Bridport & West Dorset News, Views, Videos & Curiosities

Inside the Institute, grandeur and desolation

FOR MORE than seven long years the Literary & Scientific Institute in Bridport town centre has stood empty. Now though, the Bridport Area Development Trust has been given a chance to seek new uses for a building erected in the early 1830s as a Mechanics Institute, whose purpose was to help Bridport’s working classes educate themselves. In 1855 it become a more middle-class Literary and Scientific Institute; in the late 19th century it was an art school; in the late 20th a Dorset County Council library.

About 25 people are due to look round inside to dream and to calculate what might be. The pictures shown here need little commentary, but you’ll find the occasional note of explanation and literary tag.

All pictures were taken by Vince O’ Farrell of Bridport Area Development Trust, with whose kind permission they are now reproduced.

“Classical, that’s it – it is calm and classical… No low beatings and knockings about” (Mrs Jarley in Dickens’ The Old Curiosty Shop).

One of the reasons we know that the Institute was built in the early 1830s is that a book about Baptist churches published in 1835 complained that it made the garden setting of the chapel right by it, pictured below, less attractive to visitors.

The same book (by one  J. Murch) commented nonetheless on what “a handsome and commodious edifice” the new Institute  was.

“The scene was the familiar one of grandeur and desolation” (The End, Samuel Beckett).

Old buildings “were scaffolding once / and workmen whistling” (Images, T E Hulme). 

“… And immediately

“Rather than words comes the thought of high windows:

“The sun-comprehending glass,

“And beyond it, the deep blue air, that shows

“Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless.”

(High Windows, Philip Larkin)

3 Responses to “Inside the Institute, grandeur and desolation”

  1. Marion Taylor

    Re Literary and Scientific Institute, Bridport .

    What a fabulous place for an artists studios and an art gallery.

  2. Chris Reynolds

    I think Marion’s idea is right. A large number of local painters, potters, sculptors etc (30-40?) are working in premises in which they have no security of tenure. Were the Institute developed in this way, it would be easy to fill it (given modest rents) and it would be its own shop window. Given also that some of us already do classes for local people (also at modest rates) this would bring the Institute back on covenant.

  3. Claire

    As one of the lucky few who has actually been inside the Institute in recent years, no-one here has understated what a beautiful building it is. However, I don’t think people really appreciate is what a difficult space it is to modernise. Essentially the Institute is one enormous room, with a couple of smaller ones at the top. Having been round with an architect who knows his stuff, it is (unofficially) estimated to take in the region of £500 – 750K to get it back to its former glory and in a condition that can be used by the general public. Then you have to think about the running costs – heating a room that high will be very expensive, and just changing a light bulb would mean using an enormous ladder or a cherry-picker. The Health & Safety bods would have a nightmare!

    So, sad as it may seem, it’s going to take some doing to bring this building back to life; the question is, who is brave enough to take this on, knowing that it is going to consume so much time, money and emotion?

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