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Great Dunmow Town Design Statement - Design guidance for enhancing and protecting the character of Dunmow.

The Character Areas

The two storey buildings form the frontage of narrow plots that run backwards from the street. The system of burgage plots is very distinctive in some medieval market towns. In Dunmow it would not appear to have been so dominant. Nevertheless this plot structure is also an important aspect of the character. However, whilst some of these survive, in the period since the late 19th century the plots have been successively developed and this plot structure has becomes less obvious. This has been due to new buildings or the creation of car parks. The result is that the narrow and simple Y shape of the centre has been progressively ‘in-filled’. This is a typical process seen in many old towns.

In view of the diversity described above it is difficult to come up with a dominant set of materials and style and to arrive at clear recommendations.

Nevertheless the following appraisal attempts to identify key aspects and design features as one moves through the centre from the south end to the north.
The predominant architectural form is a two storey rendered building with a relatively wide frontage and shallow in depth parallel to the street with either casement horizontal windows or vertical sash window, a handmade tiled roof and invariably a number of chimneys,  some very large. The roof shapes can be plain and as above parallel or have projecting gables or, in the case of some corner or end building a hipped roof. The eaves heights vary, sometimes subtly, sometimes quite markedly and this together with the curving of facades gives the street much of its ‘rhythm’.The Starr Inn is a perfect example of this range of details in one building and the Saracens Head a good example of a wide frontage with a simple plan roof and vertical sash windows.

The commercial premises tend to be larger and more imposing as befits their purpose and may be converted from other uses such as the Chapel that now houses the art gallery. Banks on the whole tend to occupy quite modest buildings. Shop fronts vary enormously. The typical Victorian shop front is quite common – a facia and pilasters (or columns) at either side. Earlier survivals such as the Delicatessen are uncommon. There are a number of very elaborate and impressive door cases.

There are a number of more prominent buildings. The Council offices and Post Office stand back and are large in scale. They differ in style and materials. The Old Town Hall on the corner of Market Place is prominent and can be seen from a number of viewpoints.

To the south end the structure is not so strong and there are a number of modest domestic buildings on the west inside, set back somewhat. To the east now on the corner of the Braintree Road a new façade has been established in a vernacular style with a residential block. This has created a precedent since this plot was not built up previously. The facade to the north on the east side has also been redeveloped in recent times introducing a three story mixed use block and the demolition of the Dunmow Inn and redevelopment of the White Street site will bring further significant change.

Moving north, there is a prominent building at the corner of New Street but it is followed by a gap in the façade made by the car park of the Dunmow Club. New Street – new in the 16th century that is - has a very narrow opening and has modest two storey frontages at the back of narrow footways making a very confined street, curving gently.

To the east of High street is the White Street /Mill Lane area. White Street, once known as Back Lane appears to have delineated the original Market Place – fascinating if true. Nowadays it merely gives access to the frontages in High Street and to a few retail outlets but more problematically to the White Street car park and the Coop store. The redevelopment of this area will radically alter its appearance and the traffic circulation. The opportunity therefore exists to achieve a much higher standard of environment and it is to be hoped that the entrance to White Street and the ‘square’ in front of the proposed library are designed and built to a very high standard giving priority to pedestrians.
The Co-op store whilst providing valuable food retailing in the centre makes absolutely no concessions to its setting. It is hard to see how this situation can be improved in the short term and the visual impact and the servicing problems will continue to detract from the town centre environment.

The entrances to Market Place are one of the key delights of Dunmow. From each direction, but especially from North Street the space is dynamic and appealing. The obvious rejoinder to this is the volume of traffic that uses it and the very poor quality and high risk of the public realm. There is enormous scope here to enhance the buildings, to improve pedestrian safety and to produce a space that is a credit to and a symbol of Dunmow.

The narrow neck of Market Place is one of the key design features closing as it does the view northwards. The effect on traffic can be said to be beneficial by slowing it down but a lesser volume of traffic would produce more benefits. The pedestrian (and a few cars) can opt to take Starr Lane to leave Market Place and will enter the beautiful and unique environment of the Downs and Doctors pond. Taking North Street the road is built up on the west with two storey houses hard to the footway whereas on the east modern development is set back with a wide and poorly designed and maintained verge.

Doctors Pond and the former brewery to the east side provide a gap in the street which then narrows again and beyond the Library is linked with attractive two storey houses, some of great charm. The restoration of the Kings Head is a welcome step after what seemed like a threat to this important building.

Leaving Market Place along the Stortford Road the street narrows perceptibly and is lined with two storey buildings, houses and businesses that line a very narrow footway as far as the Chequers Inn where Chequers Lane has effectively destroyed the frontage that existed on the west side. The possible redevelopment of the car park presents a valuable opportunity to reinforce this side of Stortford Road. Further north the Foakes Hall and the garage are set back and the intervening car park allows views over the Downs. The Foakes Hall is an invaluable and treasured building made more useful with the tennis courts behind. Nevertheless perhaps more could be done to integrate the building and site more successfully into the street scene.

The garage building is art deco in style and attractive in its own right but the conglomeration of cars around it detract somewhat. This kind of use in the town centre poses real dilemmas and is vulnerable to redevelopment.
The environment of Stortford Road is seriously undermined by the volume and speed of traffic. Some buildings, no doubt due in part to the above, are in poor repair. Nevertheless it houses a number of well used businesses and had a number of attractive frontage building with significant historic merit in some cases.

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