Friday 19 October 2012

Lord's Cricket Ground, St John's Wood NW8

This is one of the most prominent sculptures in London but nobody notices it. Something to do with its position on a nightmare roundabout where both drivers and pedestrians are concentrating on not getting killed rather than admiring the surroundings.
It is a relief by Gilbert Bayes showing sportsmen and the tools of their trades. Cricketers are at the centre, naturally enough, where a batsman and a bowler admire the surprisingly tiny Ashes trophy. Next to them is an athlete toweling himself off - an excuse for a nude.
Other sports are represented by (left to right) tennis players, golfers, footballers, a rower and swimmers. The relief was done in 1934 so although there is a woman golfer, tennis player and swimmer but no females in the other sports.
The figures are wonderfully formed, honed athletes rather than the muscle-bound god that Hodge put on the PLA building, featured in a recent post.
That famous line from Sir Henry Newbolt's Vitai Lampada, "Play up, play up, and play the game" runs above the group. More than anything in Kipling it summarises what was nasty about Imperial England - conformist, hectoring, class-ridden and sentimental.

Thursday 11 October 2012

Old St Pancras Church House, Crowndale Road NW1

The cult of St Pancras was brought to England with St Augustine, who carried relics of the martyr in his baggage. St Pancras Old Church is said to be one of the oldest places of Christian worship in England, which explains how the name of this early Roman martyr came to be so common in London, a place he had no association with whatsoever.
The church itself is right next to the station, so it was rather isolated from the community after the railway took over much of the land for marshalling yards in the later Victorian period. This must have been part of the motivation for building this charming mission hall to the north of the church in 1896 to the designs of C.R. Baker King.
The figure of the saint over the door was carved by Harry Hems (1842-1916), an eccentric and excitable sculptor who had made his home in Exeter after winning a commission to work on the Royal Albert Memorial Museum there. He was known for refusing to pay what he described as the iniquitous demands of the Inland Revenue, and preparing the catalogues of the resulting forced sales of his works himself. The lots he selected included the crowbar used by the bailiffs, and three "second-hand tombstones (slightly damaged) ... suitable for the graves of Income Tax Commissioners or other Revenue Officials". The publicity did him no harm at all.
His statue of St Pancras shows the 14 year old boy in a toga and carrying a bible and a martyr's palm - he was beheaded for defying the Emperor Diocletian. St Pancras is the patron saint of children and his aid is invoked in cases of cramps, headaches, false witness and perjury.

Thursday 4 October 2012

10 Trinity Square EC3

10 Trinity Square was old-fashioned when it was built in 1922 to the designs of the Imperial architect Sir Edwin Cooper.
It was the headquarters of the mighty Port of London Authority, which we now look back on as somehow eternal but was established as late as 1909 to bring order to the cut-throat competition between the privately-owned dock and wharf companies.
Like County Hall, where Cooper had been runner-up in the competition for the design, the First World War delayed construction and when completed it was an Edwardian building in the Art Deco age.
Cooper had commissioned his favourite sculptor, Albert Hodge, to create massive symbolic figures for the PLA building. He had created sketch models of three groups including this monumental figure of Father Thames when he suddenly died in 1917, at the age of just 42. His assistant Charles Doman executed Hodge's designs and added two of his own.
Father Thames has a truly memorable flowing beard and is something of a body-builder ('muscles like penny rolls' as R.L. Stevenson put it). He stands on an anchor and holds a trident, his free hand pointing downriver towards the sea.