Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Shere Arrangements

I'd been in Shere church many times before my visit on a sunny afternoon a couple of weeks ago, but never looked at it in any detail. Here, there were a number of changes and restorations in Victorian decades including most significantly the raising of the chancel in 1895-6, along with the installation of clergy and choir stalls and vestries, and the introduction of a robed choir. 

That brought standard Victorian High-Churchery to Shere: equally interesting are the changes that took place in the 1950s and 60s, which took that identity somewhere different. Rector throughout this time (1950-68) was Reginald Hougham, a graduate of King's College and clearly an Anglo-Catholic of some sort. The first step was taken about 1956, when Revd Hougham managed to secure the services of Louis Osman - who would, famously, go on to design the crown for the investiture of Charlie Boy as Prince of Wales - to produce a new altar and furnishings. These included a bronze-doored aumbry for the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament. Carver John Cobbett made a wooden statue of St James in the mid-1960s, so, as the church guide leaflet puts it, 'for the first time since the Reformation the church has an image of its patron saint'; and finally the choir stalls and organ were cleared out of the chancel in 1967 and moved to an aisle. I have to say, begging the forgiveness of Shere churchgoers in advance, that the Osman fittings are among the most dreadful I have ever seen (they are in a sort of spindly sub-Coventry-Cathedral style), and I am glad I don't have to try and worship using them, but that's just a matter of taste! More importantly, this was a very different version of Catholic Anglicanism from the Victorian one. I will have to find out what the church looked like before these alterations.

Shere also raises the question of how far and how often Anglo-Catholicism beds down in churches like this, even when that's the clear bent of an influential incumbent. Shere has its statue of St James, and an aumbry for reservation, but no lights at either which would indicate some awareness of the significance of these things. Oddly, too, although the altar is used westward-facing, the church hasn't decided to put in a more central one, despite the high altar being quite a long distance away from the pews beyond a now-empty chancel. 

Monday, 27 May 2019

Two Artists of Varying Misery

Quite a number of people I know had been to see the Dorothea Tanning exhibition at Tate Modern in London, so on Thursday I went as well. Fewer have visited the British Museum's Edvard Munch show but I decided to take that in as well. 

Of the two, I enjoyed the Tanning more. I knew very little about her (not even that she was married to Max Ernst!) apart from having seen a couple of her weird nightmare paintings from the 1940s. What seemed to come across from the display was someone well alert to the ambiguities and subtle horrors of human life, but also to its lights and joys - not a misanthrope at all. Tanning admitted to being a great fan of Gothic literature in her young life and one of the nicest pictures in the show is A Mrs Radcliffe Called Today from 1944, though its sequel, 1988's Mrs Radcliffe Called Again (Left No Message) isn't there. She references the Gothic tradition a lot. There's a lovely film of her showing off her studio in perhaps the mid-1970s: her mild, almost dreamy voice delivering what's very clearly a script pretending not to be (and signalling its own pretence) reminded me oddly of Alfred Hitchcock's infamous trailer for Psycho in which he wandered around the set giving away the plot. 'We're going to see my paintings ... But don't ask me what they mean,' muses Tanning. 'Now, I wonder what else I can show you?' she goes on as the camera pans towards another bizarre canvas. It's a complete hoot.

The hanging tassels in A Mrs Radcliffe Called Today make me think of Edward Gorey's Les Passementieres Horribles in which people are menaced by giant curtain fittings: I wouldn't be surprised if that's where he got the idea.

The Munch exhibition is subtitled 'Love and Angst' but to be honest it was mostly the latter. It's pricier than the Tanning, all prints apart from a couple of woodblocks, and, shall we say, lacks an equivalent sense of fun. I suppose, however, I shouldn't have been surprised. 

Outside, the sun beat down on the mucky Thames and the plate-glass towers along it. I sat on a bench and had my sandwiches and was quite grateful for not being Edvard Munch.

Saturday, 25 May 2019

An Offer You Can't Refuse

Virginia was baptised at Swanvale Halt church a couple of years ago, and is not quite ready for school. Occasionally she and mum Josie come to Toddler Group. Apart from ordering a coffee from Josie at the railway station stand where she works I haven't spoken to either of them since the baptism. I meant to have a chat at Toddlers this week, but they weren't there. So when I saw them at the station this afternoon, despite being in civvies, I went to say hello, to make the point that I don't just forget people as a matter of course (only accidentally). They were off to granny's for the half term week - granny lives in Worcester so it's quite a trek. 'My bag is full of toys,' said Virginia seriously. Then she went on 'Sit here,' and indicated the seat next to her.

