Monday 24 November 2008

Marble Arch (north side)

The sculptured panels on the north and south sides of Marble Arch (1825) form an interesting contrast. E.H. Baily did the south side, and they are competent but static and uninspired. Sir Richard Westmacott did a much livelier job on the north.
To the right (above), Peace stands on discarded instruments of War of an antique nature including armour, pikes and a very nasty-looking poleaxe. Two little boys are twirling a cloak round her, creating an animated swirling motion.
On the left (below), a trio of girls represents the Union. Miss England, wearing Britannia's helmet, is flanked by Miss Ireland with her harp and Miss Scotland with St Andrew's shield. It is the way Scotland is turning on her heel, with her hand on England's shoulder, that adds vitality to the group.

Friday 14 November 2008

2 Bloomsbury Square, WC1

The College of Preceptors was a Victorian institution that aimed to improve the standard and status of teaching by providing proper qualifications. It was founded in 1846 by a group including Joseph Payne (its first professor of education) and the formidable Miss Frances Buss, headmistress of the North London Collegiate School.
The rather grand building was erected in 1887, designed in a sort of Flemish Renaissance style by one F. Pinches.
The College, now known as the College of Teachers, moved out a few years ago and the building has been rather well restored as a suite of meeting rooms for the Bonnington hotel group.
Busts of famous educators stare down from the facade. Matthew Martin, chief executive of the College of Teachers, very kindly identified them as:
Top left: Johann Pestalozzi, Swiss educationalist and author

Centre: John Milton, poet and 'acrimonious and surly republican'

Top right: Friedrich Froebel, pioneer of modern education and inventor of the kindergarten

Bottom left: John Locke, empiricist philosopher and political refugee

Bottom right: Thomas Arnold, headmaster of Rugby School

Monday 3 November 2008

52 Grosvenor Gardens, SW1

As construction of the Midland Bank HQ (see below) was proceeding (it took fifteen years!), Lutyens got another commission for a facade, behind which lesser architects would do the boring bits.
This was for a speculative office block opposite Victoria Station, built by the Duke of Westminster. Lutyens got the job because he was best mates with the Surveyor of the Grosvenor Estate, fellow-architect Detmar Blow.
The facade is neo-Classical, just like the Midland, and frankly a bit dull, although the recessed main entrance with its giant Doric columns has a spark. It was originally called Terminal House but was simply numbered after a recent revamp.
Little heads enliven keystones all over the building. One, above the front door, is a fierce face in a helmet surrounded by foliage. The helmet is very familiar but I can't place it. Tibet? South America?
My complete ignorance of botany means I can't identify any of the plants either. The man with the whacky beard on the left seems to be surrounded by grapes. Below, the serious guy has poppies, I think. I suspect they are all native crops and headdresses of a particular place. Anybody have any ideas where?