Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Vauxhall Bridge Road, London


Traditional decoration

The shop front of the former premises of Frederick E. Gillett in Vauxhall Bridge Road is clad in deep green tiles and looks as if it dates from between the two World Wars. Beneath the shop window are these two tiled panels, one of a timber-framed bungalow that looks a world away from inner London and the other of some workmen – a carpenter, a decorator ascending a ladder with a paint kettle, and a man carrying what looks like a wallpaper sample book.


These tiles, with their simple messages of a rural idyll and a job carefully done are evocative. I especially like the interior with its telling touches – the downward glance of the standing man as he appraises the carpenter’s saw cut; the latter’s dangling braces; the handmade wooden ladder. It takes you back to another era as you lean down to shin level to admire the panels while the red buses swish past between Vauxhall and Victoria.

So what did Frederick E. Gillett sell in his shop? My guess was ironmongery and the tools of the decorating trade: saws and ladders, brushes and paint kettles, the kinds of things used by the men in the picture – plus, no doubt, a multiplicity of others kept in drawers and sacks and boxes. But in answer to my query a reader (see comments section) has found a Frederick E. Gillett, 'oil and colourman' , with eight shops mainly in southeast London in 1914. Makers and sellers of paint, then, who by later in the 20th century had expanded north of the river. With beautiful decorative consequences for their shop front on Vauxhall Bridge Road.

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With thanks to Shui-Long for information about Gillett's premises south of the river.

17 comments:

Karin Corbin said...

I think your time frame of 1950s is off. I looked at photos of the building and the building details and the style of the ceramic art work suggest to me it is late art deco period.

Jack Kirby said...

I'm not familiar with this example, I'm afraid but it's a good excuse to remind people of another example in your earlier post on the fine sgraffito decoration of The Old Dairy in Crouch Hill, North London.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Karin: I said 'between the two world wars' - and I was thinking 1930s. So I make it that we're in agreement!

Philip Wilkinson said...

Jack: Thanks. The Old Dairy is another London commercial star.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Karin: Or maybe by 'late art deco' you mean 1940s, which is perhaps a possibility.

Peter Ashley said...

Oh these are just brilliant. I need full map references and my bicycle tyres pumped out.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Peter: The shop is on the southwestern side of the road, nearer to Victoria than the Vauxhall Bridge end. Now you have to find your bicycle pump!

shui-long said...

I can't find a 1930s directory online, but a 1914 Post Office Directory lists "Frederick Edward Gillett, oil and colour man, with 8 shops mainly in London SE (but not in Vauxhall Bridge Road). Perhaps this was a later branch of the same business? If so, it was selling paint and associated products.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Shui-long: Thank you. I think this is probably the answer. I also found a Frederick Gillett, 'oilman' in Southwark. These premises, although on the other side of the river, are not so far from the one in my post, which I will amend.

Vinogirl said...

Nice!

Jon Dudley said...

Aren't they lovely? I can't see any business going to quite the same trouble today - how permanent they must have thought they were going to be - such confidence. You've obviously covered the much more well known Michelin building which has great ceramic tiles commemorating early motor racing scenes. But VBR is on a charming smaller scale and no less well done. Thank you.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Jon: That's a really good point about the permanence. Not only did they hope and believe that the business would last for ages, they also anticipated that the shop front would last. Nowadays shop fronts are renewed every year or two, even if the business stays the same.

The Michelin Building reigns supreme as you imply, but there are some other good shop tiles around, and I hope to post some more.

worm said...

Great! this old shopfront is only 50 metres or so from my best friend's flat and I walk past it all the time, nice to see it immortalised on the web!

It's also nice to see it in situ as the rest of the Vauxhall Bridge Rd is a pretty grim and perfunctory thoroughfare

Philip Wilkinson said...

Worm: This shopfront does indeed enliven the Vauxhall Bridge Road. I'll post more tiling very soon!

Tony McSweeney said...

The house looks like the type used in Metroland posters, so the 1930's is a safe bet. I photographed the shop in the 1980's when the building was being refurbished. It's really satisfying to see that it survived. Tony McSweeney

Philip Wilkinson said...

Tony: Yes, the house looks very Metroland.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Tony: Yes, the house looks very Metroland.