'Well, I was going to go further along,' I answered, a bit awkward as I was invading their space, but Virginia insisted. 'No, sit here,' she instructed, firmly, and so I said it would probably be OK if I did. I sat with a gap between myself and them but then she announced she was going to move seats and sat next to me, although she did carry on a conversation with her mum as well as describing various toys to me in the couple of minutes before the train arrived. How strange and touching for me, a stranger really, to receive an invitation into their situation from a not-quite-five-year-old.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

The Proper Meaning of Apocalypse

The Church of England has recently borrowed the idea that there should be an informal liturgical season dubbed 'Creationtide', falling around the traditional Harvest season at the end of September and start of October. It is really Bartholomew, Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, who is responsible for this theme, and the Anglican Church now produces its own material for churches which decide to observe it. 

Statements about human beings acting as stewards of God's creation are venerable enough, and might seem more apposite than ever now we are living in what we are to think of as a Climate Emergency. However, there is another theme in Christian thought - that this world is impermanent, that it is passing away, and that we are not to hold onto it. The Bible, of course, concludes with a terrifying and occasionally bizarre vision of the process by which this order of things comes to an end, in wars and disasters, in deceit and conflict, before Jesus returns to judge the whole of creation. I am far from optimistic about the ability of human beings to manage the changes they will need to avoid the collapse of Western civilisation and very possibly the end of humanity itself; perhaps the narrative Revelation reveals is at hand, and how can any Christian not welcome it? When you see these things begin to happen, says Jesus, then lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh.

I struggled for a long time to work out what to think about Revelation and the picture it paints. Eventually I began to think like this: ‘Judgement’ means working out what is good and evil, what is false and true, and a ‘last judgement’ would mean deciding that once and for all. Revelation is describing how good and evil become finally separated and seen for what they really are: it suggests that human history is on a journey towards that point, of seeing things truly and clearly, as God sees them, rather than the mess we experience now. But that hasn’t been an easy process in the past, and wouldn’t be in the future. It would involve pain and conflict, and would culminate when good and evil, truth and falsehood, could no longer be held together in this world. And then would come the End. That’s what I came to think, and I discovered I wasn’t alone because proper theologians had concluded something similar decades ago.

We do seem to stand at a turning-point in human history. For the first time we can really see how our God-given creative energy, our ability to make things, also involves destruction. In the past it didn’t matter as much, but now there are so many of us and our activities are so all-pervading that unless we deliberately make different choices, we will very soon destroy the resources we rely on. Those choices involve how we make our energy, what we consume and what we throw away, what we eat, how often we use the car or travel by plane, even the size of our families; how we will deal with the changes that will probably begin happening by the middle of this century, as millions of people move around the world in search of mere survival: whether we react with justice or with fear.

Seen from a Christian point of view, the climate emergency is about whether we are willing, as individuals and as a society, to live by what have always been very basic Christian virtues: truth, love, and sacrifice. Even if, as seems to me quite likely, we don't make it through, it brings us towards that last moment when good and evil are revealed in complete clarity. It will be the greatest, and maybe final, test of what human beings want to be. 

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Nunhead Cemetery Open Day 2019

Can it really be twelve years since I first went to the Open Day at Nunhead Cemetery? It was my first outing with London Gothic, the occasion I met Lady Minster and the Young Lord Declan, Ms Kittywitch and Lady Wildwood, who have become such good friends. It poured with rain that day back in 2007, while Saturday's weather was rather better than the forecast. Still, I've been often enough to make taking new views of the monuments difficult, and I find myself wandering off the main paths and picking my way through the undergrowth, which you shouldn't really do. I discovered, among other things, a faceless stone dog poking its tongue out, and a weird drum-like tomb with six diminutive memorial stones round its base, part-swallowed in ivy and very hard to photograph. I'd never come across anything quite like it. 

The moods of the main avenues do change, of course, and there are always the other visitors to the cemetery to add some interest. The Goth lady out with her son in the snap below was actually finding it very hard to detach the yappy little dog from her skirt, while its owner, sat on a bench out of sight in this image, made unhelpful comments. 

