Past Remains

A view of yesterday from today

Fortfield Chambers, Sidmouth, Devon

When I first took the photos and created this page I wasn't able to discover anything about this building at all, apart from the fact that a bunch of solicitors appear to be based here...which made me wonder if it was either purposely built as legal chambers or renamed at a later date. However, on rewriting the page in 2015 I'm now able to add some proper information and not just my usual rambling musings, detective work, or the more often random guessing.

Like Grosvenor Mansions, it caught my eye, and also like the Mansions the date is prominently displayed. The only problem was, how to read the date (below). At the time, I wasn't sure if it was 1892 or 1928 (although I did incorrectly guess the former). I think it's safe to say that 1298 or 1289 was ruled out though! ;) 

The mystery of the building was solved when I stumbled across a website for The Sampson Society. Mr R W Sampson was the architect of this and many other buildings in Sidmouth, including Grosvenor Mansions, much to my delight. He not only designed this building but had his practice in the two floors to the right side of the central arched entrance. Working initially for Col J E H Balfour, the Lord of the Manor, he helped to transform Sidmouth along with the Colonel's solicitor, W H Hastings, who had his practice in the left side two floors of Fortfield Chambers. So there was a solicitor there after all!

Above the arched entrance are carved reliefs which include the two gentlemen's initials, W H H to the left and R W S to the right. Unfortunately, I don't have specific photos of them. However, the one at the top of the page shows the left hand monogram belonging to Mr Hastings.

I'd often seen the building whilst travelling into Sidmouth on the bus and wondered about it. This particular day I had occasion to walk past on my way to investigate another building, so I took the opportunity to have a closer look at this one and take some photos.

One of the reasons for my guess of 1892 for the date is the attention to detail. The architecture itself may have been based on an earlier era, but the lovely cast iron drain pipes are very much in line with the Victorian propensity to disguise utility with beautifully-crafted twiddly bits. Also, the plate fittings on the pipes are decorated with female faces in the style of Coade Stones. As it happens I was wrong and, although Mr Samson first arrived in Sidmouth in1891, the date of the building is actually 1928.

Another reason that I'd plumbed for the earlier date is because of the tall and wide archway, which is reminiscent of a coaching Inn providing enough room for coach and horses to pass through to the rear courtyard. The architecture has the style of an 18th century building which has been modernised during the Georgian period, which Mr Sampson may have emulated.

This was an interesting time when the influence of the Arts & Crafts movement of the 1890s was still felt between the two world wars in Britain.  Mock Tudor, Neo Georgian and Elizabethan style houses were being built as 'Homes Fit For Heroes' schemes were under way for those who fought during World War I, and Art Deco was coming into it's own with the added influence from Ancient Egypt with the discovery of King Tutenkhamun's tomb in 1922.

The building doesn't appear in the British Listings, and there's no reference to it in Nikolaus Pevsner's book of Devon, but for more information about R W Sampson there's a link to The Sampson Society website below. Disappointingly, the list of buildings is incomplete and the history only concerns the people who lived there and nothing about the architecture itself, although there are some photos (albeit rather small in size), including some of Mr Sampson's lovely architectural drawings.

I've only got these few photos at the mo, which can also be seen in the Photo Gallery album. I'll take and add some more when I've got a bit of time and opportunity.

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