Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Bank of England, Lothbury EC2

The back of the Bank of England, facing Lothbury, has four statues of females known locally as the Lothbury Ladies, carved by Sir Charles Wheeler in 1932-1937 for the rebuilt Bank.
The pair on the eastern pavillion stand in front of cornucopias and piles of money, repeating themes on the Threadneedle Street facade. Wheeler was slightly queasy about this, feeling that they sent the wrong signal at a time of financial crisis (Britain had just been forced off the gold standard).
He wrote to the architect, Sir Herbert Baker, who clearly told him not to be silly.
The current crisis shows that Wheeler was right to be sensitive about this - the image of the Bank pouring our money all over the City is one that is all too thought-provoking in these days of quantitative easing.
The Ladies on the western pavillion hold children, a boy and a girl. I am reminded by this of the weight of debt we have crippled our children with, but perhaps I should stop obsessing about how evil bankers are.

The last statue on the exterior of the Bank of England is a portrait of the architect of the previous building, Sir John Soane. 
It was commissioned at the suggestion of the architect of the replacement structure, Sir Herbert Baker. One would like to think that Baker wanted to make some sort of gesture of apology or atonement, but this seems unlikely as he was a pretty robust sort of man.

The figure is by Sir William Reid Dick. The great architect is shown wearing a full-length cloak and holding a bundle of drawings and a set square. The niche is decorated with the neo-Grecian motifs associated with his style.
The irony of placing a tribute to the architect actually on the sad ruins of his masterpiece was not lost on critics, especially as it is so close to Soane's much loved Tivoli Corner which Baker had promised to preserve but actually totally rebuilt. He is lucky to have his back turned to an act of vandalism more brutal than anything the Luftwaffe achieved. Indeed, nothing illustrates the Nazi's abysmal cultural values than that fact that the Bank was untouched in the blitz.

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