I gatecrashed a tour of the chapel undercroft, a dank, dripping space full of disappointingly modern coffins ('Even the marine ply finds it tough standing up to the damp' commented the guide).

I think Nunhead remains my favourite of the circuit of cemetery open days around London, and not just for reasons of nostalgia. It has a more community feel than a couple of the others, for instance, and the cemetery itself combines picturesque wilderness with a degree of accessibility. I'm always surprised that so many people come. Mind you, that nice samosa stand whose produce I enjoyed in about 2012 has never come back ...


Sunday, 19 May 2019

Unexpected Find

Even for just a couple of pounds from a second-hand bookshop in Cranborne on a wet morning I wasn't sure about this book. A tie-in with a TV series: it didn't necessarily bode well but I thought I might get something out of it. 

I never saw the original TV series, looking at archaeological finds uncovered by members of the public and which have, with a few extreme exceptions, now found their way into museum collections. Perhaps that was just as well, as thinking about it I now have nightmarish images in my mind of reconstructions of a chap sweeping a metal detector over a damp field in Leicestershire  (low-level camera angles, perhaps, or maybe a camera actually swooping from one view to another) while dramatic music plays in the background and Bettany Hughes says things like 'Brian never expected what would happen next'. Well, obviously he didn't. Anyway, I escaped anything like that, and in fact the book is rather fun. It assumes no knowledge at all, but somehow manages to do this without being irritating and is written with a level understatement which is most welcome. No matter how interesting the subject, the wrong treatment would have ruined it, but far from it: instead the charisma of the artefacts, whether grand (and you get the Crosby Garrett Roman cavalry helmet, which is certainly that) or commonplace, and the human detail not just of the stories they embody but those of their discovery, shine through. Thankfully, it's all about the stuff, and the people the stuff represents. 

Friday, 17 May 2019

Head Space

Waiting in the atrium of the Weston Library in Oxford for my god-daughter to arrive for tea a couple of weeks ago, I caught part of a lecture about two ginormous stone heads sitting on plinths in the middle of the floor. They are there for an exhibition examining both them and their colleagues which top the pillars of the Sheldonian Theatre on the opposite side of Broad Street. I had no idea that the current ones aren't original, dating to the time of Sir Christopher Wren who built the Sheldonian where centuries of students have been matriculated or received their degrees. Not only are they replacements, but they are replacements of replacements. The one you can see on the left in this photograph comes from the 17th-century originals, removed in 1868 after two centuries of weathering, and now normally resident in the garden of the Provost of Worcester College. The right-hand one is from the 1868 set, yet looks in far worse condition because the University had them done rather cheaply in soft limestone, so they only lasted until the 1970s which was when the current heads were installed. At least that's what the lecturer said; this account avers that they were daubed with paint by enthusiastic undergraduates and scrubbed so fiercely that their stone fabric was damaged virtually before they got going. Another has found its way to the Fellows' Garden at Wadham College while a third has been at Horspath Manor since 2011. 

But what are the heads? By the 1860s they were being referred to as 'philosophers'. It appears to be Max Beerbohm in 1911's Zuleika Dobson who first dubs them 'emperors' which is what I knew them as when I was at Balliol in the late 1980s; but includes a photo from what seems to be a guidebook from around that time - and no later to judge by the typeface - that already refers to a joke that the heads are 'the Twelve Caesars with an extra one that pushed himself in and is laughing at the idea'. My god-daughter Karolyn was under the impression that they are philosophers, too, but also believed they dated back to the Middle Ages 'because they're so grotesque' - being a Classicist rather than a Medievalist. In fact they probably aren't anything, as 17th-century accounts call them merely termains, terminal sculptures. 

But they are in some way the lugubrious spirits of this darkling city. Not for nothing do they loom so large in Zuleika Dobson; Beerbohm writes, 

Here in Oxford, exposed eternally and inexorably to wind and frost, to the four winds that lash them and the rains that wear them away, they are expiating, in effigy, the abominations of their pride and cruelty and lust. Who were lechers, they are without bodies; who were tyrants, they are crowned never but with crowns of snow; who made themselves even with the gods, they are by American visitors frequently mistaken for the Twelve Apostles ...

(Making the grinning thirteenth Judas, perhaps?)

