Friday 30 December 2011

Oriental Club, Stratford Place W1

Stratford Place was built in the 1770s as a sort of top-end buy-to-let scheme with terraces of houses framing and funding a grand mansion at the centre.
The name on the drawings is Richard Edwin, but the real designer may well have been the client, the Hon. Edward Stratford, an Irish politician who later became the 2nd Earl of Aldeborough. His hobbies were architecture and quarreling with his family.
Stratford not only named the development after himself but placed his coat of arms in the pediment, on a banner displayed by Mars (Stratford was not a military man but his father was). Fame blows her trumpet while shaking Mars by the hand, which is about as difficult to do as rubbing your tummy and patting your head at the same time.
Those ox-skulls in the frieze below are called bucrania, by the way. Technically, they should only be used in the Doric order, not the Ionic, but that is what happens when amateur architects call the shots.

Monday 19 December 2011

St Martin's School of Art, Charing Cross Road WC2

St Martin's School of Art had its front door at the other end of the building from the College for the Distributive Trades and, as befits the more prestigious institution, has a much bigger entrance. Oddly, however, it has just four panels by Adolfine Ryland against the counter-jumpers' eight.
They are simple small heads, much more self-consciously 'arty'. St Martin is there, as might be expected, with a rather grand-looking couple in Renaissance dress and a crazy scowling lady with a scarf on her head and a flower between her teeth.
The amalgamated with the University of the Arts and moved to King's Cross - the panels now flank the entrance to St Martin's Lofts, the flats above Foyle's bookshop.

Thursday 15 December 2011

College for the Distributive Trades, Charing Cross Road WC2

It would be easy to dismiss the College for the Distributive Trades as a place offering five minute courses teaching checkout girls how to smile sweetly and say hello when you get to the front of the queue, but shop work in the 19th century involved an enormous range of skills in the days before the pre-packaging of everything.
In 1939 it moved into modern accommodation (by E.P. Wheeler) that it shared with St Martin's School of Art. The school was eventually amalgamated into the London College of Communication and decamped to Elephant and Castle, and the building was converted for Foyle's bookshop.
The door was decorated with eight carved panels by Adolfine Ryland, mainly remembered as an artist and printmaker.
The panels show occupations that are now as dead as tallow chandlers or cordwainers. Top left, a draper's assistant draws fabric from a bolt of cloth. Top right, a grocer's assistant puts lids on jars.
The trades that still exist are centre left and right, where window dressers work with lay figures.
The young man on the left wrestles with a torso, while the lady on the right adjusts a wig on a head.
But what a contrast with today's window dressers, who wear jeans and T-shirts - these butterflies are in full formal wear, and their hair is styled, dressed and held in place with regimental discipline.
By the 1930s, science had arrived in shopkeeping, mainly in food, to protect the public and improve the products with longer shelf life and better presentation. Of course, all the scientists were men. Adolfine Ryland shows the boffin on the left doing some sort of experiment with a retort, possibly pasteurising milk or something, and the scientist at the right seems to be examining a fabric under a microscope.
But women's employment was changing too. The seamstress at her sewing machine is doing a job regarded as suitable for underpaid girls since forever, of course, but the cashier examining a ledger at her desk (at the top of the post) is doing a responsible job that many men would have regarded women as too irresponsible and featherheaded to do just a few decades earlier.