Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Nomura House, St Martin's-le-Grand EC1

St Martin's-le-Grand was a tourist attraction in the19th century. Crowds used to gather to watch the mail coaches roar out of the old General Post Office, galloping off to deliver letters and parcels all over the country.
By the end of the century, the complex covered where the BT Centre is now, buildings to the west on the site of the original Charterhouse School (1907) and the North Range, built in 1889 to 95 and converted for investment bank Nomura in 1987.
Both were designed by a bureaucratic architect called Sir Henry Tanner of the Office of Works and are rather pompous and dull, but Nomura House features some entertaining and rather good sculpture.
Big arched windows form the centrepiece of the east and west facades. In the spandrels recline two classical male figures, naked to the waist. One is writing a letter and the other is reading it.
Henry Raikes MP - PMG 1886-91
The keystones of the entrances on the east and west sides have portrait heads of two Postmasters General. On the east is Henry Raikes MP, who commissioned the building, and Arnold Morley MP who opened it.
Raikes is notable only for being one of the first British politicians to have his voice recorded for posterity, by Thomas Edison's British agent.
Arnold Morley MP - PMG 1892-95
Morley has gone down in history for a staggeringly wrong assessment of the market potential of a new technology. In in 1895 he told the House of Commons: "There is a great distinction between telephone companies and gas and water companies. Gas and water are requisites for every inhabitant in a district, but the telephone cannot, and never will be, an advantage which can be enjoyed by large masses of the working classes."
Wrong and sneering. Brilliant.
I am indebted to Zoe van Well at the British Postal Museum for identifying the portraits. She also tells me that there are portrait heads on the insides of the arches as well, one of which is said to be that of the architect, Sir Henry Tanner.

3 comments:

CarolineLD said...

Wonderful: I often pass this building, so will look out for the portraits now I know who they are!

Quintin Lake said...

I've just photographed this building for a book, many thanks for your info here about the ornament. Any idea what the corner busts below the cornice with the wings sprouting from their heads may represent? Here are my photos of Nomura House

ChrisP said...

Hi Quintin,
I suspect the corner busts are off-the-shelf putti, without specific meaning. And why not?