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Gaps In Knowledge

My evenings at the ATC are sometimes quite straightforward: I have to talk through the Corps' 'basic values' and encourage the cadets to think a bit more deeply about what they're doing, and to see some of the ambiguities around authority and responsibility. But when I am doing 'Padré's Hour' with the more senior cadets I am left to my own devices and must therefore, as HL Mencken said and as I am fond of quoting, 'squeeze my brain until something comes out'. The truth is that I have a very limited idea of what's really of concern to a collection of teenagers (albeit the best-behaved teenagers you could imagine), and so try to come up with a session that opens out of something that's happened to me, or is happening at the moment, and out of that provide some opportunity for thought and exploration.

But I am increasingly aware of how I have gathered rafts of general knowledge over the course of fifty years and they haven't, and I'm not certain whether it's simply because they haven't had the time or because young people don't come across the same things now. On Tuesday I found myself explaining what the Elgin Marbles are and, perhaps more surprisingly, that there had been such a thing as the Spanish Civil War - I covered that, to some degree, at school when we did The Causes of the Second World War. I suppose if I can communicate the sense that the world is a richer and stranger place than the cadets might otherwise have realised, and that Christianity is part of that, I won't be completely wasting my time.

Mind you - I remember the time when I asked them what the bloodiest battle fought on British soil was. The Battle of Britain? they tried, and a couple of other guesses. Then one of the chaps who always reminded me of a young Matt Smith put up his hand hesitantly and it was though I could see him dredging something up from the back of his mind. With a slight frown he said, 'Was it ... Towton?' 

And, dear reader, of course it was. I could have wept for joy.

Monday, 13 May 2019

That Shouldn't Be There

A couple of weeks ago I reported on some changes in my eyesight which were quite minor but which prompted me to book an extra appointment with the optician. He reassured me that though my prescription had altered a bit since my last scheduled check in November, it wasn't by very much, and since I hadn't in fact had new lenses for a couple of years what was apparently happening was that one eye was strengthening at the same time as the other was weakening, accounting for my eyes' difficulty in working together. Having diagnosed blepharitis, though, he didn't want to prescribe me new lenses yet, but advised me to start a new ocular hygiene routine to try and sort that out before reviewing what effect that might have on my eyes.

That's fine, although I did wonder whether as he'd just written a Master's thesis on blepharitis, as he admitted, it was looming too largely in his mind. I'm happily carrying on with that, but then at the weekend something weirder and more alarming happened. 

I've suffered from what my regular optician called ocular migraine for some while. This condition isn't really anything to do with migraine at all: it describes a range of visual disturbances which may or may not be accompanied by symptoms of headache. The effects, which I term pixellation in a particular area of my left eye but which a website I consulted more picturesquely names 'scintillation', often appear when I look at an area of single bright colour, such as the sky. They're there quite often, but not all the time, and come and go without any obvious trigger. They are apparently to do with a reduction in blood supply to part of the retina, and nobody really knows why they occur, but they don't do any long-term harm. 'You're lucky it's not in the middle of your eye', the optician said helpfully.

On Saturday I was doing some mild garden work at lunch time before heading down to Messy Church. I'd just finished when I was aware of what looked like an after-image in just that area of my left eye that the ocular migraine symptoms usually appear. Within half a minute or so this had escalated into a pulsing patch in which I could glimpse what appeared to be a picture, completely distinct from the rest of my visual field: I couldn't see it directly as it was off to one side, but I could discern a block of red and other colours and shapes. It was terrifying. As the seconds went on it became larger and more intense, until just as I picked up the phone first to call the Messy Church leader to say I wouldn't be there and then 111, it stopped. Absolutely, dead. Everything back to normal. The whole episode had lasted about a minute.

I can only assume that it's another manifestation of 'ocular migraine' given that it occurred in the same place, though I will keep an eye on it (ha) in case it recurs. Curiously when I mentioned this to Sandra the Messy Church co-ordinator she recounted her own experience of something which was quite like a proper migraine only with even more dramatic symptoms ('Sometimes my face goes numb and I can't speak'), and Marion the curate recounted the first time it happened to her as an 18-year-old student ('My whole visual field closed to a sort of letterbox shape. It was terrifying'). This evening Brian the O/C of the Air Cadets described (without me saying anything) getting flashing lights in his eyes the other day, apparently due to age-related detachment of the aqueous humour.  I can't recall anyone mentioning anything like this to me until I had my experience!

And not only that - the pain in my toe has returned although I don't think I've been neglecting my stretches. Thanks to Dr Google I now know more than I suspect my GP would want me to about the lateral plantar nerve.

