Friday 27 February 2009

Hatton Garden, WC2

This gaslamp used to show the way down a dark alley to the Old Mitre in Ely Place, one of the most attractive pubs in London. It was still working with gas in the 1970s when some colleagues and I used to infest the the place. Their Welsh rarebit was particularly good, I recall.
Its condition is a disgrace and BoJo ought to do something about it right now.

Tuesday 24 February 2009


I like the contrast between these urns. Above is one of the blue-and-white urns on the front of T. Goode & Co in South Audley Street, Mayfair, Purveyors of Fine Porcelain to the Crowned Heads of Europe. This urn was part of the original 1875 design of the building - it is visible in this architect's perspective.
The building is also interesting because the landlord, the Duke of Westminster, forced Goode's to use the new 'Queen Anne' style, and their architect Ernest George adopted it with enthusiasm. Indeed, he spent the rest of his career covering whole areas of London with it.
At the other end of the retail spectrum is this pair of urns on a Georgian shop in Greville Street, Holborn, placed there not to demonstrate how ineffably grand the shopkeeper was but simply to inform the illiterate populace that he was a chemist.

Tuesday 17 February 2009

Faraday House, Queen Victoria Street EC4

Possibly the nastiest, flashiest and most offensive building in London is Faraday House. It caused outrage when it was built in 1932, sticking up right in front of St Pauls. Legislation quickly followed banning high rise buildings along certain key views over London, but the opportunity was not taken to demolish the bloody thing as it had been built not by greedy developers but by the government! Yes, Faraday House was designed and built by the Office of Works as the City of London's telephone exchange. The architect was one A.R. Myers.
It has one redeeming feature, a line of rather jolly carved keystones over the ground floor windows. To a casual glance they look like traditional outcrops of fruit and veg, but they are actually telecommunications apparatus including telephones, undersea cables, and even relays. One shows electrical signals girdling the earth, girdle girdle girdle, as E. L. Wisty put it so memorably. The arches at either end have the head of Mercury, the messenger of the gods, with his winged helmet. His caduceus, a winged staff with two serpents entwined round it, is reproduced in bronze.

Monday 16 February 2009

Former City of London School for Boys, Victoria Embankment EC4

Right on the outside, bottom of the list of priorities in Victorian education, are science and engineering. To the left, G.W. Seale has placed Geometry, with her drawing board and dividers, and Mathematics with board and dividers. She also balances a globe on her other hand, presumably in tribute to her vital contribution to navigation.
To the right, Chemistry holds a test tube and Mechanics has one hand casually draped over a gear wheel and the other holding a device that I cannot identify - possibly a limited slip diff for an early model Ford. An Archimedian screw completes the composition.
Of course, everything is different now. Technology is still bottom of the educational heap, of course, but today's high-flying students shun the classics and poetry in favour of law and, god help us, media studies.

Saturday 14 February 2009

Former City of London School for Boys, Victoria Embankment EC4

The central arch of the school is graced by the Classics and Poetry, and they are supported on either side by Art and History.
To the left G.W. Seale has carved Drawing and Music, as lively a pair of girlies as could be imagined being turned away by the porter for not being properly dressed for a Victorian educational institution. Drawing is doing a quick sketch of the bust of a bearded Greek philosopher. Music is blowing a strange flute thing, with a harp ready at her feet for the next item on the programme.
To the right is History, represented by girl scribes from ancient and modern times.
Ancient girl is carving some sort of lettering on a monument. What language is it? The letters look vaguely like cuneiform, but that may just be my ignorance. The girl's costume doesn't help identify what civilisation she comes from (there is not much of it) and her hairstyle is generic 'exotic ancient civilizations style', as worn by Elizabeth Taylor in so many movies.
Modern history is represented by a properly dressed female angel, with wings, writing on a scroll. The lamp of Holy Scripture provides illumination.
Looking back through the kaleidoscope of the 1960s, can we see the origin of many hangups and traumas here?

Wednesday 11 February 2009

Former City of London School for Boys, Victoria Embankment EC4

Between the statues of giants of poetry, drama and science, the arches of the City of London School were filled with allegorical figures by G. W. Seale, a member of the Seale dynasty of architectural sculptors that included Gilbert Seale who carved the merfolk in Kingsway.
The figures represent the areas of knowledge that the unfortunate boys were expected to study, and their positions form an interesting commentary on the prestige the various subjects enjoyed in Victorian education.
In the prime position, at the centre over the main entrance, are Classics and Poetry. Classics wears a crown and holds a laurel wreath in her hand, presumably ready to bestow on the boy who got the Classics Prize on speech day. Her right hand rests on volumes of Virgil, Ovid and Homer.
Poetry sits beneath a tree and holds a shepherdess's staff, to indicate her pastoral inclinations. In her lap is the gaping mask of tragedy.
On either side are the arts and history.
But relegated to the outside arches are the subjects that would actually have been most use to the students in the rapidly changing technological world of the 1880s, mathematics and science. It took more than a century for the pecking order to change in British education.
I will post pictures of these in the next few days.

Saturday 7 February 2009

Guy's Hospital SE1

Russell Bowes has sent pictures of three charming panels in a wrought iron fence at Guy's Hospital. Designed by David James and made by Chris Butcher, they illustrate the hospital motto Dare Quam Accipere (It is better to give than to receive).
The first shows a patient who has been given so many grapes they have taken root in the bedside cabinet. The next has symbols of the gifts of the staff, with hands of sympathy at the centre, an hour glass for the time they offer and a microscope for scientific knowledge. The medicinal herbs are basil, thyme and rosemary.
The last panel is Sir Thomas Guy, the bookseller and share speculator who built and endowed the hospital. He is an interesting example for our own times - he invested heavily in the South Sea Company but sold his stock at the top of the market for up to £600 a share, thus coming out of the legendary smash with enough money to build a hospital.
Thanks Russell!

Thursday 5 February 2009

Prudential Assurance, Lewisham High Street SE13

Caroline's Miscellany has posted this picture of another statue of Prudence, on the Pru in Lewisham. This one is labelled Prudentia, her old Latin name, and she carries a snake and a book rather than her usual mirror.
Victorian sculptors must have been kept quite busy knocking out statues of the dear girl, as the Prudential chain expanded over the country.

Tuesday 3 February 2009

Former City of London School for Boys, Victoria Embankment EC4

J Daymond & Sons contributed a tremendous number and variety of sculptures and carvings to many prominent Victorian buildings, but little seems to be known about them. Even the incredibly well-informed Bob Speel calls the firm 'obscure'.
All I can find out about them is that in 1902 they had a workshop in Vauxhall Bridge Road and a showroom in Victoria Street. They may have come from Bovey Tracey in Devon which was home to a large clan of Daymonds who were stone masons.
Perhaps that is the clue to their obscurity - they were craftsmen rather than artists. Their work is excellent but completely predictable, as if architects would visit their showroom and order sculpture out of the catalogue, like Argos.

The Daymonds' mag. op. was a set of statues of English worthies on the main facade of the City of London School for Boys, built in 1880 by Davis & Emmanuel, for whom they did a lot of work.
The figures are of Bacon, Shakspeare (sic), Milton and Newton (and another of Sir Thomas More round the side). They are lively and poised, each holding a book except for Newton who is holding a telescope. Surely it is the wrong type - a Newtonian telescope is a short fat reflecting telescope with the eyepiece coming out of the side, whereas the one shown looks more like a standard 19th century marine pattern.
The representative sculptures under the arches are by G. W. Seale, of which more anon.