Friday, 22 April 2011

28-30 Cornhill EC3

The Scottish Widows Fund building in the City was built in 1934 to the designs of W. Curtis Green.
It features two statues of Scottish Widows by William McMillan, a Scottish sculptor who had the unusual distinction of designing some of the medals that he himself won for his service in the First World War.
One of the Widows is the classic figure familiar from a gazillion TV ads, wearing a hood and holding a puir wee  fatherless bairn. The other holds a cornucopia from which pours the largesse from a claim on a policy held with one of Britain's famously generous life assurance companies.
In the pediment at the top, Bellerophon grabs Pegasus's forelock, a reference to the company motto 'Est Capilatta Fronte Post Est Occasio Calva' or 'Take Time by the Forelock'. McMillan made a version of this in bronze over the front door.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

262 High Holborn

The relief on the modernist office block at 262 High Holborn has been described as everything from a vision of the Book of Revelation or Celtic imagery to 'hallucinogenic doodling'.
In fact, it is the heraldry of the Pearl Assurance Company, who built it in 1956, and was the creation of Bainbridge Copnall. The architects were T.P. Bennett and Son, who occupied it themselves for many years.
At the top is St Margaret of Antioch, whose name in Latin, Margarita, means pearl. She holds a gigantic pearl in her right hand and the martyr's palm in her left - she was devoured by Satan in the form of a dragon, who lies beneath her feet looking a bit grumpy.
The other symbols relate to places associated with Pearl Assurance. The swords are the City of London, and the covered cup is St Dunstan, the patron saint of Stepney where the company had its first office. The wounded hind is St Giles, of St Giles in the Fields, the local parish.
Other symbols are the sun and a star, and the elements, air, fire and water.
The artist has not included Pearl Assurance's motto, Damus Plus Quam Pollicemur (We give more than we promise), which is a shame because then I could have given you a poem written by some unsung South African employee way back:
Upon the dragon's back for years
St Margaret bravely hid her fears.
A most precarious place to stand
And hold a pearl in outstretched hand.
But Margaret has no need to worry
For if she jumps off in a hurry,
And slips perchance and breaks a femur -

Many thanks to Jo French, information manager at T.P. Bennett, who dug out this information.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Grocers' Hall Court EC2

This rather charming statue of St Anthony the Great was made for the Grocers' Hall of 1889.
It stood high up on the second floor, and was one of the few items to survive a huge fire in 1965. It now stands by the front entrance of the present hall.
In medieval times, grocers also supplied medicinal herbs and spices so they liked to associate themselves with St Anthony, the patron saint of skin diseases. The Grocers' company was originally incorporated in 1348 as the Fraternity of St Anthony. The old hermit is shown with his attributes: a pig (he is said to have been a swineherd), a cross of Tau, a bell and a book (despite that fact that his biographer, Athanasius, said he was illiterate).
Something I didn't know - grocers were originally grossers, that is, wholesalers who only sold stuff by the gross. You learn something every day.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Ministry of Defence, Horse Guards Avenue SW1

The vast bulk of the Ministry of Defence building was designed by Vincent Harris, originally for those ill-matched arms of government, the Department of Trade and the Air Ministry. It was built in phases from 1939 to 1959. The warriors moved in in the 1960s when the Ministry of Defence was created.
The main entrance is flanked by a pair of reclining giantesses symbolising Earth and Water, by Sir Charles Wheeler (1949). The figures weigh 40 tons each and don't look an ounce less. Despite their size, they have lovely pensive expressions.
A complementary pair, Fire and Air, were planned for the south entrance but the Treasury balked at the cost.
I don't think they are much of a loss - Earth and Water are differentiated only by sitting in waves or on the ground, so presumably the others would have had a bit of cloud and a few flames but otherwise more of the same.