A recent clean of William B’Stard’s portrait revealed an intriguing detail, says Rupert Hardy, chairman of North Dorset CPRE
The brothers, William and John B’Stard (schoolchildren … no tittering please) or Bastard, as some call them, owed a lot to a candle-maker whose workshop is now the site of the King’s Arms in Blandford.
His apprentice was boiling up some soap, but the fire in the furnace got out of control and within an hour much of the town was alight, the fire fanned by a strong wind. More than 400 families lost their homes on that fateful day in 1731. The abundance of thatched houses in that period contributed greatly to the high incidence of domestic fires. However, the sheer scale of Blandford’s fire meant it was soon designated as a Great Fire, and was considered a national disaster. Charity performances and parish church collections throughout England helped raise a large sum to start reconstruction.
John and William were surveyor-architects and civic dignitaries in Blandford. Their father Thomas’ workshop was destroyed in the fire, but the fortunes of his sons were made as soon as they were appointed fire assessors.
They were thus in a strong position to benefit from the rebuilding, which was mostly done in a vernacular Baroque style.
The most significant buildings in Blandford today were built by the B’Stard brothers, including the impressive Town Hall and Corn Exchange, the Greyhound Inn and their own splendid house overlooking the widened and improved Market Place. They also built a terrace of almshouses and private houses such as Coupar House.
The parish church of St Peter and St Paul was designed and built by them between 1732 and 1739. It was originally intended to have a steeple, but funds ran out. The brothers were rather put out when the contract for the wooden cupola was given to a competitor.
Recent cleaning of a portrait of William, now hanging in the Town Hall, revealed that he had curiously been painted sporting a black eye! At first it was thought that the darker patch was simply dirt that had accumulated over the years but further research revealed that it may have related to a dispute over the completion of the church. There is no evidence though to confirm it.
The interior of the church is imposing, with a grand arcade of well-spaced Ionic columns. When visiting, do not miss the Dad’s Army effort to confuse the enemy in the north transept; all references to Blandford in the charity boards there were deleted in 1940!
The church is now acknowledged to be one of the better examples of a classical Georgian church in England, thankfully little altered by the Victorians.
Beside the church is a memorial to the Great Fire. It comprises four Doric columns with a stone canopy made of Purbeck stone, also built in the classical style. It was erected over a piped spring so that fire hoses could be attached, but is now a drinking fountain. A more recent memorial by the Blandford Poetry Group is on a Purbeck paving stone in front of the Town Hall, and reads ”Recipe for regeneration: take one careless tallow chandler and two ingenious Bastards”.
Baroque or Palladian?
Many are confused by the brothers’ building style. Primarily they designed in a vernacular Baroque style, harking back to Wren and Gibbs, (their capitals reminiscent of Borromini, with volutes turned inwards), but they did not ignore the more austere Palladianism so fashionable at the time. The Town Hall appears to be Palladian, but the ground floor, with its open arcade of three segmented arches, is more typical of Renaissance market halls. If you visit the Mezzanine Room in the B’Stards’ own house (ask at the Age UK shop, 73 East Street, which now occupies part of it) you will see the ornate plasterwork and interior decoration of which they were capable. It was a showroom for clients. Look carefully and you will see that the pediment of the overmantel is Palladian, while the pediment of the door opposite is Baroque.
Unmarried and childless
William died in 1766, and John four years later in 1770. Both men were unmarried and without issue. Both are buried in Blandford.