Earl's death, 27 St. Mary's Street (361) was built in 1794–5, and 14 St. John's Street (313) in 1795–7. In addition, the Assembly Rooms (58) were enlarged and several other houses were improved either directly, as at 33 St. Mary's Street (365) in 1784, or by building lease, as at 19 High Street St. Martins (209) in 1797. These houses were built by his surveyor Thomas Lumby and have an overall uniformity of style and scale. The result of this work, together with the new Town Hall of 1776 in St. Mary's Hill and the associated demolition of the old gate on the bridge, was a complete change in the character of St. Mary's Hill and the approach to the town, and a considerable improvement to St. Mary's Street. About the same time the 9th Earl rebuilt much of the W. side of Ironmonger Street to the same general design.

Other individuals lacked either the resources or the compact blocks of property necessary for similar schemes. James Bellaers c. 1760–70 built a new office in St. Mary's Street to match his existing house next to it (358). John Hopkins, currier, had to proceed slowly in creating the uniform group at the E. end of St. Mary's Street. He lived at 26 St. Mary's Street, the front of which he raised and altered about 1766 to match no. 25, which he built in the same year (359, 360). No. 13 Maiden Lane was added to the row after he bought the site in 1773.

Rows of houses of uniform design became more common in the early 19th century. Most of them, such as the groups in St. Leonard's Street, erected by men like William Gregory, a builder, are of a humble status which is reflected in their unambitious design. Rutland Terrace was a bolder project of 1829 which bankrupted its originator, a veterinary surgeon whose aim was to create a terrace of high-class houses comparable with those in the larger fashionable towns. Between 1839 and 1845 the N.W. end of Scotgate was completely transformed by Richard Newcomb. First he built the Clock House (152) forming a termination to the street; then in 1841 he built Rock Terrace (426), followed in 1842 by Rock House (427) and in 1844 by a row of shops with warehouses and cottages behind (425).

Proposals to link the top of St. Mary's Hill with High Street were mooted in 1834 (Stamford News, 16 Dec.) but nothing was done until about 1849 when Richard Newcomb began the building of a street lined with shops on the site of the George and Angel Inn (Mercury, 21 Sept.). The scheme was abortive, but the S. end of the new road remains with its impressive shops (350). In 1840 the Blackfriars Estate was initiated by Lord Brownlow. A grid of streets was laid out, and plots of varying sizes intended for a wide range of houses were auctioned. Covenants controlled the size of the smaller houses on the N. of the estate, but the plots intended for large houses were not built upon and remained as gardens until the present century.