The Whithorn That Never Was

Under the Town and country Planning Act (1947), local authorities were allowed to acquire property using powers of compulsory purchase in order to replan and develop areas that had suffered war damage or urban blight. In cities such as Glasgow whole neighbourhoods were demolished. The problems facing a part of Withorn in the early 1950s were on a very much smaller scale but faced with a ‘derelict’ area, the Town Council of Royal Burgh of Whithorn designated High Street and adjacent streets as a Comprehensive Development Area.

To analyse the problems and prepare a redevelopment scheme the Council approached the Edinburgh architects Richard and Betty Moira. They saw their remit was “to provide a locality for housing a considerable number of people of all ages under modern conditions but also under conditions of layout and design that are familiar and characteristic of the Burgh of Whithorn.” It was this commitment to design new buildings to be in keeping with the existing architecture of the town that distinguishes this proposal from many other Comprehensive Development Area plans produced at the time.

The architect’s set out in detail in their report* to the Council the acute problems faced by the inhabitants and their housing. Their analysis looked at the layout of the existing streets and spaces in some detail, even considering the textures of stone used in street gutters.

Their drawings and the architect’s notes are a unique record of this part of Whithorn much of which has disappeared. It is as though they take you on a guided walk through the top of the town.

The architects saw the purpose of their proposals “to reconstruct the existing fabric of the streets.” Emphasising the importance of retaining and restoring these, long elevations of the street facades were included showing retained and infill housing.

While the streets were their main concern the architects noted that there “remains the waste land and unused garden ground between Isle and Glasserton Streets. The use of part of this land for the extension to the agricultural machinery depot and the haulage contractor has been proposed. The remainder of the ground can be utilised for house building and a pattern of building will have to be decided… Whithorn is linear in pattern and there has been little building in depth… (so that) there is no real local tradition to determine its layout.” In seeking to fill this gap site the architects proposed a plan that would give a sense of “shelter and enclosure… The effect will be one of greens with continuous houses around which are communal rather than individual and will be linked together by ways through pends under buildings.”

The perspectives of paths through the new housing follow the dotted pedestrian route indicated in one of the plans.

Retaining the existing building lines meant that many of the pavements would remain narrow and a new pathway, avoiding the narrow entry at the Isle Port was proposed from George Street behind the former Old Star Inn.

A model of the proposals was also created and everything down to an extensive colour chart for the buildings considered. The architects proposed the development was to be carried out in 3 phases so that people could be rehoused as properties were cleared or restored. Car parking for 24 cars and 52 garages was included in the proposals. 21 houses were to be retained, 12 reconstructed and 52 new houses built. With this, the population of the area would rise from 66 to 305.

The proposals by Richard and Betty Moira were not carried out and a new plan for the Comprehensive Development Area was drawn up for Whithorn Town Council up by Antony Curtiss Wolffe in the1970s. This is what exists today but vacant land, gap sites and several of the derelict buildings identified by Moira for development are, unfortunately still there.

*I am grateful to the former Provost of Whithorn, the late Tony Graham for the gift of a copy of the Comprehensive Development Area Report from which the text and illustrations are taken.

I have include the text of the opening part of the report below. The photographs of Whithorn children illustrated the ‘People’ section.

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