I always assumed that St George's Gardens was the graveyard of a long-demolished church, but the other day I actually read the info board at the entrance and it is much more interesting.
The site one of the first cemeteries to be located not round a church but in remote fields. London churches could no longer afford the luxury of extensive churchyards, and the dangers to health of crowded graves in the crowded city had become apparent.
The land was bought in 1713 to serve two churches, St George Queen Square and St George Bloomsbury, the latter yet to be built.
It was some time before the idea of being buried away from the protection of the church took off, and matters cannot have been helped by the cemetery being the site of the very first case of bodysnatching for anatomists, in 1777.
Eventually, the cemetery filled and in 1855 it was closed. Thirty years later it was turned into the gardens we see today.
This terracotta statue is much later and interesting in itself. Dating from 1898, it was part of a set representing the nine muses that used to stand on the Apollo Inn in Tottenham Court Road. The pub was demolished in 1961 for an extension to Heals, the department store. Ambrose Heal presented this one, Euterpe, the Muse of Instrumental Music, to the borough who placed it in the gardens.
Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, the architectural historian, got rather peeved about the demolition as he had only just gone to the trouble of researching the Apollo for his famous guide. He more or less forced Heal to sell him the statue of Clio, Muse of History, for the knock-down price of a fiver and put it up in his garden in Hampstead.
Saturday, 18 May 2013
Tuesday, 7 May 2013
The commission was given to Samuel Joseph, who delivered it in 1845. It shows Sir Hugh holding a scroll in one hand and a staff in the other, said to be the plan of the New River and a measuring rod. In 1999 the knight's right hand and the rod fell off, which must have been rather alarming for the pedestrians below, and have since been replaced.
Joseph was a brilliant young sculptor who won lots of prizes at the Academy Schools but somehow never made it to the top. He was made bankrupt only a few years after completing this statue, and died nearly penniless in 1850. The Royal Academy deserves credit for giving a pension to his widow to support their seven children.
Monday, 29 April 2013
Above is Richard Whittington, so well known as a pantomime character many people don't realise he really was Lord Mayor of London in the 15th century. The younger son of a rich Gloucester merchant, he was sent to London to become a cloth trader or mercer and became vastly wealthy importing costly fabrics such as silk and velvet, and exporting English woollen broadcloth that was in high demand on the Continent. He survived in turbulent political times by the simple expedient of lending the current king lots of money.
The cat and the Bow Bells stuff is nonsense, and it seems he may never have been knighted either.
The statue, by John Carew, shows him in period costume with his chain of office and holding a formidable mace.
Carew was an Irish sculptor who had been an assistant to Sir Richard Westmacott, the father of the sculptor of the pediment group on the Royal Exchange. He is well known for his church sculpture and one of the huge bronze reliefs on the base of Nelson's Column portraying the death of the admiral.
Friday, 19 April 2013
The original exchange was built by Sir Thomas Gresham in 1566 as a place for merchants to do business under cover - they had until then made deals walking down Lombard Street which can't have been entirely satisfactory.
Gresham's exchange had an open courtyard with a colonnade around like a cathedral cloister only in the classical style. It was destroyed in the Great Fire, rebuilt but again burned down in 1838.
The current building was designed by Sir William Tite, who brought in Richard Westmacott Jnr to do the sculpture of the pediment. Competitions were held for both contracts but the whole process was mired in incompetence and, it was said, corruption.
The central figure is Commerce, who holds the Charter of the Exchange in one hand and the rudder of a ship in the other. Next to her are a hive and a cornucopia, symbols of plenty. The inscription comes from Psalm 24, although Victorian merchants were just as prone as today's bankers to regard the earth and the fulness thereof as their own lawful booty and not the Lord's at all.
On Commerce's right hand stand the Lord Mayor, an Alderman and a Common Councilman, in their robes. It looks like the Tower behind.
Merchants from round the world stand further out and below the Brits, including a Hindu, a Muslim, a Greek holding an urn, an Armenian and a Turk. I suspect these nationalities were chosen for the picturesqueness of their clothes rather than any commercial importance.
The extreme corner, always a problem for pediments, is filled with maritime impedimenta.
Tuesday, 9 April 2013
The figure on the left is probably Caxton, but they may both be representative printers.
On the ground behind Caxton is a typecase, which in those days would have held both capitals and minuscule letters. Only later did compositors get tired of faffing about sorting out the letters and stored them in separate cases, one for the capitals and another, the lower case, for the minuscules.
Nowadays we still call minuscule letters 'lower case', correctly, but it is WRONG, yes TOTALLY WRONG, to refer to capitals as 'upper case'.
I don't know why this annoys me so much.
Monday, 1 April 2013
The Animals in War Memorial is a clever piece of work without a doubt. A high curved wall carved with images of animals used in war, from the mighty elephant to the smallest pigeon, defines a gateway through which a train of animals of war pass, shedding their heavy loads as they walk from the darkness of war to the grassy upland behind.
It is highly realistic, with every detail correct both anatomical and historical. It's important - the military history wonks will get you if a strap is out of position and the animal welfare types will create a fuss if a pastern is incorrect (as Dr Johnson discovered).David Backhouse and was unveiled in 2004 by the Princess Royal. It is impressive and touching, but not without a lavish dollop of sentimentality that I find a bit disturbing.
The big problem is that, like many modern war memorials, it is not specific enough. The best memorials are to named individuals or units with a story, such as Jagger's Royal Artillery memorial at Hyde Park Corner. The Animals in War memorial is dedicated to "all the animals that served and died alongside British and Allied forces in wars and campaigns throughout time." The result is a feeling not of sympathy for individual suffering but a general sigh of "aw, the poor animals."
The words at the side of the memorial give the game away: "They Had No Choice."
This hectoring, finger-wagging slogan says loudly and clearly: "It's not about the animals, it's about the bloody awful humans."
Tuesday, 26 March 2013
The cat motif was chosen because a black cat was the symbol of Carrera's best-selling Craven A cigs.
The original bronze cats on either side of the main entrance were removed when the factory was converted into offices in 1961, replaced with replicas in the restoration of 1998 that also brought back the flashy colour scheme.
But what makes the building really unacceptable is that it was built on the gardens of the Georgian terrace behind, which now look out on the service entrance of this monster. A sad fate for nice Georgian composition.