Sunday, 23 December 2012

Mansion House, Bank EC2

The pediment of George Dance the Elder's Mansion House was carved by Robert Taylor, whose father Robert Snr was one of the masons on the building. This led to inevitable but apparently unjustified accusations of inside influence when he got the job.
Taylor's composition is unusual for its date in a very admirable portrayal of the City as prospering through peace rather than conquest. As an 'explanation' on a contemporary engraving has it: "...their general Design is to exhibit LONDON Triumphant, not in military Atchievements, but in the necessary and social Arts of Trade and Commerce, which are the true Arts of Life."
The central figure is a female personification of the City trampling Envy beneath her feet. She holds a shield with the City's arms on it in one hand and a wand of office (a vindicta or Praetorian wand) in the other. She wears a towered hat identifying her with Cybele, the mother-goddess of Rome, the imperial city that London's city fathers desired to emulate.
To her right, a small boy carries the symbols of authority and independence including the fasces and a pileus or cap of liberty. He seems to be holding the City's sword by the blade, so tears before bedtime I think.
At the left, Old Father Thames holds an urn from which the river springs eternal, and the rudder of a ship that looms behind. A swan and an anchor appear at his feet.
The group on the right represent the trade that made London, in the words of the explanation, "the Chief Emporium in the Universe". A female offers London the fruits from a cornucopia, and two boys bring goods in bales, barrels and bags. They are accompanied by a stork, which is apparently the bird of commerce and also " its singular Affection to its Parents, it is a lively representation of the Citizens of LONDON, whose Duty, Industry, Love to their Constitution, and Zeal for their Privileges, accord an inexhaustible Supply to their Common Mother."
That is an image that today's greedy bankers would do well to adopt.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

125 Pall Mall SW1

Egyptian motifs on London buildings often betray a date just after the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922, but this pharaoh was carved in 1912 to decorate an office block by Smee & Houchin.
The florid, copper-clad dome above is topped by a weathervane in the form of a rather attractive if bluff-bowed cutter. Apparently it is connected to a weather gauge in the offices below so they could always tell which way the wind was blowing.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Buchanan House, St James's Square SW1

A costermonger sells fruit to a gaggle of children, the girls keeping a sharp eye on the money
being proffered by the younger of their brothers. Difficult to say what the fruit is - melon?
Buchanan House is dreadful really, the first modern building to break the Georgian skyline of St James's Square in a truly greedy way. The architecture makes the offence even worse by adopting a bland Queen Anne style, as if that could somehow make it fit in.
An organ grinder with his monkey.
They look at each other rather affectionately,
as if they are friends making music together.
It was opened in 1934 by Lord Astor, whose very grand town house was right next door (now it is the Naval and Military). He was rather gracious considering he had had to put up with two years construction and complete overshadowing of his garden to the south. "I only hope," he said, "you will not despise your old-fashioned and dingy friends, who still remain in the square. We will try not to be a nuisance."
What a doormat. No wonder the developers screwed him. He even made a little joke about being introduced at functions as 'the grandfather or husband of Lady Astor'.
A town crier announces:
"Oyez, Oyez
Take Notice
This Building
 was erected
 in the year 1933
Alfred and David Ospalak
being the Architects
A young woman sells lavender
 from a trug, assisted by her little girl.

But at least the architects had the good taste to employ Newbury Trent to carve a selection of Cries of London on the first floor. They are extremely charming in the neo-Georgian taste made popular by Rex Whistler.

A knife grinder pedaling away at his grindstone, putting an edge on a frighteningly large carving knife and occasionally whetting the stone from an urn mounted over it. The whole caboodle is mounted on wheels so it can be pushed from pitch to pitch. A small boy looks on, munching on a sandwich. His boiler suit is a bit of an anachronism, surely.