Saturday, 11 May 2019

London Grandeur

How was it that it took my friend Ms Brightshades to take me to parts of London that I really should have seen before a couple of weeks ago? St James's Spanish Place is spectacular, the jewel in the crown of the capital's Roman Catholic community before (and arguably since) the completion of Westminster Cathedral. Cathedral-sized itself, it's the quintessence of High Victorian Gothic filtered through RC ideals. 

Not far away is the equally remarkable Wallace Collection, sumptuous, surprising, and free as well. Ms Brightshades commented on the wallpaper and she is not unreasonable to do so.

I was gratified by three images of St Catherine in the collection. The Carlo Crivelli I'd seen before:

But the Onorio Marinari and the little medieval painting were new to me:

Oddly enough blessed Catherine doesn't appear at St James's Spanish Place. Our final stop (apart from coffee) was Selfridges which I have been to before, but hadn't seen in quite the same terms until my companion pointed out how like an art gallery it is itself:

Thursday, 9 May 2019

It's the End of an Era

The years - seventeen of them - have developed an affectionate bond between me and my little Nokia phone. Well, a one-sided one, but you know what I mean. It has survived innumerable falls, and on one occasion being dropped in a glass of water. The time it was discovered in a gutter on a rainy Spring Fair day with water sloshing behind its screen and had to be dried out in the airing cupboard is one of my favourite stories. 'I'm waiting until it breaks, then I'll change it,' I told Cal at a church meeting. 'That'll never break', he countered, 'the Earth will run out of fossil fuels to charge it before it breaks.'

But, reluctantly, its time has come. The other Sunday before heading off to Dorset I tried to call my mother and, having discovered I had too little credit on the phone, attempted to top up. Virgin wouldn't let me: the automated voice told me I either had to sign up for a new tariff there and then, or speak to an adviser. Twenty minutes later, I was on that new tariff which the adviser assured me would be far better value, and a new SIM card would be on its way. Would it work with my old Nokia phone, I asked? Yes, was the reassuring answer. 

Of course it didn't. It took eleven days, numerous long phone calls to Virgin and another SIM being sent out to replace the first for them to admit that, no, the new card wasn't compatible with my old phone, despite me discussing the model number with several people. At one point I was given a phone number for Nokia Technical Support which turned out to be inactive. I realised that the young people I was talking to (I imagine they are young) actually had very little idea how the kit in question worked, and were just reading instructions from a screen. Their incomprehension was more pitiful than it was annoying. I was finally passed to the Customer Services Department and apologetically offered a new contract. I accepted it before my sister pointed out how much more expensive it was than hers with Tesco, and so today I have sorted out something with them instead. I am not done with Virgin yet, though: although I have 14 days to cancel my contract, this can't happen until they receive back the new handset they've sent me, returned in the bespoke packaging which may take five days to arrive here, let alone the time it will take getting back to them. That eats significantly into those 14 days. Only then will Virgin release my number so it can be passed to my new, new phone. Even the phone call in which I asked to cancel my contract was painful. Although the paperwork says you can withdraw without a reason, I was still asked for one, and in fact badgered for one as though what I'd done was a personal slight to the Virgin employee I was talking to. I think she had a box to tick.

I always managed without carrying internet access around with me, and have a separate camera and an old iPod. When I go to London I take an A-Z, and elsewhere I work out where I'm going before I set out. I don't need one device to do everything, or have every option with me all the time. I can wait until I get home to check emails. The potential to do anything you might want, all the time - that seductive offer of choice - in fact means the abolition of choice. If there are no constraints on what you can do, you never choose. I like the constraints. I choose them. My handsome, shiny new phone feels like a defeat, strangely, and not just because it's bigger and clearly more vulnerable than my old one and I worry how soon I will manage to break it.

I could have got another pay-as-you-go Nokia, though not from Virgin; but it's become clear that that would have been considerably more expensive than a contract - more, I think, than its smaller size and comforting archaicism would justify. And besides, I only had my old one because it kept going and I have a prejudice against throwing things away until they do break. I always knew I would have to give it up one day; but I do feel a bit like a resistance member who the secret police have finally caught up with.

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Regeneration Assured

Any services involving large numbers of people who aren't very used to being in churches are hard to predict; even more so when children take a prominent role in them. 

