Friday, 8 October 2010

Old Patent Office, Southampton Buildings WC2

I used to spend a good deal of my time in the Patent Office in another life a long time ago. Today the Patent Office is in Newport, Gwent, and the Victorian building has been converted into serviced office suites. 
The facade looking out onto the lovely little garden of Staple Inn was cheaply rebuilt after war damage and again in 2003, but this time they saw fit to reproduce the Victorian design in detail, something I thought was illegal under the Architecture That Makes A Statement For Our Time Regulations. It is particularly strange as it is right opposite Holborn Gate, an outstandingly boring Statement for 1965, which replaced the amazing Doulton phantasmogoria of Birkbeck Bank (right) in a scandalous demonstration of what can happen when greedy developers enlist modernist architects to defeat supine planning authorities.
The Patent Office developer, bless him, didn't just slavishly reproduce the old design but went a step further and created a memorial to the great Victorian inventor, author and founder of the Patent Office Library, Bennet Woodcroft. His head appears below the bow window at the centre where his name is carved in big letters. Woodcroft was fascinated by the history of invention, and when the South Kensington museums were founded he persuaded them to let him buy interesting industrial artifacts for display. It is solely due to him that such world-changing machines as James Watt's beam engine, the world's oldest steam locomotive Puffing Billy and Stevenson's Rocket are preserved. 

2 comments:

Hels said...

This is the most accurate line I have read in a blog for ages: "in a scandalous demonstration of what can happen when greedy developers enlist modernist architects to defeat supine planning authorities.
" *tragic sigh*

Is it a coincidence that Albert Einstein laboured for years in a Patent Office also? The history of invention amuses and educates later generations, but it also may spark off some great originality.

ChrisP said...

The Patent Office I knew employed some very intelligent and eccentric people such as the barmy inventor Arthur Paul Pedrick (google him!), and Bennet Woodcroft was an outstanding example. Einstein was in a class of his own, of course.
Happily, it wasn't the Patent Office that was responsible for destroying the Birkbeck Bank.