Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Atlas House, King Street EC2

In Greek mythology, Atlas, king of Atlantis, took part in the rebellion of the Titans against the Gods and as a result was condemned to hold up the heavens for ever. Ancient Greek sculptors took something of a  liberty with the story in the interests of making a strong free-standing figure, and showed him supporting the celestial sphere on his shoulders.
Of course, this was misinterpreted in the Renaissance, when the familiar figure appeared of Atlas holding the Earth on his shoulders despite having nothing to stand on.
Here, Atlas advertised the Atlas Assurance Company. He was carved by Thomas Tyrrell for the firm of architectural masons Farmer and Brindley. He is less muscly than usual, but still succeeds in dominating that part of the street.
The building is the northern extension of the Atlas headquarters, designed by Alfred Waterhouse in 1893 in the same style as the original building facing onto Cheapside, which was built by Thomas Hopper in 1834. 
Tyrrell also carved the figures on 82 Mortimer Street
On the south side of Cheapside opposite Atlas House, there is an exceptionally attractive Mercers' Maiden high up on the wall of No 67, which dates from 1938.

Friday, 23 March 2012

107 Cheapside EC2

This is the sort of thing that brightens my day every time I find it. It is the keystone of the arch through the Sun Life Assurance building in Cheapside, leading to Honey Lane. And it features a bee buzzing up to a basket of flowers and fruit.
The building was designed by Antony Lloyd and built in 1955. The main entrance is surrounded by signs of the zodiac carved by John Skeaping, but the keystone isn't mentioned in any of the reference books. It looks a bit formal and traditional for Skeaping so perhaps it was commissioned from a mason rather than a sculptor.
Honey Lane was the place where bee keepers lived in medieval London, but they seems to have departed by the 17th century when William Leybourn's survey showed 105 butcher's stalls in the market despite the fact that it was the smallest market in the capital. Was the city already too crowded and polluted for bees to live and work? This stone bee is certainly the only one you see round Honey Lane these days.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Friary Court, Crutched Friars EC3

The Crutched Friars did not hobble about on crutches: they were members of the House of the Holy Cross, and the Latin for cross is crux. They held a staff with a cross and wore a cross on their habit.
The site of their London house is now occupied by one of those monster office blocks that reduces the street to a barren, windblown wilderness. The only redeeming feature is this lovely sculpture by Michael Black, created in 1984.
The two figures are based on Narziss and Goldmund, the abbot and artist from Hermann Hesse's novel.
The habits are carved from the same Swedish red granite used to face the building: the faces, hands and feet are grey Bardiglio marble. One holds a staff, the other a scrip, both bronze. Pevsner calls them 'eerily static'.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

49-50 Fleet Street EC4

49-50 Fleet Street was built in 1913 for two purposes, the main one being a branch of the Norwich Union and the other as a gateway to Serjeants' Inn, the former habitat of an ancient species of lawyer that became extinct in Victorian times. The architect was Jack McMullen Brooks.
The sculpture in the central arch, by A. Stanley Young, reflects the dual purpose of the building by including figures of Prudence on the side next to the Norwich Union's front door and Justice on the side next to the arch into Serjeants' Inn. Between them, Liberality holds a cornucopia pouring out money and fruit. Prudence is a matronly figure wearing a bonnet and holding a branch of laurel. Her lap is full of fruit, presumably from Liberality's bounty. A shield leans against her. Young falls into the usual error of portraying Justice as blindfolded.

Friday, 9 March 2012

SW corner of Old Compton Street and Dean Street W1

At first sight it is difficult to work out if the modest modernist building on the corner of Dean Street and Old Compton Street dates from the 1930s or the 1950s, until you know that a high explosive bomb landed there on 11th May 1941.
The popular Patisserie Valerie was destroyed, and behind you can see the ruins of St Anne's church that had been bombed the previous year.
At least 15 people died - the full death toll was never established.
The new building was clearly done under post-war restrictions - it looks a bit cheap. But the owner splashed out on some rather attractive stone boats in the windows that add a bit of charm to a vibrant but architecturally dreary street.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Tivoli Corner, Bank of England, Prince's Street EC2

The Bank of England is one of those buildings I try to avert my eyes from. The scandalous rebuilding in the 1920s and 30s was a grievous loss of the master-work of one of our greatest architects, Sir John Soane.
The perpetrator was Sir Herbert Baker, who kept most of Soane's curtain walls but added a lumpen office block above in his usual soft classical style.
Luckily, Baker employed his favourite sculptor, Sir Charles Wheeler, and his work is the building's only redeeming feature.
This gilded bronze figure of the Spirit of the Winds stands on the cupola of the Tivoli Corner. Despite being egregiously female, she is usually referred to as Ariel, something for which we have Baker to thank - he was the first to refer to her as an 'Arielesque figure'.
The Bank itself described her in heavyweight PR-speak as 'the symbol of the Dynamic Spirit of the Bank which carries Credit and Trust over the wide world.'

Under the rotunda of the Tivoli Corner, Wheeler placed these keystones representing the Roman port of London, Old Father Thames and an owl, presumably representing the wisdom for which bankers are famed.