Saturday 30 July 2016

London School of Economics Old Building, Clare Market WC2

The Clare Market facade of the LSE's old library was added in 1932 by the architect A.S.G. Butler, best known these days as the author of many books on Lutyen's works. It is decorated by sculpted panels by Edgar Silver Frith, a member of a sculptural dynasty and lecturer at the South London Technical School of Art.
Apparently they represent different modes of thinking, from which we can conclude;
a) Thought hurts;
b) Thought is done exclusively by men.

The Thinking Men are currently obscured by construction so these pictures are provisional.

30 Russell Square WC1

Joseph Priestley sits over the main entrance of Birkbeck College, his head resting in his left hand, examining a huge scroll that drops over this lap down to the floor. Is he boning up on the latest developments in chemistry? or electricity? or theology? or English grammar? Perhaps he is studying one of languages he spoke, including Greek, Latin, Hebrew, French, Italian, German, Arabic and Aramaic? He was a true Renaissance man.
The statue was carved by Gilbert Bayes in 1914 when the building was erected for the Royal Institute of Chemistry, to designs by Sir John Burnet. Priestley is today remembered most for his part in the discovery of oxygen, though he called it 'dephlogisticated air.' reflecting his unyielding attachment to the phlogiston theory that was being debunked at the time by his arch-rival Lavoisier.

Tuesday 17 May 2016

Cook Memorial, The Mall SW1

Captain Cook is one of my all-time heroes, possibly the greatest navigator who ever lived.
This 1910 statue is by Sir Thomas Brock. It retains a naval setting, standing in front of the Admiralty extension of the 1890s with its wireless telegraphy aerials preserved from the days of the Dreadnoughts. Cook would have known their predessor, the giant semaphore tower that clicked and clacked its messages for transmission down a chain to the fleet at Portsmouth.

Friday 6 May 2016

Royal Marines Memorial, The Mall, SW1

This noble figure of a Marine standing guard over a fallen comrade was created by Adrian Jones in 1903 to commemorate the fallen of the South African wars and the Boxer Rebellion in China.
The sculptor was self-taught, taking up sculpture after serving as an Army vetinerary officer, facts which help explain the unconventional but moving composition and the correct military detail.
The plinth was designed by the architect Sir Thomas G Jackson, and incorporates two bronze reliefs by Jones depicting on the left the Battle of Graspan in the Boer War and on the right the defence of the International Legations in the Boxer Rebellion.
Though a victory, the Battle of Graspan was not exactly a glittering example of British military prowess. General Lord Methuen completely failed to understand the threat posed by long range rifle fire, enabling the undisciplined but hotshot Afrikaaner farmers to create havoc from their hilltop positions.
The main British advantage was in artillery, famously including two long naval 12 pounders taken from HMS Doris and mounted on improvised carriages - dramatically depicted in Jones's relief, shelling the Boers as the Marines storm up the hill.
In 1900 a millennial cult of unspeakable ferocity, violently zenophobic and anti-Christian, called the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fists but better known today by the name given them by Western diplomats, the Boxers, attacked Peking and laid siege to the quarter that housed the foreign embassies. 
Jones's relief shows Royal Marines scaling the Legation wall to storm a Boxer rampart, causing the Chinese to throw down their Mausers and run. To the right, a Boxer is being bayoneted in a scene that shows Jones was not afraid to portray the horror of war in a way that is unusually frank for a war memorial.
The memorial was originally placed over the road, being removed for the construction of the Citadel during WWII. It was re-erected in its present position in 1948 and dedicated as the national Marines monument in 2000.

Sunday 17 April 2016

32 Saffron Hill EC1

L.&.Co were Longmans, the publishers of dictionaries and other good works - the founder, Thomas Longman, inherited a share in Ephraim Chambers' Cyclopaedia and was one of the booksellers responsible for marketing Samuel Johnson's Dictionary.
Longman started in 1726 in a shop in Paternoster Row under the sign of the Ship, later expanding into premises next door under the sign of the Black Swan. Both symbols were used by his company thereafter.In the nineteenth century Longmans started producing lavishly bound editions which proved so popular the bindery in Paternoster Row was unable to keep up, so in 1887 this works was built to expand production, apparently causing something of a stir in the book trade. 
Known as the Ship Binding Works, it was highly regarded and produced prize-winning bindings for exhibitions.The bindery went independent but was bombed out in 1941 and closed.

Saturday 19 March 2016

The Anchorage, Clare Market WC2

The Anchorage was the parsonage of St Clement Danes church in the Strand, so the wall is embellished with an anchor, the symbol of St Clement, an early Pope. He was tied to one and thrown into the sea on the orders of the Emperor Trajan.
The building dates from about 1800 but was not occupied by the rector until later so the anchor probably dates from the second half of the 19th century.
But it won't be there much longer - the building is being demolished to make way for the LSE's enormous new tower designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour.

Thursday 17 March 2016

Lincolns Inn Fields WC2

Margaret MacDonald was a feminist who worked tirelessly for the rights of women at work, becoming a member of the Women's Industrial Council in 1894, where she conducted an enquiry into women's home work (a notoriously exploitative system) and championing training of women for skilled work. She set up the first trade schools for girls in 1904.
But, as ever, the main reason she is commemorated by this impressive seat in one of London's premier squares is that she was married to a famous and powerful man, viz Ramsay MacDonald, the first Labour prime minister.
She married MacDonald in 1896. By all accounts it was a happy union, resulting in six children, and MacDonald was devastated when she suddenly died in 1911 from blood poisoning - she was only 41.
Legend has it that Ramsay MacDonald designed her monument himself, for execution by the sculptor Richard Goulden, completed in 1914. It seems more likely that MacDonald gave Goulden a detailed brief rather than an actual design. It is a touching tribute to a wife and mother - make sure you read the bronze plate on the back of the stone seat.

