Friday, July 16, 2010
Charterhouse Street, London
Fox and anchor and peacock and…
Here is one other example of the buildings adorned with interesting lettering seen on the Routemaster bus tour mentioned in the previous post. This is the Fox and Anchor pub near Smithfield Market, a façade in which architecture, decoration, and lettering are united to create one of the most remarkable examples of London Art Nouveau. The unity comes largely from the use of Doulton tiles specially designed by W J Neatby.
William James Neatby is famous for his work for Doulton’s architectural ceramics department in the late-Victorian period. His best known decorative schemes were done in the 1890s and the first few years of the 20th century. Stylized foliage, elegant figures, and curvaceous lettering flow around his buildings in a framework of ceramic mouldings and shafts. At their best, they unite architecture and decoration in an exciting and uplifting way.
Neatby’s career-path was interesting and unusual. From age 15, he trained as an architect, working as an articled pupil in a practice in Yorkshire before starting as an architect in and around Whitby. When he was 23 he changed direction, going to work for Burmantoft’s in Leeds as a designer of ceramic tiles and after six years there he went in 1890 to Doulton’s in Lambeth as their head of architectural ceramics. At both Burmantoft’s and Doulton’s Neatby delved deeply into the art and craft of ceramics, developing new processes and creating stunning designs. He created decorative schemes for many prominent buildings – his interiors include the Meat Hall in Harrods and the Winter Gardens in Blackpool, while the Everard’s factory in Bristol and the Royal Arcade, Norwich, are among his best exterior schemes.
Even a small building like the Fox and Anchor could benefit from the full Neatby treatment. The fox and anchor of the pub’s name are painted on to the tiles in the gable. Further down there are grotesques like the gargoyles of Notre Dame, a beautiful frieze of peacocks, and ornate Art Nouveau lettering. Grinning heads peep out from keystones above windows. The narrow interior also looks atmospheric and full of period details. But the lettering tour was moving swiftly on to the joys of Edmund Martin, tripe dressers, whose stylish 1930s lettering was partly hidden behind a builder’s hoarding, so I did not have time to sample the interior or its wares. I must return.
Fox & Anchor, detail showing lettering, peacock, and grotesque