Sunday, June 23, 2013
My interest in the work of the Doulton ceramics company, as featured in the previous post, alerted me to this building long before I actually managed to find it. It's easy to miss, because this part of London, where the Strand and Fleet Street meet, is full of rival architectural attractions, from the Law Courts and the church of St Clement Danes to the premises of Twinings, purveyors of fine teas. This richly decorated building began life as the Palsgrove Hotel, and its entrance lobby is a dazzling array of Doulton tiles decorated by John H McLennan. McLennan worked for Doulton for some 33 years, coming to their Lambeth factory at the age of 17 in 1877, while continuing his studies at the Lambeth School of Art. A mere year later he won a silver medal at an exhibition for a portrait of Handel on a ceramic plaque, and he continued to win prizes, as well as completing decorative schemes for prestigious Doulton clients such as the King of Siam and the Czar of Russia.
His tiles for this hotel lobby form a riot of foliage, animal heads, figures, and ornate architectural details. A relief panel depicts fish disporting themselves amid sinuous waves and this theme is continued on the end walls, where flying fish with big wings and twisting tails stand out from niches. Above the fish, on a keystone, is the letter P for Palsgrove Hotel, in the fanciest Victorian script. I'm not sure of the significance of the fish – maybe the hotel had a fish restaurant – but the creature takes its place among a decorative ensemble that is at once exotic and typically Victorian in its richness of detail.
If all these beasts and fish, flowers and leaves, capitals and keystones, were outstanding in a hotel, they seem even more remarkable in a bank, which is what this building became in 1895, when Twinings, who had diversified into finance and were running a bank from their neighbouring premises, took it over. Nowadays, it's a branch of Lloyds and offers customers a visual feast as they queue to use the cashpoint.
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There's more about this building at Caroline's Miscellany, here.
My main source for information on John H McLennan is Desmond Eyles and Louise Irvine, The Doulton Lambeth Wares (Richard Dennis, 2002)