Tuesday, July 13, 2010
John Street, London
Bring on the apple sauce
The other day I went on an inspiring trip* aboard a Routemaster bus to look at lettering on buildings around the capital. This expedition was led by Phil Baines and Catherine Dixon, experts in letters both typographical and architectural. We were privileged that our guides shared a wealth of information, giving background stories about familiar bits of lettering as well as pointing out examples that were new even to me (and I’m the one you’ll bump into as I walk around looking ever upward, oblivious to fellow pedestrians, who are probably cursing as they try to dodge me).
This boar is an old friend but I’d never been able to find out much about him. The building he adorns seems to have been a butcher’s shop with offices above, which seems fitting, this being close to Smithfield Market, an area rich in architectural lettering of all kinds. The text next to the boar says ‘Rebuilt by Wm Harris 1897’ and the façade also has a ‘WH’ monogram. So presumably the otherwise mysterious Mr WH was a butcher – probably a pork butcher, since butchers often specialized in the Victorian period.
The lettering, as our guides pointed out, is awkwardly arranged – the strokes uneven in width, the forms crude, the ‘S’ and ‘7’ top-heavy. And the boar itself has an unfinished look, as if Mr Harris, eager to get his premises rebuilt after some disaster – a fire, perhaps – was impatient to get the plaque up, the scaffolding down, and the doors open. In spite of all this, the plaque has a charm that, like so many decorations on buildings in the capital, made it worth an upward glance, and even a crick in the neck.
*And I must offer sincere thanks to both the friends who invited me on this memorable journey.