Friday, January 28, 2011

Regent's Park, London


Say it large

On my way to visit friends near Mornington Crescent the other day, I decided to take a detour around the edge of Regent’s Park and admire some of John Nash’s extraordinary terraces, which, with their plaster decorations, sculpted pediments, and rows and rows of Classical columns, are probably the grandest terraced houses in London.

When I came to Chester Terrace, the longest of them all, I was distracted from the palatial front when I looked at the Corinthian arches at either end. Perhaps appropriately for London’s most grandiose terraced houses, they have what must be the biggest street signs in the capital – huge white capitals on a blue background, picked out in relief. The chunky letters with their extra-large serifs are over the top, dwarfing even the big Corinthian capitals below and looking rather alien – this is not the kind of thing you expect to find in a classical frieze. But if the over the top approach works anywhere, it’s surely here.

12 comments:

Hels said...

I have seen the terraces many times and never stopped to think about the street names before *blush*

When were the arches built? Were the street names added into the architecture at the same time? or did something think of it decades later?

bazza said...

Philip, you have a way of pointing out interesting things about the familiar. I agree that the style works in this case, probably because of the overall scale.
Coincidentally, I noticed a house in Great Russell Street yesterday that had a Blue Plaque stating that it was John Nash's first commission.
Bazza’s Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

Philip Wilkinson said...

Hels: The arches seem to be integrated with the terraces and must have been built at the same time. Probably the street name lettering is original too.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Bazza: I'll look out for the Great Russell Street house - thanks for telling me about it.

Peter Ashley said...

My guess is that the blue is a much later addition, and the sign was originally just 'blind embossed'. But it still works supremely well.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Peter: You could well be right about the blue: the 'blind embossed' effect seems right for the period. The pediment sculptures on some of the terrace fronts have coloured backgrounds (some blue, some red), but maybe these colours too are later additions.

Anonymous said...

The lettering seems inspired from the Roman Square Capital type: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_square_capitals
thus being in tone within Nash's Classical themed architecture. Perhaps their chunkiness and the large base serifs were means to make them more readable from the street level, although in that respect, the upper serifs would have been better candidates for extra-volume... just some views.
Valentin
http://historo.wordpress.com/

fianchetto said...

I'm intrigued by the presence of a full stop at the end.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Fianchetto: 19th-century notices and headings often ended in a full stop, even where, as here, it looks redundant to our eyes. It's a habit I associate with Victorian posters as well as signs, and it carried on into the early years of the 20th century. I once heard someone who owned a book that had been the property of Franz Kafka explain how the volume had been marked inside with a rubber ownership stamp that said, 'F. KAFKA.' Which looked final in a rather Kafkaesque way, but which was not unusual at the time.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Valentin: Do you know Alan Bartram's books about lettering, including his Street Name Lettering? They have lots of pictures of Roman-influenced capitals, though nothing with wedge serifs quite as pronounced as the ones in my post.

historo said...

Hello Philip, I am not familiar with Alan Bartram's books about lettering; I am making a special note to look for it!
My interest in architectural lettering stems from a contribution to Andrew Haslam's (Central St Martins) forthcoming book "Lettering & Process" (http://www.csm.arts.ac.uk/51811.htm) where I supplied examples of mixed Latin and Cyrillic types peculiar to the Neo-Romanian style (a kind of nostalgia from the times when Romanians used the old church Chyrillic alphabet- until 1850s). If it interests you, I have here a montage with examples of that highly peculiar mural lettering: http://historo.wordpress.com/2010/07/15/neo-romanian-style-architectural-lettering-photomontage-slide-show/
Valentin

Philip Wilkinson said...

Valentin: Alan Bartram did three books about lettering in Britain - on Street names, Fascias (shop signs), and Gravestones. Each book consists on a collection of black and white photographs of examples, with very short captions, plus an introduction. The books are old now (1970s) but are probably available somewhere online. The Andrew Haslam project sounds fascinating, and I'll be checking out your link, for which many thanks.