A conduit to a past era | Then and now

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Roger Guttridge explores the history of a Sherborne landmark

Looking up Cheap Street c 1900
All ‘Then’ images from the Barry Cuff Collection

These days its main raison d’être is ornamental, although it can also serve as a temporary shelter during a storm or shower.
But in its 500-year history, Sherborne’s grade-one listed Conduit has had several other uses, mostly in the 19th century.
It was built by Abbot Mere in the early 1500s as a washroom for his monks and originally stood in the northern alley of the Abbey cloister.
Some sources say it was built by ‘Albert’ Mere but I suspect this is an error that began with someone mishearing or misreading ‘Abbot’.
It pays not to believe everything you see in print…
In 1560, a couple of decades after Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries, the Conduit was moved to its present site in the Parade towards the bottom of Cheap Street.
The hexagonal building originally had a short cross on its roof but that is long gone.
The addition of windows and a door in 1834 made the Conduit a lot less draughty and enabled its next use as a reading room.
Later it became an early Victorian police station and in 1861 a penny bank.
One thing that is not welcome there today is the bicycle – a sign tells us that the parking of cycles is prohibited.
The nearby village of Bradford Abbas once had a smaller version of the Conduit but it was ‘taken down by the overseer’ about 1800, ‘to the great regret of many of his neighbours’.

Looking up Cheap Street today. The milk cart of yesteryear has been replaced by a trailer carrying Christmas trees for this year’s public decorations

The Conduit three ways
My ‘then’ pictures from Barry Cuff’s collection show the Sherborne Conduit from three still-recognisable angles.
The one looking up Cheap Street in about 1900 (opposite, top) shows a horse-drawn milk cart in the foreground, albeit possibly super-imposed in the darkroom.

The Conduit from Long Street c 1900

At the junction with Long Street (far right) is Durrant’s grocer’s shop, whose tall delivery vans were a familiar sight in the Sherborne area.
According to David Burnett’s book Lost Dorset: The Towns, Henry Durrant was a champion of Dorset Blue Vinny cheese when it was going out of fashion.
I’ve heard that the original Blue Vinny needed prolonged exposure to the bacteria of a manure heap to reach maturity, but for some reason this is now against public health regulations!
Henry Durrant was also a councillor and a magistrate but a 1931 Directory of Dorset lists him as an antique dealer in Long Street.

From Long Street today

The second picture (above) looking along Long Street towards the Conduit and Conduit House, with the Abbey literally towering majestically above all, also dates from about 1900.
Far right is Edwin Childs’ Cycle Works. Like many people in that business, he moved with the times and later opened a garage for motor vehicles further along Long Street on a site later replaced by the Cloisters housing development.

Looking towards South Street, probably 1950s

J H Short, pictured outside the shop next door, was a family grocer. Opposite are the Castle Hotel, a favourite haunt of carriers, and the National Provincial Bank.
A rainy post-war Sherborne
The coats worn by the couple in the final picture looking towards South Street (above) suggest it is post-war, possibly 1950s.

Looking towards South Street today

Frisby’s, the shoe shop chain, occupied the tallest of the buildings on the left side of South Street.

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