Saturday 27 February 2016

Lincolns Inn Fields WC2

John Hunter was 'the founder of scientific surgery', according to the brass plaque on the side of his bust located close to the museum that bears his name.
The lively bronze was sculpted by Nigel Boonham in 1977 to celebrate the Queen's Silver Jubilee (Her Madge is Visitor and Hon Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, where the Hunterian museum is housed.)
Hunter's vast collection of bits of human stuff was the result of a lifetime of investigation - he famously said "Why think, why not try the experiment?" This dedication to the scientific method didn't mean he was right all the time, however. He thought syphilis and gonorrhea were the same disease and advocated mercury for both. Such was his reputation this was unquestioningly accepted and the truth was not discovered for over 50 years.

Friday 5 February 2016

St Clements Building, Clare Market WC2

It's hard to believe, but this anodyne mosaic provoked a furious reaction when it was unveiled, with calls from both extremes of the political spectrum for its removal.
It was created by glass artist Harry Warren Wilson when the building was modernised for the London School of Economics in 1959-61. Originally constructed in 1898 as a print works for the Financial Times and a publication called Votes for Women, the conversion involved stripping it back to its steel frame and adding a clean, modern but boring new facade.
Wilson's mural is the only decorative touch, illustrating the Thames from Woolwich to Battersea in vitreous mosaic. Aluminium cutouts represent the various academic fields of interest of the LSE, From the top, they are a clipper ship for commerce; a plane for transport; the Royal Exchange for finance; Justicia for the law; the Houses of Parliament for government and Battersea Power Station for industry.
Sue Donnelly, the LSE's archivist, tells me that the mosaic was so unpopular a motion requesting its removal was presented to the Academic Board.
"I think the argument about removing the mosaic was a reflection of the artistic conservatism of the academic body – indeed it is a debate that finds political opponents Kenneth Minogue and Ralph Milliband in agreement – which must have been a first. Interestingly today people either like the mosaic or are indifferent – it doesn’t appear to arouse great passions," Sue writes.
Indeed, a cause that united arch-conservative Minogue and foaming radical Milliband must have been passionately held.
Fortunately, the Board managed to work out that the cost of ripping it off and replacing it with windows was prohibitive.

Wednesday 3 February 2016

The Young Lovers, Festival Gardens EC4

The Young Lovers is a piece by Austrian-born artist Georg Ehrlich. It was created in 1951 for the second open air sculpture exhibition in Battersea Park, held at the same time as the Festival of Britain.
Festival Gardens were the City of London's contribution to the nationwide jamboree, also intended as a war memorial. They were laid out by Sir Albert Richardson, who designed a fountain with bronze lion's head spouts but no other sculpture.
However, in 1969 money for public sculpture became available at just the moment when The Young Lovers came on the market. Ehrlich himself had died in 1966, So now this elegant, optimistic, idealistic couple, clothed in just the right amount of tulle to avoid public comment, canoodle gently on the sunny side of the cathedral.
Ehrlich, a Jew, was a leading exponent of Viennese expressionism. When the Nazis moved in he was in London and wisely stayed, getting his wife to follow him with as many of his works as she could bring. They became naturalised Britons after the war.

Monday 1 February 2016

St Paul's Churchyard EC4

John Donne is commemorated by two statues in St Paul's, the famous image within the cathedral of his corpse in a winding sheet by Nicholas Stone, and now this one in the churchyard. It is by Nigel Boonham, cast in bronze in 2012.
The poet and churchman is shown facing west but looking south towards his birthplace close by in Bread Street. For Donne, east was the direction of the rising sun, Jerusalem and hope, while west was the way of decline and death, and beneath the bust is inscribed a line from Good Friday 1613, Riding Westward:
Hence is't, that I am carried towards the West,
This day, when my Soul's form bends to the East

Monday 18 January 2016

193 Fleet Street EC4

George Attenborough and Son is one of the very few premises in London still bearing the name of the business that built it. It was erected in 1883 to the designs of Archer and Green, and is covered with sculpture by Houghton of Great Portland Street.
The main event, however, is the statue of Kaled, or Lara's Page, It is by Giuseppe Grandi, dating from 1872. Attenborough had a niche created specially for it over the front door of his shop.
Kaled is the page of Count Lara in Bryon's poetic story of a nobleman who returns to his ancestral lands to restore justice. He antagonises the neighbouring chieftains who attack and kill him. Kaled stays with his master to the end, when it is revealed he is in fact a woman. She goes mad.
The centre of the curved facade is marked with a couple of rather jolly winged lions holding a wrought iron structure that originally supported the three golden balls denoting Attenborough's other business as a pawnbroker. The motto beneath is the pawnbrokers' motto 'Sub Hoc [signo] floresco' - 'Under this sign I flourish'.
The windows below the lions are embellished with typically Victorian allegorical ladies representing the Arts and Trades, including painting, literature, spinning and beekeeping. One of them holds a caduceus in one hand and a cornucopia in the other, which mixes the messages rather.
The Chancery Lane windows have roundels depicting heroes of art from Michelangelo to Flaxman.
And for typografans, the lintels of the second storey windows have a florid decorated initial: