Sunday, July 24, 2011
Greycoat Place, London
Nowadays, fire stations are often seen as utilitarian buildings and most of us don’t give them a second glance. But in the Edwardian era, when the idea of purpose-built fire stations across the capital was still quite new, they could be built to stand out. A number were built in the early years of the 20th century when the architect to the London Country Council was William Edward Riley, son of a fireworks manufacturer. Riley got the LCC job in 1899 and stayed until his retirement 20 years later. He had a busy time, building slum-clearance housing schemes, continuing a programme of school building, and providing the capital with utility buildings such as fire stations.
The most famous of these is the fine Arts and Crafts inspired one at Euston, but here’s another good one, the Westminster Fire Brigade Station in Greycoat Place. The brickwork of the upper floors with its stripy stone dressings, sash windows, pilasters, and tall chimneys, is typical of the revivalist style called “Queen Anne”, a kind of loose imitation of a way of building popular in around 1700. But Riley placed this above a lower storey of granite, treated with banded rustication and big key stones above the openings. Details like the semicircular window to the side elevation and smaller round window on the front façade add to the interest.
This is a mix of styles and features that, although we could call it “Queen Anne”, defies classification. Architectural historians often resort to the term “Free Style” for this and other Edwardian mélanges. There’s certainly a freedom about the mix of styles and materials, and the various sizes and shapes of windows and doorways, all of which belie the stolidity of the classical granite and the sober but elegant lettering of the fire station’s name. But what we call it hardly matters. It’s a monumental building with some telling touches – a cracking display from the fireworks-maker’s son.