Sunday 6 December 2015

Kagyu Samye Dzong London, Spa Road SE16

Bermondsey Public Library, now a centre for Buddhist study and meditation, was built in 1890 to the designs of John Johnson ("Little to recommend it" - Pevsner).
It was opened by the banker, Liberal politician, polymath and philanthropist Sir John Lubbock (later Lord Avebury). In his speech he was quoted as saying: ‘It was rather sad to think that when people spoke of a public-house they always thought of a place for the sale of drink. He was glad that all through London public houses were now rising up for the supply – not of alcohol, but of literature.’ 
Which is rather a contrast with his famous remark: "Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books."
But I digress.
The building is scattered with the usual vaguely aspirational sculpture you find on Victorian libraries. The entrance is marked by a mansard-roofed tower with allegorical figures. The woman on the left holds a book, so probably represents modern learning, whereas the bearded gent on the right holds a scroll and has an owl at his feet so I imagine exemplifies classical knowledge.
The coat of arms, a lion with a bishop's crozier and mitre, is of Bermondsey Abbey, hijacked by the Borough Council.
The keystones over the windows have portrait heads of suitably reverential figures including Shakespeare, Milton and Homer. The other two are so worn they look like nothing more than a pair of stockinged robbers holding up the local Coop. One of them has a necktie and coat so must be fairly modern - perhaps Keats or Byron. The other is female, judging by the necklace. Jane Austen, perhaps?

1 comment:

Christopher Bellew said...

Appropriately, the present Lord Avebury is a Buddhist.