The history of the Bridport Literary and Scientific Institute

 

The Literary and Scientific Institute, East Street, Bridport

The Literary and Scientific Institute, East Street, Bridport

The LSI was founded as a Mechanics’ Institute in 1834 to provide education for working men.  The building was given to the town by the Liberal MP for the Borough, Henry Warburton.

In 1863 Warburton’s nephew, Howard Warburton Elphinstone, to whom the building reverted on the failure of the Mechanics’ Institute, leased the building to a group of local gentlemen.  The lease was granted for the term of 1000 years at the annual rent of one peppercorn if demanded.  The Mechanics Institute was reconstituted in accordance with the Literary and Scientific Institutions Act which had been passed by Parliament in 1854.  The objectives of the Institute were to encourage “the intellectual and moral improvement of all classes and the cultivation of Literature, Science and Art”.

In 1865 the Bridport School of Art was established.  It functioned for a number of years alongside the Institute in the same building, and became the more influential organisation.  It operated as an evening school and came under the management of the Higher Education Committee.

Francis H. Newbery

Francis H. (“Fra”) Newbery, photograph by Helen Muspratt, image supplied by Glasgow School of Art Archives and Collections

Probably the most notable student at the School was Francis H. (“Fra”) Newbery who, following an apprenticeship at the School of Art, qualified as an art master in early 1875.  He was appointed assistant master at Bridport School of Art, helping it win significant national awards in competition with other schools of art.  Newbery later became Director of Glasgow School of Art, crediting with bringing Charles Rennie Mackintosh and a number of his contemporaries to international fame and recognition.

The ground floor was used by the Institute as a Library and Reading Room, for conversation and games which included billiards, cards, chess and draughts.  The rooms were decorated with museum cases of stuffed animals, fish and birds.  Additional rooms for classes and lectures were added to the back of the building in the 1880s.

The Art School room, photo © Mike Murless

In 1883 the upstairs room was divided to provide two permanent studios for the thriving Bridport School of Art, one for beginners and the other for more advanced students.  It was at this time that the extra classrooms were built onto the back of the Institute to compensate for the loss of the lecture room.  The Art School continued to flourish and the building is usually referred during this period as the School of Art.  From 1922 until the outbreak of War in 1939, the building provided accommodation for a Men’s Club.

American soldiers in World War Two

During the Second World War (1939-45) at least part of the Institute building was requisitioned for war purposes.  The building was temporarily used by American troops stationed in Bridport before the Normandy landings in 1944, including the Medical Detachment of the 2nd Battalion of the 16th Infantry.  The Reading Room was used as a Red Cross Recreational Centre for the American soldiers.  The first floor was for a time used as a Quartermaster’s Store for the Borough Evacuation Scheme.

After the end of the War part of the upstairs rooms were being used by the British Red Cross as a depot, while the ground floor consisted of a reading room, a card room and a billiard room.  But local interest had declined and the Institute was running into financial difficulties.

The Bridport public library, 1952-1997, photo © Mike Murless

By 1950 the committee concluded that its financial position was so weak that it could not continue, and responsibility for the building was assumed by Dorset County Council, on the basis that it could take on the building as part of a programme of Regional Libraries being established throughout the County.  The building served as the town’s public library from 1952 to 1997, when the library  service relocated to new premises.

The future of the building was uncertain, and various groups occupied parts of the building, and feasibility studies were carried out without any outcome, until 2002 when the building was declared unsafe.  The situation was complicated by a claim that the charitable purposes of the Trust had failed and the building should therefore revert to the Elphinstone family.

In 2008 the County Council sought guidance from the High Court as to its duties with regard to the Institute, which depended on identifying the legal and beneficial interests.  Meanwhile concern within the Bridport community about the neglect of the building and its uncertain future led in 2008-9 to an enquiry from the Bridport Local Area Partnership on behalf of a number of local cultural and community organisations, and a firm expression of interest from the newly formed Bridport Area Development Trust.

The basement of the LSI, 2012

By this time the building had become a negative asset, because of its condition, and when the County Council’s claim was heard by the High Court in 2010, the Elphinstone family did not pursue their own claim.  The judge, Master Nicolas Bragge, ordered that the Bridport Area Development Trust should be given time to develop a proposal and put itself in a position to take on the building.  The initial period of six months was extended by a further 18 months in September 2010.

