Monday 27 June 2011

Bank Underground Station, King William Street EC4

The City and South London Railway was the first deep level 'tube' line in the capital, and indeed the world. It was also the first to use electric locomotives. The carriages had no windows on the grounds that there was nothing to see through them, gaining them the nickname 'padded cells'.
Bank station was the original northern terminus, with a booking hall located rather strangely in the crypt of Hawksmoor's St Mary Woolnoth. The entrances in King William Street were designed in 1899 by Sydney Smith, architect of the Tate Gallery in Millbank.
The two figures were carved by Oliver Wheatley, who had trained under Thomas Brock and in Paris. The woman on the left represents Electricity, surrounded by billowing thunder-clouds and shooting lightning bolts from her extended finger. Mercury reclines on the right, representing Speed. Scrolls above the figures where originally intended to bear the name of the company.
I ought to love a composition as barkingly mad as this, but it is strangely unsatisfactory. The figures are oddly stiff and lifeless and look rather cheap. Perhaps the railway had run out of money after paying the church £170,000 for the use of the crypt.

Friday 10 June 2011

Department of Energy and Climate Change, Whitehall Place SW1

What a pleasure it is to happen on a fabulous building you had never noticed before despite it being in an area you have been cycling round for forty years.
Admittedly, it isn't on any of the tourist trails, being built in 1951 for the Ministry of Agriculture. The architect was C.E. Mee of the Ministry of Works, whose only other work I can find is a school canteen in Clacton.
The style is an official, safe version of the Lutyens classicism of twenty years before, and as such is very acceptable and well handled. But the outstanding element is the sculpture by James Woodford, who created the bronze doors and guardian figures on the RIBA in Portland Place.
Woodford carved a massive royal coat of arms over the front door, adding fecund ears of wheat. On either side are men riding a bull (left) and a dolphin (right).
Woodford also carved a sequence of attractive keystones depicting various animals just below us in the food chain, which I will post over the next few days.
The building was reconstructed behind the facade in 2003 and is now occupied by the Department for Energy and Climate Change, so Woodford's sculptures are still appropriate, sort of.

Tuesday 7 June 2011

Howard de Walden Estate Office, 23 Queen Anne Street W1

The Howard de Walden Estate, which owns most of the north part of St Marylebone, moved into purpose built offices in 1937. The architects were Messrs. Joseph, who also designed the Shell Mex building on the Embankment and many synagogues.
The plaque is attributed to William Charles Holland King, a Cheltenham-born sculptor well known for animal bronzes and war memorials, though almost every sculptor working from 1918 onwards did a sadly large number of war memorials. One of his more unusual commissions was a series of miniature sculptures to go on Edwin Lutyens's great model of the proposed Catholic Cathedral in Liverpool, that unfortunately never got above basement level. King later became president of the Royal Society of British Sculptors.
The Estate's archivist and librarian, Richard Bowden, kindly looked up details of the design for me and wrote: "It replaced an older Estate office building on the same site and as photographs of the earlier building show an older plaque commemorating JMW Turner on its facade it seems likely that the new one would have been made soon after the opening of this new office."
It is a simple bas relief of the great man's head, beautifully carved. Such as shame the architect placed it under a balcony so half of it is hidden in shadow.

Wednesday 1 June 2011

81 King William Street EC4

Prudence, with her mirror and serpent
Foresight, with a winged herald's staff or kerykeion
The Moscow Narodny Bank was built as the London Life Association in 1925 by W. Curtis Green. It is a standard City Baroque job, designed to emphasise all the virtues of probity, stability and general holiness that the financial sector still holds so dear, and allegories of those virtues are placed on the broken pediments at either end of the building.
The figures are by Herbert Palliser, and, as with his other work of this period, they are a step away from the Edwardians with their bosomy goddesses and muscle-bound heroes.
Unity, with a fasces
Security, with a guardian's spear

The front door is decorated with these playful putti by Charles Hartwell, a sculptor better known for his bronze animals. The boys in the centre hold the seal of the London Life Association, a bucolic scene showing a man in 18th century garb sowing and a cherub reaping at the same time, rather oddly.