Saturday, June 27, 2015
Glances and gazes
I sometimes get odd looks from passers-by when I am standing looking at some building that probably seems at best unremarkable to them. Several times, walking around the centre of Launceston contemplating shop fronts, banks, pubs, backs of houses, and similar sights, I was aware of quizzical looks. I wasn’t long in the town (the chief architectural object of my visit to Cornwall was to see some country churches), but as well as walking around I seized the opportunity to pause and sit in the Square and see how much had changed since the John Piper illustration and photograph I posted some years ago.
One object of my gaze hadn’t changed much at all: this building, done in Victorian Gothic and dominating one corner of the Square. Details such as the rows of pointed arches and the occasional quatrefoils reminded me a little of the sort of architecture that Osbert Lancaster poked gentle fun at in his exemplary cartoon histories of architecture: his ‘Municipal Gothic’ just about fitted the bill.
This isn’t a municipal building but a bank, and the 1870s or 1880s Gothic, the work of the somewhat Gothically named Launceston architect Otho Bathurst Peter, seems to fit the bill well. Both the banded, two-colour stone of the arches (showing the influence of Ruskin’s studies of Venetian building no doubt) and the multi-coloured stone of the walls are satisfying. I like this masonry, the restrained ornament (those quatrefoils above the door and the ground-floor windows) and the simple, plain-speaking way the building turns the corner.
I spent a while taking all this in, puzzling away at the colourful decoration above the middle row of windows. It’s tiled, I think, although if so the tiles are laid very close, so that the joins are hard to see. As I looked, and waited for the traffic to pass so that I could take a relatively uncluttered photograph, a passing woman caught my eye. ‘Yes, it’s rather good, isn’t it?’ she said, with an approving nod. Which is true, and shows me that not all these passing glances are quizzical.