In 2012 the Bridport Area Development Trust made a successful Round One application to the Heritage Lottery Fund towards the capital costs of restoration, with match-funding commitments already secured from Dorset County Council, West Dorset District Council, Bridport Town Council, the Challenge Fund and the Architectural Heritage Fund.  A further High Court ruling on 3 December 2012 ordered a further adjournment (till October 2014) of decisions on the fate of the building, to enable the BADT to complete its restoration plans and submit a final, Round Two application to the Heritage Lottery in early 2014.

Up-to-date news about progress with the LSI restoration project will be posted in the News page of this website.

 

The LSI Restoration Project

IMG_3012 - 1024x768The Literary and Scientific Institute is a grade II* listed building and has been on English Heritage’s At Risk register since 2002. The project will completely restore the building, and also improve its facilities to ensure that it is fully accessible for everyone. The building is in a very poor state and there are some significant structural issues that need to be addressed. The project will work closely with English Heritage, listed building officers and an experienced professional team to ensure that the restoration is sympathetic to its historic character and safeguards the building’s future.

Architecton Bridport LSI_Page_05 - cropped - 1024x770Legal and funding agreements are being finalised and the design team is already on board. Initially there is a lot more detailed planning that needs to be completed before work can start on site, so the aim is to begin work on the building in early 2016. The restoration will take about 18 months and the hope is that the building will reopen in 2017.

 

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It is not an easy project due to the complexity of the restoration and the extent of work that needs to be undertaken to restore the building. The building has been slowly decaying over the past 17 years, we hope that everyone will bear with us for the next couple of years as inevitably there will be some short term inconveniences as we work to save this incredibly important building for the town and its future generations.

Architecton Bridport LSI detailThe total cost of the project will be approximately £2.6m, but the majority of this funding is now confirmed, and includes support from HLF, English Heritage, Challenge Fund, Pilgrim Trust, Headley Trust, Dorset County Council, West Dorset District Council, and Bridport Town Council.

We still have about £140,000 to raise but we feel we are now on the home straight. We will be continuing with our fundraising efforts through the project delivery and we would welcome additional support or assistance.

If you would like to get involved in the project, are interested in renting space in the finished building or simply want to join the mailing list please contact Crystal Johnson: Crystal@bridportadt.org.uk

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What will the LSI be in future?

Architecton Bridport LSI_Page_01 - cropped - 1024x942More than 17 years after the library moved out of the building, Bridport Literary and Scientific Institute (LSI) is being given a new lease of life thanks to a project developed by local charity, Bridport Area Development Trust (BADT).

In March, BADT, together with Dorset County Council and Sir John Elphinstone, whose great grandfather originally gave the building to the town, went to the High Court where a vesting was made that ended years of uncertainty about the legal status of the building. At the hearing the freehold of the building was vested in BADT, enabling it to be restored and maintained as a community asset for the future.IMG_0486 - 768x1024

The project is the result of extensive consultation and conversations over more than ten years, to identify and develop a viable future use for the building. The resulting plan comes from an exploration of the historic uses of the building and a desire to reinterpret its original aims and purposes to meet the needs of the town today and in the future, without public subsidy.

IMG_0500 - 1024x768Historically the building has always been closely linked to training and education, supporting the development of the local economy but also adding to the cultural offer of the town. Relationships are being developed with local colleges and training providers, with our thriving local net industry and with organisations focussing on local economic development and support.

The building will provide fit for purpose training facilities, work hub, meeting rooms, and small start-up office spaces. Alongside this a programme of activities, workshops and talks will explore the heritage of the building.

IMG_1013 - 1024x668There will be facilities that local groups can use for meetings, talks and events. A café on the ground floor will cater for users of the building but also provide public access to the most historically significant space within the building.

 

IMG_1015 - 487x1024This project will deliver something completely new for the town, there are large numbers of people setting up or looking to develop their own businesses in the area and the LSI will provide a unique and aspirational venue to support this local growth.

In addition the project is working closely with other heritage organisations in the town, to raise the profile and really celebrate our incredible cultural and industrial heritage.

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Literary and Scientific Institute

The Literary and Scientific Institute (LSI) is better known in Bridport as “the Old Library”, having for 45 years following World War Two served as the town’s public library. It is one of the town’s best-loved and most imposing buildings (Grade II* Listed), in a prominent position on East Street, but has been unoccupied since the library service was relocated in 1997.

The LSI has fallen into a state of disrepair and is on the national Buildings at Risk Register.  The Bridport Area Development Trust has taken on the challenge of raising the funds to save the building and following a major restoration project, aims to reopen the LSI in 2017.

