Friday 30 July 2010

Former Woolworth HQ, Marylebone Road NW1

Woolworth's UK headquarters is a dull building by that very dull architect, Colonel Seifert. In 1955 it was believed that covering the front with stone made any building great.
It is made memorable by decorative work by Bainbridge Copnall.
To find out more, I asked Paul Seaton, long-time Woolworths employee and author of A Sixpenny Romance, a history of the store.
Paul very kindly emailed some of Copnall's own words about the Woolworth sculpture. His description of the group over the main entrance reads:
"A group over the Canopy descriptive of Oversea's (sic) Trade, symbolising a Mariner holding the globe in his hand on which he is pointing out the position of Woolworths throughout the world to a man and woman on either side of him. The male figure has his left hand on a full sack of Good Fruits."

The most prominent item is a heraldic-looking panel on the penthouse floor at the top of the facade. Copnall restates Woolworth's 'Diamond W' trademark...
" the form of a square, depicting the 'W' for Woolworths surmounting a Cornucopia of Plenty, superimposed on a background of Sea, Ground and Air; held by Supporters depicting Male and Female holding up the main mast and flagpole from the ship Mayflower symbolising the Trade Fellowship between the U.S.A. and Britain; the whole mounted on the Dove of Peace under which radiates from the centre - Rays of Gold. The whole work was modelled in a manner to enable squares of mosaic to catch the sun and glitter as in a precious jewel....The work was applied to the stone with phosphor bronze corbels, and weighed approximately 1.25 tons. It took about three months to make and was built entirely from my full size drawings."
The edges of the building on either side of the facade were decorated with intaglio figures, which Copnall describes as follows:
"Two incised carvings on the sides and base of the building. They depict the Sunrise and Sunset, symbolising the full day of activity in the building; these are carved direct into the stone from full size drawings; automatic hammers were used throughout. This is a new technique for carvings and they will continue to read stronger and stronger as the years progress." 

Wednesday 28 July 2010

42-46 Wigmore Street W1

This pair of very relaxed putti is above the central arch of an 1882 shop designed by George & Peto in the Dutch style, in red brick with terracotta facings and a line of frilly gables on top. The site was the original Debenhams, but I have been unable to find out if this building was built for the plutocratic draper which in any event moved over the road in 1907.

Friday 16 July 2010

Victoria Palace Theatre, Victoria Street SW1

I have been given a great advance birthday present - a Fujifilm Finepix HS10 with a 30x zoom.
This brings even the most skyward sculpture within range. To give an idea, here is yet another pic of the statue of Pavlova on the Victoria Palace, which is the highest statue I can see as I emerge from the station. Unfortunately, the day was grey and threatening rain so quality is not as good as it might be.
The statues at the base of the cupola are made of Gibbs & Canning's white faience, so it is probable they were created by the company's chief modeller John Evans.
The one on the left holds a cornucopia o'erflowing with fruit'n'veg, and points upward to the prima ballerina. The one on the right brandishes a palm in her right hand and holds a lute rather awkwardly with her left, strumming with her thumb.

Friday 9 July 2010

Stanford, 12-14 Long Acre WC2

Stanford was Mecca for explorers, empire-builders and travelling salesmen, supplying maps of the world when a third of it was coloured pink. Now it sells Rough Guides to backpackers, but its Flemish renaissance style headquarters still has plenty of Victorian confidence and panache.
It was designed in 1900 by Read & Macdonald, who covered plots all over Mayfair with similar items.
The name over the door is flanked by map-making impedimenta - a pair of compasses on the left and pens and ink on the right.
The first-floor panel had the royal arms (Stanford was By Royal Appointment) and the arms of their principal suppliers - on the left the Board of Ordnance, on the right the Hydrographer of the Navy.

Monday 5 July 2010

St Martin's House, 1 Gresham Street EC1

Despite its florid Flemish Renaissance all-over carving of this 1891 Victorian office block, the Gresham Street facade of St Martin's House is only the side entrance - the postal address is St Martin's le Grand.
The carvings are rather superior. Most are strapwork with fanciful beasts, but these two Renaissance heads are particularly good.
The jolly, smiling Mr Sun in the semicircular pediment above the door is particularly enjoyable.
Hilariously, the carved stone name panel below has an aberrant apostrophe. Did no-one notice when the scaffolding came down, or was it just too expensive to correct?