Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Thames House, Queen Street Place EC4

Thames House was built in 1911 for Liebig's Extract of Meat Company, which made a Bovril-like goo from boiled up cows at a huge plant in Fray Bentos in Uruguay. It later became famous for the Oxo cube.
Thames House was designed by Stanley Hamp in the big Baroque he used before he went Art Deco, and the facade has lots of jolly figures from several good sculptors. It is admirably free of cow-related imagery.
The Southwark Bridge facade is arranged as two wings with an entrance block in the middle and pavilions at either end. The sculpture on the north pavilion is by Richard Garbe, son of a Dalston manufacturer of ivory and tortoiseshell goods. As well as architectural sculpture he produced much work in ivory and ceramic figurines for Doulton.
A pair of nude figures hold a strop to tame the winged horse Pegasus, who beats the cloud with his hooves in his struggle. They look strangely casual.
The central entrance of Thames House features figures representing Abundance, by Frank Lynn-Jenkins.
On the left a woman holds a cornucopia of fruits of the land, on the right a man pours out water from a jar. Between them is a pair of steer's horns, one of the few references to the source of the money that paid for this tremendous building - South American beef.
Above, a trio of chubby cherubs hold up a shield with the date, 1911.
Note the sensitive positioning of the 'No Parking' sign right in front of the main entrance. Having trouble with chauffeurs, were we?

The south pavilion of Thames House features more sculpture by Richard Garbe.
The subject is the abundance of ag and fish (again), but officially entitled The Fruits of Land and Water.
A woman on the left holds a sheaf and fruit, Neptune on the right holds a trident and a rope for his net, with which he has caught a great big cod. Between them is a boy throwing a scarf over his head.
The capitals at the top of the columns (probably not by Garbe but by the firm that did the rest of the stonework) are unusual designs with an owl for wisdom (note the book it is standing on) and an eagle for courage (are those thunderbolts clutched in his talons?).
The south pavilion has a particularly lavish doorway surmounted by an arch over a circular window or oculus. The spandrels over the arch contain bas reliefs of women denoting Commerce (left) and Wisdom (r), by Richard Garbe.
Commerce holds a caduceus and brandishes an oak branch, symbol of endurance and fortitude. Above, wheels with wings symbolise trade. Wisdom holds a torch and proffers a laurel branch, symbol of victory. Above, a dove with an olive branch in her beak brings peace.
Between the two, the wise owl stands on a scroll, supported by a small boy kneeling in the keystone of the arch. The owl holds a just balance in her beak.
The lintel over the main door is decorated with swirling hippocampi and supports a curious bronze sailing ship by the metalworker William Bainbridge Reynolds. It is the shortest ship in history, with just one mast, but the stern is as ornately carved as any galleon so it must make a splendid sight from the room inside. Unfortunately, they don't seem to care - in the photo you can clearly see a corporate minion sitting with his back to it, speaking on the phone.


Philip Wilkinson said...

Thanks for some excellent recent posts. I do like the way the hoof and the cloud come down on to the keystone. This struck me as a rather unusual bit of frame-breaking when I first looked at it - but I suppose I'll be seeing carving on keystones all over the place now!

Anonymous said...

Do you have any more info on William Bainbridge Reynolds and would it be worth getting an appointment to see the ship from inside?