It may be an awkward truth, but as a rule the baptisms of children from middle-class families are normally quiet and biddable. Even if people feel uncomfortable in a church environment they are keen to do as they are supposed to do, and do their best to appear to take an interest. They don't fiddle with their phones, or smirk and chatter mockery - a particular temptation for young working-class chaps to cover up the fact that they don't know quite what to do in church. And why should they?

But the children may have other ideas. This Sunday I was baptising two brothers, one aged not quite 5, the other a little under 3. Frankie the elder sat on the side of the font and having realised he wasn't going to go bodily into it all was well. But Jake - Jake saw what had happened to his brother and wanted none of it. Even while in his mother's arms he was wailing 'Put me down! Put me down!' Mum held him over the threatening waters and in amidst his thrashing and screaming I feel fairly sure I managed to get water somewhere on his head three times, which is what is required. Had he kept still less of it would have gone down the back of his collar, poor little chap. He did calm down after that and within a minute or two the pair of boys were racing round the church in hard hats raided from the dressing-up box playing Bob the Builder, such that they had to be retrieved when required for a later part of the liturgy. 'Jake hates having his hair washed,' mum and dad grimaced apologetically, 'Bath time is just a trauma.'

Sunday, 5 May 2019

The 2019 Spring Fair

Over the course of Spring Fair Day this Saturday the meteorological keynotes were a nippy breeze and intermittent sunshine, but in fact we had virtually every kind of weather at some point apart from snow. There were a couple of spits and spots of rain and one thirty-second shower accompanied by sudden gusty wind which sent the fainter-hearted fairgoers scattering, but most of the time it was fine and another of those years when I could see ranks of dark cloud heading over the hills and then peeling off to east and west and harmlessly passing by. We would have had a hard job to match up to the bumper takings of last year, but things went moderately and there were no disasters. The Air Cadets attended for the first time and their assistance putting up and taking down tents and gazebos bought them free hot dogs and burgers. When the Infants School came on to do their customary Country Dancing I heard two teenage girls reminiscing about when they did the same. 

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Building Confidence

My mum has just given up driving, and my couple of days in Dorset gave her the chance to do a series of small jobs which would have taken ages to achieve otherwise. One of these was going to Wimborne to visit the bank. She used to use the branch of Barclays in Winton but since my sister moved to Wimborne it's been more convenient for her to go there. Not any more, though: Barclays (Wimborne branch) closes at the end of the month. In common with the great majority of urban businesses, the bank only rents the building (I wonder who owns it? A pension fund, very likely) and a decline in real-world custom means the three-storey structure now houses half-a-dozen staff rather than the thirty-plus it used to. It isn't worth it.

I looked around at the small-town solidity of the Square. The great King's Head, grandest (if not the most venerable) of Wimborne's inns still closes off the west side, but grander still are the banks. On the north is the Italianate fabric of the Wilts & Dorset Bank of 1872, later Lloyds and finally TSB. Facing it was the even more elaborate Baroque building of the London Joint City & Midland, later just Midland and eventually HSBC, originally built in 1920: it has gigantic arched windows and its entrance is positively intimidating, strangely incongruous for the clothes store it now houses. Compared to these, in fact, Barclays isn't that impressive physically: the Crown Hotel which used to stand on its site was rebuilt in red brick in 1980 to form Crown Court. The architects still chose to put a range of arches on the ground floor, though: I don't know whether they knew that Barclays was going to be housed in the new building and so chose to give it a more bank-like appearance than the homely structure that stood there before. NatWest survives round the corner in West Borough, a humbler building converted from a house in about 1900, but with a banking hall added to it in grandiose Classical style - Venetian windows, a balustraded parapet, v-jointed columns and a big square doorway. It's a house made to look like a bank.

It looks like a bank because when the first regional banks began to infiltrate into mid-Victorian towns they wanted to make the point that they were trustworthy, and so they replaced the standard town houses they would originally have inhabited with structures that spoke of prosperity and reliability. In Wimborne the Wilts & Dorset was first off the mark, and then the others competed with it not just for business but architecturally. 

Today that kind of statement doesn't mean anything, and the tide of commerce retreats from the real-world environment of small towns like Wimborne. Grand bank buildings are inhabited, more or less comfortably, by cafés and clothes stores, and I wonder how long even they will manage. Deeper still, the townscape is no longer a landscape of power, nor does its physical appearance express anything about the relationships that actually control its life and experience: power lies elsewhere now.