Under our feet

reducedWalking down Long Street recently I was rather dismayed to see the old paving being taken up, dumped into the back of a truck and carted away. Now I know that the replacement surface is nice and smooth and we are less likely to trip over but aesthetically we have lost something that will never come back again. Who can blame the local authority as it doesn’t take long before someone remarks ‘you ought to sue the council’ when they hear you have tripped and broken something.

Damage to the paving usually begins with heavy vehicles mounting the pavement or with poor reinstatement following work by the utility companies. I decided to walk around the town centre to see for myself how the degradation takes place and who the offenders are who put our beautiful town under such pressures. Two of the most patched areas are outside Costa Coffee and William Hill in Cheap Street and I believe this is most likely to be caused by large vehicles mounting the pavement to get round parked cars or delivery vans.


This view from Google Streetview shows patches of tarmac on the left hand pavement and a van parked with its wheels on the right hand pavement

reduced-diggerThe kerb appears to subside under the weight then the paving stones break and are replaced by patches of tarmac. The bollards protect certain areas but in between them the damage can clearly be seen. On the opposite side of the street it is very common to see delivery vans parked with two wheels on the pavement so this side is suffering as well. Rule 145 of the Highway Code forbids driving on or over the pavement other than in an emergency. Perhaps the wording ‘other than in an emergency’ allows vehicles to mount the pavement otherwise the road will be blocked which could then be argued was creating a possible emergency, as others could not go about their daily business. It is a fact of modern high street life that the shops cannot function without constant visits from delivery vans.

There are utilities running under the surface of our pavements with access at various points. I decided, following a brief inspection, that the water companies seem to take the most care. One recent Sunday morning I spotted a reinstatement outside Reeves which was the work of Wessex Water and a newly concreted area to resemble the surrounding paving stones had been created rather than filling in with tarmac. As it happened two men were working outside Abbey Bookshop and I stopped and talked to one of them about the recent reinstatement and he told me he had a special way of making up the concrete with extra sand to help it blend in as closely as possible with the paving. I saw that he was saving the cut stones and was able to return later to discover that it was impossible to tell that a large trench had recently been dug in the paving. When I congratulated him and said I hoped that by his careful work he would be helping to ensure that the paving stones of Cheap Street did not go the same way as those recently replaced in Long Street by tarmac, he replied with feeling in a broad Scottish accent ‘it should nae happen!’



Last year a long trench the length of the paved area leading past the museum to the gateway to the Abbey was dug. This resulted in John Firmin triumphantly carrying a sample of Victorian pipework into the museum. The reinstatement is nothing short of miraculous here with no thought given to simply filling in with tarmac.reduced-2


A quick look at Wikipedia to discover how our pavements and road surfaces came about and I found that there were a series of Paving Acts in the 18th century, especially the 1766 Paving and Lighting Act, which authorised the City of London Corporation to create footways along the streets, pave them with Purbeck stone (the thoroughfare in the middle was generally cobblestone) and raise them above street level with kerbs forming the separation. Previously, small wooden bollards had been put up to demarcate the area of the street reserved for pedestrian use. With the introduction of macadam road surfaces in the early 19th-century, kerbs became ubiquitous in the streets of London. Presumably Sherborne would have followed suit soon after.

Incidentally Sherborne has an historic connection to tarmac as Mrs Frances McAdam, who was ‘mistress of the wardrobe’ and played Osburga in the Sherborne Pageant of 1905, and who later went on to be the Commandant of the VAD hospital in Greenhill during WW1, was married to the great-grandson of John Loudon McAdam,  known as ‘King of the Roads’, as he was the inventor of macadam road surfaces – for more information on this remarkable man see here:


Mrs Frances McAdam and her grandson in the Sherborne Pageant of 1905 – photo by kind permission of Sherborne School

Interestingly in the official guide to Sherborne written in 1903 there is mention of the then current method for roadbuilding. ‘Constant attention is paid to Sherborne’s roads and footways, in which it is helped as far as main roads go by the county council. The process of ‘stoning’ the road is no longer the process of “pecking” up, a covering of rough cubes and allowing the passing of carriage and cart to roll them in roughly; but a steam-roller passes over the new made road and it is at once fit for a bicycle’. Just imagine what a crowd might have formed to see this new fangled method.


Photograph from the 1903 Illustrated Guide to Sherborne

We are very fortunate to have many fine examples of some very old paving around our town and it doesn’t take long to spot it on a walk around the Abbey, Sherborne School, Greenhill and along Hospital Lane and I soon took many photographs to share with you. Some of the older houses still have front paths made of Blue Lias, the soft grey stone that could be cut into large slabs and which always looks just ‘right’ when teamed with the golden stone of the buildings. There is even a recently laid example in Newlands.



So next time you are walking around the town glance down and see what you are walking over. Will our paved areas continue to add variety and interest to our town or will they gradually disappear to be replaced by a layer of easy to lay and maintain tarmac? I wonder what the inventor of the process would have thought of his road surface also covering the pedestrian walkways as well.




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5 Responses to Under our feet

  1. barrybrock says:

    Nice one Barbara, Gerald Pitman would be proud of you!


  2. Allan says:

    Thank you Barbara , good piece


  3. Nigel says:

    Thank you Barbara. Never realised that pavements could be so interesting.


  4. Amanda Dooley says:

    Thank you, Barbara.

    I was interested to learn about the 18th century Paving Acts … and amused to see the paving slab outside my front door!



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