Thursday, 19 August 2010

Thames House, Millbank SW1

When the Security Service (better known as MI5 despite being renamed as far back as 1931) moved into the former ICI building just down the road from the Houses of Parliament they were lucky enough to inherit a couple of sculptures that are not only of the highest quality but also rather appropriate. Dating from 1928, they depict St George (left) and Britannia (right) and are by Charles Sargeant Jagger MC.
St George is difficult to interpret. His sword stands point-down in front of him, surrounded by supplicating figures. He holds an amorphous object - the dragon's head?
Britannia also has a sword and supplicating figures, and seems to be holding chests of some sort. The profits of sea-borne trade?
The keystone of the arch above (which used to span Paige Street until the building was converted for the spooks) is equally mysterious. The bearded figure looks like Old Father Thames but is blindfold and holds the sword and scales of Justice.
Most oddly, the balance has the Monarch's crown on one side and a working man's flat cap on the other.
Frankly, the symbolism eludes me.

It doesn't seem to be known who did the other sculptures on Thames House, but they are not nearly craggy enough for Jagger.
The keystone over the visitors' entrance is indisputably Old Father Thames (again), wearing a shell with dolphins on his head. On either side spreads boating paraphenalia including sails, oars, boathooks, lifebelts and mooring chains. The swags of flowers presumably symbolise the prosperity the river brought to London.
The final keystone is a rather lovely girl with her long tresses knotted under her chin and wearing a scallop shell coronet. Bet she has a fishtail where her legs ought to be.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Methodist Missionary Society, Marylebone Road NW1

The trees along Marylebone Road are very nice and all that but they make photographing the sculpture jolly difficult. I think I will have to come back in the winter to retake these excellent works by David Evans on the Methodist Missionary Society building of 1939, designed by Paul Manger, A.J. May and L. Sylvester Sullivan.
The low relief over the front door shows Christ signing up the fishermen Simon, Andrew, James and John as disciples, telling them he will make them 'fishers of men'. Mind you, they seem to have had a very successful time as fishers of fish, judging by the number of heads peeking out from the stern of the boat. Perhaps it is a hint at the miraculous draft of fishes, Christ's first miracle after the resurrection.
High up on the side of the building are three fine portraits, one of a nurse cradling a baby, the others of African and Indian converts.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Ferguson House, 15 Marylebone Road NW1

This self-effacing 1957 office block stands on the site of one of Charles Dickens's favourite houses which he occupied from 1839 to 1851.
A huge panel sculpted by Estcourt J Clack (known as Jim) commemorates some of the characters the great man created there.
Top left is Jacob Marley appearing unto Scrooge in the form of a door knocker in A Christmas Carol.
Next is Barnaby Rudge and his raven Grip. Dickens actually had a pet raven called Grip at the house - when it died he had him stuffed and mounted.
Top right are Little Nell and her pathetic grandfather from The Old Curiosity Shop, above Paul Dombey (another inadequate parent) and his daughter Florence from Dombey and Son.
One of my favourite characters, midwife and 'layer-out' Sairey Gamp from Martin Chuzzlewit is to the middle right and Mr Micawber with David Copperfield is at the bottom.