Sunday, 14 August 2011

Corinthia Hotel, Northumberland Avenue WC2

The Corinthia Hotel was built as the super-de-luxe Hotel Metropole in 1883 to designs by Francis and JE Saunders. It was patronised by the Prince of Wales who used to entertain in the royal suite, believed to be behind the bay window above the main entrance.
After decades as government offices, the building finally reverted to its original use earlier this year, after a bit of a hiccup when it was found the hotel company's largest shareholder is...the Libyan government, whose assets are frozen.
The restoration of the building included the cleaning of these two lovely figures in the spandrels of the arch over the former front door (the main entrance is now round the corner). They are by Henry Hugh Armstead, a sculptor who began his career as a silversmith.
Both figures represent London. On the left is the City, a queen in classical garb holding a winged staff in her right hand. She used to hold a torch in her left but it seems to have disappeared. Behind her loom Big Ben and the dome of St Paul's.
On the right is Old Father Thames brandishing a trident and holding his urn, from which the river perpetually springs. A swan swims at his feet. Behind him can be glimpsed the White Tower and a ship.
The underside of Bertie's bay window is decorated with a lively frieze of water babies playing with hippocampi.


The Duke of Waltham said...

Finally, a name I recognise. Armstead did the Arthurian reliefs in the Robing Room of the Palace of Westminster and, from what I read now, half the Frieze of Parnassus at the Albert Memorial. I also recall the case of the Metropole, which was requisitioned by the government for additional office space in one of the world wars (I now read it was both).

The winged staff in London's hand clearly represents commerce (Hermes' head adorns the keystone, after all), although I am not sure what meaning to ascribe to the missing torch (knowledge?). Technically, the mural crown is a civic emblem, so it doesn't necessarily mean that its wearer is a "Queen"; London's status as capital of the British Empire, however, would certainly warrant such a characterisation for the representation of the city.

Capability Bowes said...

The torch represents the light of knowledge (the full name of the big statue in New York is "Lady Liberty enlightening the world"). I suppose you could interpret "enlightening" as literally "shining a light" or "sharing information". Either way, she stands on a pile of broken chains, representing Freedom. It could also represent "Life" - an inverted torch is a common symbol in Victorian graveyards,representing the snuffing out of a life.

Curious said...

I wonder if anybody could hazard a theory as to why "Big Ben" is showing a time of (approximately) 1:20, there must surely be a reason for choosing that.

Capability Bowes said...

Not 1.25pm but 1325 - (approx)year of construction of Richard Wallingford's enormous clock at St. Albans Cathedral - thought to be one of the first civic (and therefore public) clocks in the world. The Westminster Clock is probably the most famous civic clock in the entire world.

Its a theory, anyway.

curious. said...

Thank you, thats a very much better theory than I could propose.

I knew there had to be some significance, beyond the normal depiction of the clock hands at ten-to-two, which makes a clock face "smile".