Friday, 30 July 2010

Former Woolworth HQ, Marylebone Road NW1

Woolworth's UK headquarters is a dull building by that very dull architect, Colonel Seifert. In 1955 it was believed that covering the front with stone made any building great.
It is made memorable by decorative work by Bainbridge Copnall.
To find out more, I asked Paul Seaton, long-time Woolworths employee and author of A Sixpenny Romance, a history of the store.
Paul very kindly emailed some of Copnall's own words about the Woolworth sculpture. His description of the group over the main entrance reads:
"A group over the Canopy descriptive of Oversea's (sic) Trade, symbolising a Mariner holding the globe in his hand on which he is pointing out the position of Woolworths throughout the world to a man and woman on either side of him. The male figure has his left hand on a full sack of Good Fruits."

The most prominent item is a heraldic-looking panel on the penthouse floor at the top of the facade. Copnall restates Woolworth's 'Diamond W' trademark...
" the form of a square, depicting the 'W' for Woolworths surmounting a Cornucopia of Plenty, superimposed on a background of Sea, Ground and Air; held by Supporters depicting Male and Female holding up the main mast and flagpole from the ship Mayflower symbolising the Trade Fellowship between the U.S.A. and Britain; the whole mounted on the Dove of Peace under which radiates from the centre - Rays of Gold. The whole work was modelled in a manner to enable squares of mosaic to catch the sun and glitter as in a precious jewel....The work was applied to the stone with phosphor bronze corbels, and weighed approximately 1.25 tons. It took about three months to make and was built entirely from my full size drawings."
The edges of the building on either side of the facade were decorated with intaglio figures, which Copnall describes as follows:
"Two incised carvings on the sides and base of the building. They depict the Sunrise and Sunset, symbolising the full day of activity in the building; these are carved direct into the stone from full size drawings; automatic hammers were used throughout. This is a new technique for carvings and they will continue to read stronger and stronger as the years progress." 

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