Friday 11 July 2008

Zimbabwe House, Strand

According to legend, when the old British Medical Association building in the Strand was being refurbished to become Southern Rhodesian High Commission in the 1930s, the High Commissioner was so outraged by the robust and unrepentent nudity of Jacob Epstein's statues on the second floor he walked along the scaffolding with a club hammer and knocked the offending organs off every one of them.
The reality is unfortunately much more prosaic. The statues were found to have been carved with the natural bed lines vertical, allowing water to get inside, freeze and make large chunks unstable. The figures could not be bodily removed, because Epstein had carved them out of the actual facade of the building, so projecting parts such as heads and hands had to be removed before passers-by got killed.
It is true that the figures practically caused a riot when they were originally unveiled in 1908, but Epstein had an unrivalled talent for giving offence.
The architect of the building was Charles Holden, designer of the London University Senate House and most of the Underground's finest tube stations.
While you are there, move a few yards to Stranded, a restaurant bar that used to be Yates Wine Lodge. PG Wodehouse used to say that it was always worth a fiver betting Americans that you couldn't see the clock of the Law Courts from Yates Wine Lodge, because they would always think it was far too far away. But there it is, skylined at the end of the vista. Click on the picture to enlarge it if you don't believe me.

1 comment:

MarkF said...

I must have walked past this place hundreds of times but always on it's side of the road. So, two lessons now cross over AND look up - but not that the same time ...