Sunday, August 22, 2010

Coptic Street, London


Cream of Bloomsbury

This building at the corner of Coptic Street and Little Russell Street in Bloomsbury is well known as the second restaurant to open in the Pizza Express chain. But the beautiful lettering high up on the wall proclaims its earlier history as the premises of the Dairy Supply Company. It dates from 1888 and was designed by R P Whellock, an architect I know nothing about – if you have any information about him, do please leave a comment.

In the dairy on Coptic Street, Whellock put in big, round-headed windows on the ground floor – these were apparently typical of the architecture favoured by the Dairy Supply Company. Original diary tiles are preserved inside, too. Outside, the mix of coloured bricks and the other details are typical of the period, but this lettering with its interweaving foliage helps the building stand out above the crowd. A reminder that there were once dairies all over the capital and another reason to look up in London.

12 comments:

Neil said...

I've always believed a) that this was the first Pizza Express, and b) that by the time Pizza Express acquired the premises, this was a branch of Express Dairy, hence the name Pizza Express - is this not so? Certainly the Art Nouveau-style lettering still influences the Pizza Express logo to this day.

bazza said...

I think Bloomsbury may be my favourite part of central London. There are row upon row of superb buildings, lovely squares and many parts where time seems to have stood still. I also love the Holborn and Chancery Lane area.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Neil: It was my understanding that this was the second branch and that the one in Wardour Street was the first. This is confirmed by the PIzza Express website. But I've not been able to find out how they thought up the name.

Wartime Housewife said...

Gosh, I've never seen this. As you say, it is so important to look up as we walk along our streets. Even the most spoiled towns have traces of their more interesting and aesthetic pasts lurking beneath the rooftops.

worm said...

Very interesting! Although never having eaten it's wares, I always loved this building, especially as it seems so tucked away and I often seemed to stumble across it whilst walking home with a hangover on sunday mornings- a time when Bloomsbury is sepulchrally quiet and when gets to notice these little flourishes.

historo said...

The interweaving foliage is lovely indeed and it seems to represent an olive branch, which makes me believe that both the architect and the dairy company wanted to emphasize through that motif the august presence of the British Museum nearby, workers of which were probably among its patrons...
Valentin M.

Druid said...

From about 1860 onward, owing to hard times in Wales, many Welshmen especially from South and West Wales, set up dairy businesses in London. Some traders had milk sent up by rail, perhaps from a farm or small holding in Wales (until recently all early morning trains were called milk trains). Others kept cows on or near the premises in the middle of the city; this practice continued until 1954.
By 1900, half the dairies in London were Welsh, and in 1950 there were well over 700 Welsh dairies; but modern commercialism has destroyed most of the trade - today there are only a handful of the Welsh dairies left.

shui-long said...

I had never heard of Whellock, but the RIBA Library has references for Robert Phillips Whellock, ARIBA, 1834/5- 1905; obituary in the Builder vol 88 (June 1905) p.602, 689. He seems to have worked particularly in South London - Camberwell Central Library; Central Hall, Peckham High St; additions to St Giles Infirmary Camberwell. The Guildhall Library has Whellock's working sketch books and notebook of "religious, family and autobiographical writings" 1858-83.

Philip Wilkinson said...

What a bumper crop of informative comments! As I've said before, one of the pleasures of blogging is the information one learns from commenters.

Historo: I wondered about the olive branch, which certainly is a reminder of the proximity of the British Museum. I don't know, though, if the company used it on their other branches.

Druid: The preponderance of Welsh dairies in the capital is fascinating. It's wonderful to think of these urban cows, as well.

Shui Long: Thank you for looking up Whellock. I knew that the RIBA library would have some information about him, but, with a writing deadline looming, I've just not had time to go there myself recently.

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Anonymous said...

Oh my! I was reminiscing with hubby about the places we ate at in the 1980's when we both worked in London and this incredibly beautiful Art Nouveau building came to mind. I remembered the building first, the friend we used to meet there second and Pizza Express last of all.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Anon: Thanks for sharing the happy memory.