Thursday 11 December 2008

Silken Hotel, Aldwych

The Silken Hotel is taking shape behind the facade of the old Gaiety Restaurant on the west corner of Aldwych, designed by Norman Shaw and built in 1903. For some reason Shaw included a frieze of monumental figures round the top, where they are practically invisible without binoculars.
They were carved by Hibbert C. Binney, whose only other work in London (I think) is the figure of Justice on top of 161 Piccadilly.
Here, Binney seems to have been unable to decide on an appropriate theme for the large number of figures needed to surround the building, though he might as well have modelled the queue at the post office as nobody can see them properly.
So he plumped for a random selection of the usual allegorical figures: Theatre, The Arts, Industry and Commerce - that sort of thing.
To start, here is a rather odd group on the south facade overlooking the Strand. It shows War protecting Justice, Motherhood and Peace.
War is on the left, armed with helmet, sword and shield, and shouting something. She looks very sergeant-majorly: "Right, you 'orrible allegorical figgers - get your 'air cut."
Justice stands at the centre left, with the slogan 'To Uphold the Right'.
On centre right, Motherhood cradles a child, looked over by a couple of cherubs. And on the far right, Peace holds a palm.
Imagine the fuss if Binney entered it for the Turner prize today. It would cause spluttering outrage in the right-on art elite.
The main part of the Silken Hotel on the corner of Aldwych is designed by Foster and Partners. It has the merit of being marginally less spirit-sappingly dull than the English Electric (later Citibank) building it replaces.


noel rice said...

Dear Mr.Partridge,
I found your blogs fascinating-such a wide range of interests!
Ornamental Passions:
You wrote a very interesting article on the new Aldwych hotel- The Silken-which replaced the Citibank House which was the English Electric HQ [Gordon Tait,Architect]and before that, Marconi House.Over the entrance to the EE building were two allegorical bronze statues by Sir Charles Wheeler.
The story goes that the wife of the American bank's director found the nude statue's rude and had them removed.
Do you know where they are now?
Best wishes,
Noel Rice

FTL said...

I have no knowledge of the location of the statues, but there are some good photos at the London Picture Archive: electric

FTL said...

And after a little further research, I have found a recent article (March 2016) which reveals that the statues re-appeared after over forty years and are now at Eltham College:

The article also confirms "their peremptory removal in 1971 for reasons of ‘decency’ at the wish of the Quaker board of the American Citibank that took over the building."