Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Cook Memorial, The Mall SW1

Captain Cook is one of my all-time heroes, possibly the greatest navigator who ever lived.
This 1910 statue is by Sir Thomas Brock. It retains a naval setting, standing in front of the Admiralty extension of the 1890s with its wireless telegraphy aerials preserved from the days of the Dreadnoughts. Cook would have known their predessor, the giant semaphore tower that clicked and clacked its messages for transmission down a chain to the fleet at Portsmouth.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Royal Marines Memorial, The Mall, SW1

This noble figure of a Marine standing guard over a fallen comrade was created by Adrian Jones in 1903 to commemorate the fallen of the South African wars and the Boxer Rebellion in China.
The sculptor was self-taught, taking up sculpture after serving as an Army vetinerary officer, facts which help explain the unconventional but moving composition and the correct military detail.
The plinth was designed by the architect Sir Thomas G Jackson, and incorporates two bronze reliefs by Jones depicting on the left the Battle of Graspan in the Boer War and on the right the defence of the International Legations in the Boxer Rebellion.
Though a victory, the Battle of Graspan was not exactly a glittering example of British military prowess. General Lord Methuen completely failed to understand the threat posed by long range rifle fire, enabling the undisciplined but hotshot Afrikaaner farmers to create havoc from their hilltop positions.
The main British advantage was in artillery, famously including two long naval 12 pounders taken from HMS Doris and mounted on improvised carriages - dramatically depicted in Jones's relief, shelling the Boers as the Marines storm up the hill.
In 1900 a millennial cult of unspeakable ferocity, violently zenophobic and anti-Christian, called the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fists but better known today by the name given them by Western diplomats, the Boxers, attacked Peking and laid siege to the quarter that housed the foreign embassies. 
Jones's relief shows Royal Marines scaling the Legation wall to storm a Boxer rampart, causing the Chinese to throw down their Mausers and run. To the right, a Boxer is being bayoneted in a scene that shows Jones was not afraid to portray the horror of war in a way that is unusually frank for a war memorial.
The memorial was originally placed over the road, being removed for the construction of the Citadel during WWII. It was re-erected in its present position in 1948 and dedicated as the national Marines monument in 2000.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

32 Saffron Hill EC1

L.&.Co were Longmans, the publishers of dictionaries and other good works - the founder, Thomas Longman, inherited a share in Ephraim Chambers' Cyclopaedia and was one of the booksellers responsible for marketing Samuel Johnson's Dictionary.
Longman started in 1726 in a shop in Paternoster Row under the sign of the Ship, later expanding into premises next door under the sign of the Black Swan. Both symbols were used by his company thereafter.In the nineteenth century Longmans started producing lavishly bound editions which proved so popular the bindery in Paternoster Row was unable to keep up, so in 1887 this works was built to expand production, apparently causing something of a stir in the book trade. 
Known as the Ship Binding Works, it was highly regarded and produced prize-winning bindings for exhibitions.The bindery went independent but was bombed out in 1941 and closed.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

The Anchorage, Clare Market WC2

The Anchorage was the parsonage of St Clement Danes church in the Strand, so the wall is embellished with an anchor, the symbol of St Clement, an early Pope. He was tied to one and thrown into the sea on the orders of the Emperor Trajan.
The building dates from about 1800 but was not occupied by the rector until later so the anchor probably dates from the second half of the 19th century.
But it won't be there much longer - the building is being demolished to make way for the LSE's enormous new tower designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Lincolns Inn Fields WC2

Margaret MacDonald was a feminist who worked tirelessly for the rights of women at work, becoming a member of the Women's Industrial Council in 1894, where she conducted an enquiry into women's home work (a notoriously exploitative system) and championing training of women for skilled work. She set up the first trade schools for girls in 1904.
But, as ever, the main reason she is commemorated by this impressive seat in one of London's premier squares is that she was married to a famous and powerful man, viz Ramsay MacDonald, the first Labour prime minister.
She married MacDonald in 1896. By all accounts it was a happy union, resulting in six children, and MacDonald was devastated when she suddenly died in 1911 from blood poisoning - she was only 41.
Legend has it that Ramsay MacDonald designed her monument himself, for execution by the sculptor Richard Goulden, completed in 1914. It seems more likely that MacDonald gave Goulden a detailed brief rather than an actual design. It is a touching tribute to a wife and mother - make sure you read the bronze plate on the back of the stone seat.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Lincolns Inn Fields WC2

John Hunter was 'the founder of scientific surgery', according to the brass plaque on the side of his bust located close to the museum that bears his name.
The lively bronze was sculpted by Nigel Boonham in 1977 to celebrate the Queen's Silver Jubilee (Her Madge is Visitor and Hon Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, where the Hunterian museum is housed.)
Hunter's vast collection of bits of human stuff was the result of a lifetime of investigation - he famously said "Why think, why not try the experiment?" This dedication to the scientific method didn't mean he was right all the time, however. He thought syphilis and gonorrhea were the same disease and advocated mercury for both. Such was his reputation this was unquestioningly accepted and the truth was not discovered for over 50 years.

Friday, 5 February 2016

St Clements Building, Clare Market WC2

It's hard to believe, but this anodyne mosaic provoked a furious reaction when it was unveiled, with calls from both extremes of the political spectrum for its removal.
It was created by glass artist Harry Warren Wilson when the building was modernised for the London School of Economics in 1959-61. Originally constructed in 1898 as a print works for the Financial Times and a publication called Votes for Women, the conversion involved stripping it back to its steel frame and adding a clean, modern but boring new facade.
Wilson's mural is the only decorative touch, illustrating the Thames from Woolwich to Battersea in vitreous mosaic. Aluminium cutouts represent the various academic fields of interest of the LSE, From the top, they are a clipper ship for commerce; a plane for transport; the Royal Exchange for finance; Justicia for the law; the Houses of Parliament for government and Battersea Power Station for industry.
Sue Donnelly, the LSE's archivist, tells me that the mosaic was so unpopular a motion requesting its removal was presented to the Academic Board.
"I think the argument about removing the mosaic was a reflection of the artistic conservatism of the academic body – indeed it is a debate that finds political opponents Kenneth Minogue and Ralph Milliband in agreement – which must have been a first. Interestingly today people either like the mosaic or are indifferent – it doesn’t appear to arouse great passions," Sue writes.
Indeed, a cause that united arch-conservative Minogue and foaming radical Milliband must have been passionately held.
Fortunately, the Board managed to work out that the cost of ripping it off and replacing it with windows was prohibitive.