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Sherborne Shell House in Walled Garden of Harper House

A Grade I Listed Building in Sherborne, Dorset

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Coordinates

Latitude: 50.9482 / 50°56'53"N

Longitude: -2.5147 / 2°30'53"W

OS Eastings: 363936

OS Northings: 116660

OS Grid: ST639166

Mapcode National: GBR MV.NDPT

Mapcode Global: FRA 56ML.N4B

Entry Name: Sherborne Shell House in Walled Garden of Harper House

Listing Date: 17 June 2008

Grade: I

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1392618

English Heritage Legacy ID: 504691

Location: Sherborne, Dorset, Dorset, DT9

County: Dorset

District: West Dorset

Civil Parish: Sherborne

Built-Up Area: Sherborne

Traditional County: Dorset

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Dorset

Church of England Parish: Sherborne with Castleton Abbey Church of St Mary

Church of England Diocese: Salisbury

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Listing Text

SHERBORNE

689/0/10008 HOUND STREET
17-JUN-08 Sherborne Shell House in walled garden
of Harper House

GV I
A shell house, in a restrained classical style, created in circa 1750.

MATERIALS: The building is constructed from coursed limestone rubble with a thatched roof. The floor is of pale stone flags with black slate lozenges, and probably dates from the early-C19. The interior of the shell house is decorated with a variety of shells and some glass.

PLAN: The building is circular on plan, measuring around 5m in diameter. There is a small chamber below the shell room, beneath the current ground level. Above this undercroft is a single room, which is octagonal internally, entered by a doorway which takes up one of its eight sides.

EXTERIOR: The shell house is around 7m high; the walls are constructed from limestone rubble brought to course, and the conical roof is thatched. The building is set into the outside of the wall surrounding the walled garden at Harper House (qv). Its entrance doorway is set into this wall and the shell house is accessed from the interior of the walled garden. The doorway is set under a plain timber lintel, and houses half-glazed double doors dating from the C20 but copied from an earlier design. Above the doorway the wall breaks upward slightly, and incorporates a classical stone relief.

INTERIOR: The restrained classical proportions and features of the octagonal shell room are complemented by classical motifs, delicately executed in a wide variety of shells. The ceiling is a segmented dome of eight panels each separated by moulded ribs. There is a central octagonal opening for a lantern. Each of the seven closed sides of the room has a semi-circular headed alcove, with a moulded limestone seat; above each niche is a decorative panel or shell roundel. There is a moulded plaster cornice with acanthus leaf motifs, retaining much of its original blue and green paint; above the acanthus leaves is a border of stylised butterflies with shell, flower, oak leaf and fleur de lys motifs. The entire inner surface of the shell room is decorated: the alcoves are set with geometric and floral designs picked out in larger shells against light shell backgrounds, some of the larger shells having painted decoration. Each panel in the ceiling has classically-inspired motifs, constructed from tiny, closely-set shells, set against alternating gold and white backgrounds, with applied ribbons of lead painted green. The segments of the dome are separated by moulded ribs which diminish towards the lantern; they are painted alternately gold and blue, and wrapped with rows of whitish shells. The wall surfaces between the shell panels in the alcoves are plastered with lime mortar mixed with crushed shell and glass to reflect light. Swags above the alcoves are formed from ribbons and leaves made from painted lead; trails of tiny flowers made from shells glued to cork and fixed to copper wire run around the ceiling panels, and adorn the swags, roundels and other applied plaster motifs. The spandrels to either side of one of the alcoves house plaster doves set on Rococo supports, and an owl sits atop the niche. Above another is a delicate flower basket. Despite the overall symmetry of the designs, no two panels are exactly alike. The shell work is of very high quality, with the shells exquisitely matched and closely fixed; they are all native to the British Isles, and the overwhelming majority come from the Dorset coast.

HISTORY: The circular building which is now the shell house may have originated as a C17 dovecote: its characteristic shape and siting within the outbuildings of a substantial house of the period supports this hypothesis. The Shell House can be dated stylistically to circa 1750. Documentary sources recording the building begin in the later C18. Samuel Foot (1704-92) is mentioned in an advertisement of 1801 as having been the resident of a substantial house in Cheap Street, with a large walled garden, hot-house and shell house. In his will of 1784 Foot records his having sustained great losses through bad debts, and having disposed of large parts of his estate. These disposals would appear to have included his house and garden, as they appear in the 1791 will of Thomas Gollop (1746-93), complete with shell house and outbuildings. After Gollop's death in 1793, the house was rented out before being sold by his son in 1812, with the shell house forming part of the sale.

Around 1820 the garden became detached from the Cheap Street house, and was purchased by Samuel Whitty, who was married to the daughter of a prominent local banker, Simon Pretor, who lived adjacent to the Whittys in Long Street. Their houses were directly to the south of the shell house garden, but separated from it by land they leased from the Digby family. These two areas of land were separated by the wall which still forms the southern boundary of the shell house garden. Whitty created a new access door in the wall, and a map of 1834 shows how he laid out his new garden with a new path leading directly to the shell house, which was evidently intended to be the focus of the pleasure grounds. By 1852, the plot adjacent had also been laid out as a pleasure garden, with serpentine paths and planting; the house, which is now known as Harper House, had been rebuilt by the new owner, John Thorne (1786-1865) in the early years of the C19, who was a Governor of Sherborne School from 1825.

In 1873, eight years after Thorne died, his house became a boarding house for Sherborne School, and as the school was experiencing a period of prosperity, the housemaster, Reverend Blanch, was able to buy the walled garden and the shell house. In 1910 the house was renamed Harper House, and in 1931, the house was purchased, including the walled garden and shell house, from the housemaster by Sherborne School, in whose ownership it remains.

REASONS FOR DESIGNATION DECISION:
The shell house in the walled garden at Harper House is listed in Grade I, for the following principal reasons:
* It is a very rare and early example of a classically-inspired shell house, dating from circa 1750
* The design is elegant, refined and academic, reflecting the prevailing classical taste, and also employing some fashionable Rococo motifs
* The execution demonstrates the highest level of skill and delicacy, with the shells exquisitely matched and set
* The design incorporates not only fixed shell panels, but also intricate, applied wreaths of flowers constructed from copper wire and shell, and ribbons of painted lead, creating a stunning three-dimensional effect
* The decoration is unusually intact, reflecting the very high quality of its construction
* All the shells are native to the British Isles, and the overwhelming majority come from the Dorset coast, in contrast with most shell houses which relied on imported, exotic shells
* The shell house is a rare example of a folly of this type being created in a modest town house setting, in contrast with those usually found in aristocratic country landscapes

This text is from the original listing, and may not necessarily reflect the current setting of the building.

Reasons for Listing

The shell house in the walled garden at Harper House is designated at Grade I, for the following principal reasons:
* It is a very rare and early example of a classically-inspired shell house, dating from circa 1750
* The design is elegant, refined and academic, reflecting the prevailing classical taste, and using fashionable Rococo motifs
* The execution demonstrates the highest level of skill and delicacy, with the shells exquisitely matched and set
* The design incorporates not only fixed shell panels, but also applied wreaths of flowers constructed from copper wire and shell, as well as ribbons of painted lead, creating a stunning three-dimensional effect
* The shell decoration is unusually intact, reflecting the very high quality of its construction
* All the shells are native to the British Isles, and the overwhelming majority come from the Dorset coast, in contrast with most shell houses which relied on imported, exotic shells
* The shell house is a rare example of a folly of this type being created in a modest town house setting, in contrast with those usually found in aristocratic country landscapes

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