Click here to learn what the LSI will be in future, and here to learn more about what needs to be done to restore the building.

Plans and photos of the LSI (PDF, 1.8MB) can be downloaded here.

The history of the LSI can be viewed here.

The total cost of the project will be approximately £2.6M, but the majority of this funding is now confirmed, and includes support from HLF, English Heritage (now Historic England), Challenge Fund, Pilgrim Trust, Headley Trust, Dorset County Council, West Dorset District Council, and Bridport Town Council.

We still have about £140,000 to raise but we feel we are now on the home straight. We will be continuing with our fundraising efforts through the project delivery and we would welcome additional support or assistance.

appeal

 

If you would like to get involved in the project, are interested in renting space in the finished building or simply want to join the mailing list please email Crystal Johnson crystal@bridportadt.org.uk

Bridport Area Development Trust is grateful for the funding and advice received from the following organisations.  Through their support we are now able to begin the project to save Bridport Literary and Scientific Institute.  We do still need to raise more money so for information on how you can help please click on the Appeal banner above.

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West Bay Chapel

The Chapel on the Beach, West Bay

The Bridport Area Development Trust has taken over the freehold of the former Methodist Church in West Bay, known as “the Chapel on the Beach”, and plans to convert it to use as a visitor/interpretation centre.

The Chapel has been empty and unused since it ceased use as a place of worship in 2006.  The Grade II Listed building reverted to the landowner, West Dorset District Council, which sought an alternative use, since no religious denomination could be found to take it on.  The freehold of the building was transferred to the BADT in July 2012, together with a financial contribution towards the cost of converting the building.

The current proposals revive earlier ideas for a visitor centre considered as part of the abortive regeneration plans for the Mound area of West Bay, which were thwarted by Environment Agency concerns in 2005-6.

West Bay is relatively well served with restaurants, cafes and pubs.  But the resort has suffered from a shortage of all-weather attractions.  The Project is for the Chapel to become a visitor attraction for West Bay, with display and interpretation material about one of Britain’s smallest harbours, its place on the Dorset and East Devon (“Jurassic”) Coast, and its importance as a microcosm of contemporary environmental themes (local and global).

In the autumn of 2012 the BADT commissioned freelance Arts and Heritage consultant Crystal Johnson to develop an existing project proposal into an option appraisal and  business plan, with financial support from West Dorset District Council’s Bridport Area Community Fund, from the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty through its Sustainable Development Fund, and from the Architectural Heritage Fund.  The Plan was completed in early 2013 and discussions about the interpretation themes and content of the Centre are taking place with a number of potential partners.

During the rebuilding of the harbour in the early 2000s, temporary exhibitions and displays at the nearby Salt House attracted enormous and sustained interest from both residents and visitors and in doing so provided clear evidence of the potential appeal of a more permanent attraction.  The proposal has the support of the Bridport Museum Trust, which because of limited space for exhibition and interpretation, cannot adequately represent the history of West Bay and its place in the story of Bridport, its maritime links with the local rope and net industries.  A new centre at West Bay would complement the exhibitions at the Bridport Museum, would fill a notable gap in provision in the area and would strengthen the overall interpretation “offer” along the Dorset coast.

News about the Chapel project will be posted on this website.  Contact us if you would like to get involved.

The History of the former Methodist Church

Methodism became established in Bridport and the surrounding area after Dr Giles Roberts and Mr William Tutcher began open-air preaching on the quayside in West Bay and aboard the vessels anchored in the harbour in 1817.  A Wesleyan Society was formed in 1828 and when the congregation outgrew its existing meeting house, it was decided to build a small chapel on land made available by the Harbour Commissioners.  Some £200 was raised and the work was undertaken by Messrs Cox and Son, shipbuilders.  The Foundation Stone was laid by Mrs Elias Cox in 1849 and the Chapel was opened on the 4th December of that year.  A Sunday School was later started by Mrs Cox. The Chapel became known as the Chapel on the Beach.

The Chapel, which was closed from 1939 to 1945 due to wartime conditions and restrictions, was damaged in 1942 during Exercise Yukon, the military rehearsals for the Dieppe raid in 1942.  It was reopened on Easter Day, 6th April 1947 under the Leadership of the Rev. C.O. Hunwick.

The Chapel ceased use as a place of worship in 2007, following several years of declining activity and dwindling congregations.  The Methodist authorities opted to surrender the lease to the landowner, West Dorset District Council, which then sought to identify a future for the building.  The council first investigated the interest from other religious denominations in maintaining its use as a place of worship, but found no takers.  It then proceeded to initiate a search for an alternative community use, setting up an advisory group consisting of local residents, town, district and county councillors and officers and community groups.

