Thursday, December 12, 2013
Charterhouse Street, London
Stones of Smithfield
After Smithfield Market was redeveloped in the Victorian period, Charterhouse Street, which runs to the north of the market, partly on the path of an earlier thoroughfare called Charterhouse Lane, was redeveloped too. Since then it has seen many changes, but this building of the 1870s is a survivor of the Victorian period, originally a warehouse, now, on the ground floor at least, a restaurant. The mixture of polychrome brick and stone suggests a Venetian influence, and the building is in a kind of Venetian-Renaissance style, with round arches, classical mouldings, and carved decoration.
Pevsner describes this facade as 'naive but vigorous'. There's certainly a lot going on – roundels with carved stone heads leaning out of them; more roundels, with foliage, at the top of the window arches; foliate capitals atop the slender stone shafts; a row of stone 'nailheads' beneath the moulded cornice; a repeat of the nailheads further down. And that's before we get to the polychrome brick, which is quite restrained, but brings each window arch to a slight point at the very top, beneath the cornice, adding a Gothic element to the mix.
John Ruskin's The Stones of Venice had been published for over 20 years when this facade was built. Its builder had certainly drunk at the Ruskinian spring, even though Venice's great appreciator would probably have preferred a more refined version of the city's style than the one on display here. But a bit of polychrome brightness has its place in the commercial heart of the capital. Naive? Maybe. Decorative? Certainly. Uplifting? Absolutely. An asset, I'd say, to this absorbing and varied bit of London's townscape.