Wednesday 27 May 2009

Royal Society of Arts, Durham House Street WC2

This elegant facade peeps through a gap in the buildings on the south side of the Strand. It is easy to assume that it is by the Adam brothers, because it is the rear of their building for the Royal Society of Arts in the Adelphi.
But it was designed in as late as 1926 by Maurice Webb, the son of Sir Aston Webb who was famous as the architect of the V&A, Admiralty Arch and the main facade of Buckingham Palace.
The statue of the generously-hipped Greek lady with an urn on her head is by Walter Gilbert, cousin of Sir Alfred Gilbert (famous for Eros) and father of Donald (who later did a big figure on the New Adelphi).
Walter Gilbert founded the Bromsgrove Guild of Decorative Arts and was responsible for the ornate metal gates on Aston Webb's Buck House scheme. Later he set up a workshop in Birmingham with Louis Weingartner, bashing out garden sculpture and war memorials.
The plaques below show jolly naked infants playing the harp, painting and studying a scroll, presumably revising for their RSA qualifications.They were supplied by the architectural sculptors EJ & AT Bradford.

Thursday 21 May 2009

30 Old Bond Street, W1

Nobody seems to know who designed this typically Victorian iron-framed shop. It
features an aedicule (Latin for 'little house') over the shop front, with classical goddesses in the spandrels of the arched window.
The one on the left seems to be Athena, with her lamp of wisdom and holding the winged figure of Nike (Victory) in her hand. Usually, she is shown holding Nike in her hand like a symbol of queenly authority, such as an orb, but here she is dandling her on her knee like a mother with her child. Nike offers her a globe with outstretched arms - arms so long her knuckles would drag along the ground if she had to walk rather than fly.
The figure on the right may be Clio, the muse of history, indicated by the rather unwieldy scroll she is brandishing. She also has an painter's palette, so perhaps she is intended as an all-purpose muse for all the arts.

Saturday 16 May 2009

Halifax, Strand WC2

The Prudential was famous for projecting an image of probity and stability with statues of Prudentia erected on its branches round the country, but until I passed the Halifax building in the Strand I hadn't realised that they too had a 'house style' in sculpture.
The Halifax adopted the arms of their home town, which is a slightly gruesome image of the blood-dripping head of John the Baptist on a plate, with the chequerboard of the Norman overlord Earl Warenne in the background and the Lamb and Flag above. The inscription Halez-Fax perpetuates a bogus 19th century derivation of the town's name from the early English for 'Holy Face' (actually, the name probably comes from the Old English for 'area of coarse grass in a nook of land').
The Society added a pair of classically dressed supporters (or, in the case of the woman, classically partially-dressed).
The Strand building was designed in 1932 by Colonel George Val Myer & F.J. Watson-Hart, a firm of commercial architects whose big commission was Broadcasting House.
The Lamb and Flag is so badly worn it looks more like an elephant - compare the arms on the Kingston upon Thames branch.

Wednesday 13 May 2009

New Adelphi WC2

The front entrance of the ghastly New Adelphi is flanked by a pair of bas reliefs by Newbury Trent, a sculptor who had twin lines of business doing angels for war memorials and carvings for Odeon cinemas.
The panels are action packed maritime scenes. On the left, shipwrights refit a sailing ship. Men climb the rigging, hauling spars into position. On deck, coopers repair barrels. The end of one of them is a convenient place for Trent to sign his name with the date - 1938.

On the right is a confusion of small boats and swimmers. At the top, a rower pulls on his oars while a swimmer holds on to the gunwale of the boat. Below, a man dives into the water as another throws a life preserver in. In what is presumably a larger vessel at the bottom, sailors haul on ropes.

Saturday 9 May 2009

Church Row, Wandsworth SW18

The very fine terrace of Georgian houses in Church Row, Wandsworth, is adorned with this sundial inscribed with the motto Vigilate et Orate, or Watch and Pray (Matt 26:41).
The angle of the gnomon shows that the house faces west rather than south, so the dial only tells the time in the afternoon. When the sun is shining. And very inaccurately except at the equinoxes.
Belloc got it right with his sundial motto:

I am a Sundial, and I make a botch,
Of what is done much better by a watch.

Sunday 3 May 2009

44 Old Bond Street W1

The Queen Anne style turns up in some odd places, and here it is in the West End painted an unlikely shade of lilac. It comes as something of a shock to discover that Glyn's House (1906) is by the same architects who designed Wandsworth Town Hall in 1935 - W. and E. Hunt. The Hunts clearly moved with the times - here they are Arts and Craft, at Wandsworth they have gone Art Deco.
The naked ladies on the second floor are pure Edwardian - shapely, voluptuous and as unlike Kate Moss as it is possible to imagine. Pevsner calls them caryatids but they aren't really. Caryatids stand in for columns, supporting the entablature on their heads, whereas these girls stand in front with a volute behind supporting the entablature.
The big curved pediment above has plasterwork that could have come from Hampton Court or somewhere, with floral swags and a mischievous winged putto.