Description of the buildings in Porters Yard at the north end of the High Street, Chatteris.
Reflections on the Architecture of Porters Yard
In June 1990, the architecture of Porters Yard retained some semblance of how it was in its heyday, as a complex of industrial buildings.
The yard was the property of the Porter family, hence its retained name. The products produced by the family were a range of soft drinks. The drinks were retailed to pubs, beer houses, shops and private dwellings within Chatteris, and possibly to surrounding farms, villages and towns. The bottles containing the drinks were prized by the children of the town, primarily because they were sealed by an ‘alley’ locked into the neck of the bottle during the glass manufacturing process. Smash the neck of the bottle and the precious alley was liberated for games of marbles or other such games. Examples of these bottles can be seen in the Chatteris Museum. Also on view in the Chatteris Museum are examples of the fittings that could be obtained by retailers of the drinks, comprising a long wooden spike with a plate by which it could be attached to a bar or a counter. Simply putting the spike into the neck of the bottle and striking the bottom smartly would dislodge the alley, and allow the drink to be poured from the bottle. It has been said that Archie Porter, one of the elders of the family, had scars over much of his face, where he had been struck by glass from bottles exploding under the pressure of their gaseous content.
At the High Street end of the Yard, Number 97 was a small shop, most recently selling sweets before it became a private dwelling. The shop windows have long been replaced by sash windows in the style of the rest of Porters Yard. Discussions with elderly residents of Chatteris have not indicated what the main products of the shop were prior to its conversion to a confectioner. It is possible, though, that it was used as an outlet for the soft drinks manufactured in the yard. The inside of Number 97 indicates very clearly its commercial origins. The sitting room is a long room covering the complete frontage of the building. Behind this room, at the rear of the house, is another long room that must have been a store room for the shop in a previous life. A small kitchen completes the ground floor, connecting the back room to the side entrance into the Yard. A staircase leads to a small first floor landing with rooms to the left and the right. Entry into either of these rooms leads into another room, from which a further door leads back to the opposing room at the top of the stairs. Clearly, privacy was not an important consideration in bygone days.
Further into the yard and to the left, a terrace of three cottages used to stand. The first cottage (Number 1, Porters Yard) is largely unchanged from the way it has always been. The second and third cottages were combined to form a single dwelling in the 1970’s and a two storey extension was built onto the combined property. The original two cottages and the extension now form Number 2, Porters Yard. A brief examination of the front of number 2 shows where the door to one cottage has been replaced with a window in the style of the other windows of the terrace, but of a noticeably narrower perspective. It may also be seen that the roof has been raised on the terrace of cottages, indicated by the addition of some five courses of brickwork to the frontage. Above the door of Number 2, it may be seen that the additional courses of brickwork have been used to correct a bulge in the front of the building. Not visible from the yard, but clearly apparent at the rear of the cottages, is the timbered structure that forms the frame of these buildings. All these buildings are now protected in law through Grade II Listing.
Opposite the far end of Number 2 is a former industrial outbuilding to the factory. This building now forms the garage to Number 2. However, a look inside the building shows that its roof structure belies its modern use as a garage. The heavy timber structure supporting the roof still retains the hooks from which pulleys and ropes would have been suspended as part of its previous purpose. A look into the roof structure itself shows that it is lined with a layer of coarse reeds, with the pantiles weatherproofing the structure laid on top.
The remaining buildings that formed the industrial complex have been demolished some years ago. Before they were demolished, though, they retained some of the machinery important to the factory in its prime.
Behind the garage for Number 2 stood a corrugated iron shed. Prior to its demolition, there was no indication of the purpose of the building. It stood with double doors facing away from the entry to the yard, and a sliding door and window facing out onto the yard. It is assumed that this building must have formed a storage shed or stable.
On the opposite side of the yard was a long, single-storey building. Inside, pulley wheels were suspended on axles up at ceiling level, with belts coming across to other machinery inside the building. In 1991, there was no sign of the motor that was used to drive these belts. However, some of the machinery was still present. Among this machinery was a wooden cylinder, some 2 metres in length and about 0.5 metres in diameter. It had doors fitted laterally in the structure. Each door was covered with a metal mesh, giving the appearance that this was some sort of revolving filter machine. Over time, the machine was destroyed by people taking materials from the derelict site. Eventually, all the industrial relics from the buildings were removed during the redevelopment of the site.
The long outbuilding fronted onto the main factory building. This building had long been used as a storeroom, and nothing could be gleaned about its original purpose from looking through the windows. Unfortunately, the building was destroyed by fire in June 1990, making further investigation by the author impossible. The fire destroyed the roof and the floors within the structure, rendering the building unsafe. Accordingly, the fire authorities required that the exterior walls should be demolished to a safe height, where they would no longer present a danger.
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