The advisory group identified an interest in establishing the Chapel as a visitor centre for West Bay, to provide both a local attraction and a source of information about West Bay, its history, geology, flora and fauna.  The group noted the absence of any such facility in West Bay, and the lack of any facility in the Bridport and West Bay area reflecting its status as a Gateway to the Jurassic Coast World Heritage site.

In 2012 the freehold of the Chapel was transferred to the Bridport Area Development Trust for £1, on condition that the building should be converted into a visitor centre for West Bay.

Bridport’s Industrial Heritage

“The local townscapes of the flax and hemp industry are of great historic significance.  It is hoped that they can be well treated as cornerstones of Bridport’s heritage, and utilised as building blocks for the regeneration of its historic industrial areas.”  – Chairman of English Heritage, Sir Neil Cossons, in his introduction to the 2006 book Bridport and West Bay, the Buildings of the Flax and Hemp Industry (available from local bookshops).

St Michael's Trading Estate, Bridport

The St Michael's Trading Estate

The Bridport Area Development Trust is committed to the protection and celebration of Bridport’s “nationally significant” industrial heritage.  The Trust continues to take an interest in the future of the St Michael’s Trading Estate in Bridport’s South West Quadrant: it regards the proposals from the landowners, Hayward & Co, as detrimental both to the retention of existing employment and to the historic character of the area, in their intention to demolish several buildings of local importance and crucially to alter the grain of development on the estate.

The BADT is conscious of the links and contrasts between the St Michael’s situation and the Trust’s own current proposals to restore and bring the Bridport Literary and Scientific Institute at 51 East Street back into community use.  The BADT is exploring the potential use of the main rooms in the Institute for interpretation of Bridport’s rope and net industry, which has shaped the developed the town and its surroundings.  The character, layout and buildings on St Michael’s Trading Estate, recognised as nationally significant in the history of the local industry, are an important part of this heritage which will be crucially diminished by the proposed development.

The BADT lodged an objection to Haywards’ planning applications and has indicated a willingness to work in partnership with the landowners and others on an alternative approach to the restoration, regeneration and development of the St Michael’s Estate – an approach which would promote longer term regeneration and investment opportunities as opposed to the short term residential approach currently being pursued.

News about developments on the St Michael’s Estate will be posted on this website.

Download BADT objection letter (Feb.2012) (pdf)

Download BADT objection letter (May 2012) (pdf)

 

Protecting Community Assets

The Bridport Area Development Trust is keenly interested in the protection and retention of Community Assets, in the form of land and buildings.  The Trust is following the progress and implications of Government proposals such as the Localism Act, the new National Planning Policy Framework and the Community Right to Bid, and is anxious to play its part in trying to ensure that important public assets are not lost to the community.

Wessex Water Building, South Street, Bridport

The BADT will continue to take an interest in the future of buildings such as the Wessex Water building in South Street, Bridport, home of one of the key agencies in the area, the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, and The Grove, in Rax Lane, owned by West Dorset District Council and until recently occupied by Dorset County Council’s Social Services department.

The Grove, in Rax Lane, about to go on the open market?

The LSI Restoration Project

The Literary and Scientific Institute is a grade II* listed building and has been on English Heritage’s At Risk register since 2002. The project will completely restore the building, and also improve its facilities to ensure that it is fully … Continue reading

What will the LSI be in future?

More than 17 years after the library moved out of the building, Bridport Literary and Scientific Institute (LSI) is being given a new lease of life thanks to a project developed by local charity, Bridport Area Development Trust (BADT). In … Continue reading

Literary and Scientific Institute

The Literary and Scientific Institute (LSI) is better known in Bridport as “the Old Library”, having for 45 years following World War Two served as the town’s public library. It is one of the town’s best-loved and most imposing buildings … Continue reading

West Bay Chapel

The Bridport Area Development Trust has taken over the freehold of the former Methodist Church in West Bay, known as “the Chapel on the Beach”, and plans to convert it to use as a visitor/interpretation centre. The Chapel has been … Continue reading

St Michael's Trading Estate, Bridport

Bridport’s Industrial Heritage

“The local townscapes of the flax and hemp industry are of great historic significance.  It is hoped that they can be well treated as cornerstones of Bridport’s heritage, and utilised as building blocks for the regeneration of its historic industrial … Continue reading