Saturday 20 November 2010

Minerva House, North Crescent WC1

The Minerva Motor Company was a Belgian luxury marque that once had a reputation as high as Rolls Royce or Mercedes.
This ad appeared in 1905 ad in the Ashburton Guardian - note the car's top speed of 'up to 25 miles per hour and the added inducement 'Purchasers taught to drive free of charge'. I bet you got what you paid for.
The price of £176 equates roughly to £15,000 now, which seems cheap for a top quality car but you didn't get many of the features we take for granted today. Such as a roof, for example.
The Minerva Motor Company built a swanky headquarters and repair shop just off the Tottenham Court Road in 1912 which was rather bad timing. Minerva survived the First World War by building armoured cars, as Rolls Royce did.
Their London HQ was designed by George Vernon and decorated with a statue of Minerva. Regretably, there does not seem to be any record of the sculptor. Even more regretably, the architect placed Minerva in front of a window which now looks extremely tawdry. As a final indignity, the landscaped park she used to look out on was destroyed in 1941 when the lifts were installed for government bomb shelters. The unsightly structures are still there.

Sunday 14 November 2010

Covent Garden Market WC2

The charming allegorical group stands on the east end of the Charles Fowler's Market House of 1828. Two women support Cupid, who stands on a plinth. One holds a laurel wreath over his head as the other adjusts a swag of flowers and fruit around a cornucopia. The material is the famous artificial stone made by Mrs Coade at her factory in Lambeth. The modeller was R.W. Sievers, about whom I have been able to discover nothing.

Tuesday 2 November 2010

Old Middlesex Sessions House, Clerkenwell Green EC1

Middlesex built its court house in a rather dreary, industrial area on the northern edge of Georgian London, so it must have stood out considerably when it was newly built amid the workshops and factories of Clerkenwell in 1779. The architect was Thomas Rogers, the county surveyor.
The good burghers clearly decided to push the boat out and got Joseph Nollekens to carve the panels on the facade. He was probably the most famous sculptor in England at that time - when he had become a member of the Royal Academy just seven years before, his diploma had been signed personally by King George III. A bust of the King appears over the central window.
To the monarch's right is Justice, seated and correctly wearing no blindfold. She holds a drawn sword in her left hand and scales with her right.
On the left sits Mercy, her sword sheathed and holding a sceptre with a dove of peace perching on the crown.

Nollekens was the London-born son of a Dutch painter, and was said to have been abundantly naturally talented but rather dim. He made an enormous sum of money when he went to Rome on a study tour and found a lucrative market sculpting souvenir busts of visiting English notables, including David Garrick and Laurence Sterne. He also bought fragments of Roman sculpture and added all the missing limbs to sell to credulous collectors as perfect specimens.
The court house pediment is filled with the arms of Middlesex, probably not by Nollekens. The three weapons are usually described by tour guides as scimitars but they are actually seaxes, the notched sword of the Anglo-Saxon warrior.
They also appear on the arms of Essex. The shield is surrounded by a luxuriant growth of oak, the tree of Middlesex, and laurel.