Friday 29 November 2013

143 Fleet Street EC4

Mary Queen of Scots House was built in 1905 for a Scottish insurance company. The statue was the idea of one of the developers, Sir John Tollemache Sinclair, Bart, MP, who was a big fan of the ill-fated lady.
The architect was one R.M. Roe, who concocted a facade as frilly as a doily with lashings of French Flamboyant tracery. Sadly, the carver of the statue is unknown.
The image seems to be the only outside memorial of Mary, which lead to recent demands for a statue to be erected in Scotland. Ironically, it stands just along the road from a figure of her nemesis, Elizabeth I.

Sunday 24 November 2013

Union Street SE1

When he was just 12 years old, Charles Dickens had to go to work in a blacking factory because his father had been imprisoned in the Marshalsea for debt. His route home from work took him over Blackfriars Bridge into Southwark "down that turning in the Blackfriars Road which has Rowland Hill’s chapel on one side, and the likeness of a golden dog licking a golden pot over a shop door on the other," as he wrote in his autobiography.
The original dog was made of pine with an iron pot. The shop was an ironmonger selling, among other things, kitchen items such as pots, pans and everything needed to build a fire, including cast iron firebacks and the wrought iron supports for the logs, known as fire dogs. So the sign is a bit of a rebus or architectural pun.
The ironmongers also used the design on its range of 'coal plates', the circular cast iron covers for the chutes that punctuated all Victorian pavements, allowing the coal men to pour their loads directly into coal cellars in front of every house.
Dickens made the sign famous, so when the shop was demolished in 1932 it was taken to the Cuming Museum. To celebrate his bicentenary in 2013, a replica carved in elm by Mike Painter was erected on the original site. Trendily, the sign has its own Twitter feed.

Tuesday 19 November 2013

61 Kings Cross Road WC1

This oddity seems to be all that is left of Bagnigge House, in the 17th century the country home, it is said, of Nell Gwynne. It became resort for Londoners, later becoming famous as Bagnigge Wells when mineral springs were discovered, where "both the chalybeate and purging waters are in the greatest perfection ever known, and may be drank at 3d. each person, or delivered at the pump-room at 8d. per gallon. They are recommended by the most eminent physicians for various disorders," as the proprietor bragged.
Bagnigge House was next to the "Pinder a Wakefield", a famous inn. A pinder was the keeper of a pound where stray animals were held, and the Pinder of Wakefield was the truculent hero who bested Robin Hood, Will Scarlet and Little John in a sword fight.
The place declined sadly in Victorian times and was built over in the 1850s. The plaque used to stand on a garden entrance.

Thursday 7 November 2013

58 Grafton Way W1

The Venezualan patriot Francisco de Miranda lived at 58 Grafton Way from 1802 to 1810, during which time it became a hotbed of South American revolutionary fervour where all the famous names from Bolivar down met and plotted.
In 1810 Miranda returned to Venezuala and became its first revolutionary leader, only to be deposed by a Spanish counter-attack. On his way to be evacuated by a British warship he was handed over to the Spanish authorities by, ironically, Bolivar. Miranda died in prison a few years later.
The statue is a copy of one made in 1895 by the Venezualan sculptor Rafael de la Cova. It was put in position in 1990 after the restoration of the house as a cultural centre.

Saturday 2 November 2013

Thomas More Square E1

The Swedish sculptor Carl Milles (1875-1955) began creating angel musicians in 1918 on the death of his closest friend, the composer Emil Sj√∂gren in 1918. The original Angel Musician with Flute was a memorial statue, but it was followed by angels with trumpet, tuba, panpipe and clarinet. They stand, singly and in small bands, in gardens mainly in Sweden and the US, where Milles was a teacher for many years. His naked figures often offended delicate American sensibilities - he used to say that he had a 'fig-leaf maker on retainer'.
Milles worked for a while in the studio of Auguste Rodin. When he left he feared being written-off as a mere imitator of the great man, so he deliberately struck out on his own path to create figures that seem to fly or float, supported by discrete steel pillars.
This one was placed in Thomas More Square when it was built in 1991, unveiled by art collector and modern architecture fan Lord Palumbo.
If you like this charming figure, you can buy an official, 59cm high copy cast in bronze by one of the foundries that Milles himself used, from the Millesgarden, the sculptor's summer home and lifetime project. A bargain at 19,000 krone (£1,850 approx).