Saturday, 13 June 2009

Victoria Station SW1

Caroline of Caroline's Miscellany commented on the timing of my last post - apparently she spent a good deal of time during last week's tube strike looking at Victoria Station.
So Caroline, if Bob Crow's merry men carry out their threat to do it again, this is for you:

The western half of Victoria Station, the terminus of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway, was built in 1906 by the railway's own architect C.D. Collins and its engineer Charles L. Morgan. The centrepiece of the facade is topped with a bizarre assemblage of pediment, volutes and a clock. Unfortunately they don't fit together in a unified composition.
A pair of figures recline on the volutes, looking uncomfortably as though they are about slide off and fall through the glass roof of the canopy below.
But the sculptures are very good.
On the left is Hermes, the messenger god, with his winged helmet and staff. On the right is a woman wearing a lionskin, who must therefore be Omphale, Queen of Lydia, who bought Heracles as a slave from Hermes. They were in the habit of cross-dressing, she donning the skin of the Nemean lion and his club, while he put on her flimsy negligee. Those whacky Greek Gods!
Omphale is shown with a palm leaf rather than a club and has a couple of books, possibly the Athens volumes of Bradshaw.
The sculptor seems to be unknown, but the prime suspect has to be Gilbert Seale, who had been employed by Morgan just a few years earlier to tart up the blank wall of the new train shed facing onto Buckingham Palace Road with swags of fruit, coats of arms etc. The figures have a certain tense alertness in common with Seale's merfolk in Kingsway.


Exit, Pursued by a Bear said...

Mercury/Hermes was also the God of Travellers. But I'm sure you already know that.

Chris Partridge said...

Yes, I did know that but I come from a comms background so for me, he is the god of Alternative Phone Companies. Still no closer to why Omphale should be on the other side, however. Anybody got any ideas?

CarolineLD said...

Aw, thank you! And if I am stuck there again, I'll smile at the image of a cross-dressing queen sliding through the glass roof onto the commuters below...

No idea why Omphale, unless it's meant to suggest Victoria Station as the omphalos (navel) of the railway system?

Chris Partridge said...

There's some interesting speculation on the web about why Omphale is named after the navel, all to do with ancient cults.
But if Victoria is the navel of the railway system, what is Crewe?