Saturday 27 July 2013

Beaufoy Institute, 39 Black Prince Road SE11

The Beaufoy Institute grew out of the Lambeth Ragged Schools, set up in 1846 to give a secular education to local children who had previously had access only to religious instruction on Sundays. The wife of a local distiller, Eliza Beaufoy, supported the venture but unfortunately died in 1847. Fortunately for the school, her grieving widower Henry decided to fund a new school on lavish lines in her memory.
That building was demolished in 1904 to provide more railway lines into Waterloo, and the school moved to Black Prince Road taking with them this charming sculpture by Samuel Nixon.
Nixon was a local man, a friend of Henry Doulton, and employed by him at the great pottery works further down the road to design the terracotta sculptural works the firm began producing in the 1830s.
A young teacher runs her finger along a line in a book, lit by the Torch of Enlightenment. She and her young charges are in classical dress.
Below, now separated from the group by an inscription recording the opening of the new building, is a quote from Shakespeare: "Those that do teach young babes/ Do it with gentle means and easy tasks".
It seems very appropriate, until you think that this is Desdemona's lament over her husband's changed treatment of her shortly before he smothers her to death.
For many years the Torch of Enlightenment was used as a road sign to mark schools. The cartoonist Fougasse drew two tramps looking at the sign, one saying "It never torch you and me much."

Tuesday 23 July 2013

Jolly Gardeners, Black Prince Road SE11

The Jolly Gardeners (1890) has a rather superior sign in the form of a cast stone relief of two very jolly gardeners, one holding a scythe and the other a spade. One is clearly saying to the other that it is time to down tools and go to the rubbidy for a pigs or twain.
Marc Girouard in his magnificent book Victorian Pubs ascribes the work to Frederick T. Callcutt, who had a close association with the architect, R.A. Lewcock. Callcutt also worked on the amazing Black Friar pub in the City.
There are identical casts on either end of the building - two for the price of one.

Thursday 18 July 2013

Waterloo War Memorial Arch, York Road SE1

Waterloo Station was in the throes of a rebuild when war broke out in 1914, a war that claimed the lives of 585 members of the railway staff. When peace came, it was decided to devote the only corner of the site that could be seen from any sort of distance to a memorial that would double as an imposing station entrance.
The sculpture was commissioned from the firm of Brindley and Farmer and may have been carved by Charles Whiffen.
Over the arch, Britannia 'holds aloft the sacred torch of Liberty to her own greatness and glory, and for the guidance of her children and her children's children, and the benefit of mankind in general', in the words of the Architect's Journal.
On either side, children play with the spoils of victory - a laurel wreath, surrendered ensigns etc.
To the left, a vision of 1914 with the goddess Bellona. Bellona is traditionally shown as a muse, a statuesque female in armour carrying a sword and a torch, but here she is more of a harpy, bringing suffering and death. Around her men and women shriek and mourn. To the left, a veiled woman raises the hand of blessing over a dead boy.
On the right, 1918 brings peace. Athena, the goddess of wisdom, courage, strategy, civilisation and just warfare, holds the figure of Nike, the winged goddess of victory and extends the palm of peace to a globe in the lap of a warrior with a sheathed sword. Behind, corn grows. A couple hold their infant son. It must have seemed richly ironic in 1939.

Wednesday 10 July 2013

14-16 Hans Road SW1

The Arts and Crafts architect Charles Voysey designed this pair of houses in 1891 at the outset of his career, and they form something of a contrast with his usual output of suburban villas for intellectual bankers.
They are also a stirring contrast with the general run of houses round Harrods, with horizontal lines of windows and curious little oriels.
The joined porches over the front doors conceal a delightful surprise - two ceramic panels by Conrad Dressler. One is a naked man with cloak and a lanthorn, disturbing a bird as he creeps through the night. The other is a tiger stalking through an Asian forest.

Tuesday 9 July 2013

Shell Centre, Belvedere Road SE1

It's an odd position for a great piece, on a service road guarding the entrance to an underground car park, but Eric Aumonier's Shell Ball has a grandeur and quality that shines out.
The ball is built up of latitudes of contrasting stone, polished granite for the poles and the tropics alternating with carved limestone. The equator has Shell Oil's ubiquitous trade mark scallops around it, against the sea.
The piece was commissioned by the architects of the Shell Centre, Easton and Robertson, and presented to the company when the building was finished in 1963.