The old Tudor building on Cheap Street is far more than meets the eye of the casual shopper, says Roger Guttridge.
It’s one of the finest old houses in Sherborne, passed daily by hundreds who rarely give it a second thought or glance. But step inside the half-timbered Abbeylands in Cheap Street and it turns into the Tardis. Not in design, of course – there is nothing even vaguely resembling a space-travelling police box – but in scale.
“How many boarders do you have?” I asked housemaster Rhidian McGuire after he explained that Abbeylands is a boarding house for Sherborne School.
“Seventy-four.” “Seventy-four?” I doubtfully exclaimed, suddenly realising that there must be far more to this
building than meets the eye. In fact it stretches back and back and back from Cheap Street, towards the main school buildings. To my architecturally uneducated eyes, the grade II-listed building looks unmistakably Tudor, but the date of 1649 above the front door confused me (the last Tudor monarch, Elizabeth I, died 46 years earlier). That construction date was also the year of Charles I’s execution, and the Commonwealth of England.
The Dorset volume of Newman and Pevsner’s classic series on The Buildings of England suggests the dating is not that straightforward; the entrance porch includes features “that one would call Jacobean, and a hoodmould which looks Early Tudor”. “That must surely be reused,’ say Newman and Pevsner, adding that
the porch “must have originally belonged to the next-door house”. The Old Shirburnian website provides further illumination, confirming that Abbeylands – so named because it stands within the precinct of Sherborne Abbey – is a combination of two separate properties. It has been in continuous use as a boarding house since 1872, and staff and housemates are celebrating the 150th anniversary this year.
Sherborne School originally rented Abbeylands from the descendants of former headmaster John Cutler
and bought it in 1921 for £4,187. The Old Shirburnian site also confirms my suspicions of a Tudor connection, adding that the half- timbered frontage on to Cheap Street ‘dates from the late 16th century and has a projecting upper storey and three gables’.
The premises were at one time occupied by the Sherborne Coal, Timber, Corn and Cake Company, which was dissolved in 1921. I wonder if the steamroller powering up Cheap Street in this circa 1900 picture was about to pick up some coal from the shop. These days you can only drive down one-way Cheap Street and
you’re unlikely to spot a steam- powered vehicle.