Saturday, November 9, 2013
St Giles High Street, London
In a name
Tucked between Charing Cross Road and Centre Point are a couple of rather dusty-looking blocks of presumably Victorian flats with shops below. They are called Clifton Mansions and York Mansions, and, although I must have passed them scores of times I'd not noticed much about them except to register a general impression of rows of windows and classical details. When we were passing by again the other day, the Resident Wise Woman looked up and pointed at this interesting bit of signage. 'Look at the two kinds of lettering,' she said, and I got out my camera and snapped, holding the thing as steadily as I could in the gloaming. We commented on changing fashions, how someone had felt the need to replace high Victorian curvaceous carved lettering with plainer, blockier, more grotesque capitals to satisfy some late-Victorian taste. And then we continued our journey in the direction of Covent Garden.
I thought nothing more of this until I picked out my picture to post on the blog, took a closer look, and realised that there are in fact three generations of lettering not two. One is, indeed, curvaceous and carved, and part of it, saying 'SIONS' (presumably part of the word 'Mansions') is clearly visible where the later plaster has peeled away. Another is, indeed, in bold capitals, painted on the plaster that has partly peeled, and enough of it survives that we can read 'CLIFTON MAN'. But look closely to the right of 'CLIFTON' and a ghostly 'Y' can be seen. Look closer still (you'll have to click on the image to make it display larger) and there is clearly another word in bold capitals beneath 'CLIFTON'. I think it's 'SALISBURY' but the first 'S' has vanished. And what is that under the bottom line? 'HO'? Could this building have begun as Clifton Mansions, changed its name to Salisbury House, then changed back to Clifton Mansions?
So what was going to be a post about two styles of lettering has developed into a puzzle about naming that has left me mystified. Does anyone know anything about these buildings and their names?
* * *
In the comments section there is now an incredibly detailed and interesting note from Shui-Long (for which many thanks), the conclusion of which is that the building had three successive names:
'Some time between 1895 and 1899 flats were created on the upper floors as no.54 High St, with the name "Dover Mansions"; between 1899 and 1910 this was changed, with no.54 becoming "Salisbury House" and no.57 becoming "Winchester House"; and some time after 1915, the names were changed again to "Clifton Mansions" (54) and "York Mansions" (57).'
The part of the building in my photograph is No.54, so it was successively Dover Mansions, Salisbury House, and Clifton Mansions. Please see the Comments section for more detail.