Thursday, July 30, 2015

Nottingham


Energy and eclecticism

I’ve just finished teaching a course on Victorian architecture, so thought I’d share a Victorian building or two in the next couple of posts – perhaps one or two that I’ve seen recently but did not find space for in the course. Today’s example is a building from the centre of Nottingham. In my course I talked briefly about the vast, very red brick Prudential Building in London’s Holborn, designed by Alfred Waterhouse. Here’s another example of this architect’s work for the insurance company, this time in the centre of Nottingham.

Nottingham’s former Prudential building stands in the centre of the city, on a tight corner looking towards the market place. Waterhouse used the corner to take the building through a dramatic curve, with the entrance at the centre of this curve, and as you look up, you see an array of pilasters and statues (all in terracotta), rising to a square tower that has turrets at the corners and a chunky spire. Like the London Prudential building, it’s very red, but it stands on a very heavy-looking stone base. This base seems to speak a language of solidity and security that’s echoed by the turrets and tower – appropriate, perhaps for an insurance company. Another ‘security’ feature is provided by the false machicolations – the row of little arches above the doorway that are meant to recall similar openings on the gatehouses of castles, through which defenders could pour boiling oil (or boiling water, or whatever else they could find) on their enemies below. 

Yet this very eclectic 1890s building* also looks quite palatial, with its big windows and curvy Jacobean-style gables and its rich decoration, This was also conceived as the office of an institution that wanted to suggest   
financial security as well as physical security. Waterhouse clearly knew what his client wanted – he designed Prudential office buildings in London, Leeds, Sheffield, and in around 20 other locations. His vivid red brick work for the insurance company reflected the Victorians’ restless eclecticism, but also their unstoppable energy.

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*There’s a date on the front, 1848, but this refers to the foundation of the company, not the construction of the building.

11 comments:

per apse said...

Great stuff - perhaps the figure over the (vast) entrance arch represents a saint - reflecting Victorian religious fervour - unlikely that it is the God of Mammon - though the building might suggest one of his temples!

per apse said...

Apologies - Having now checked the web - the figure is, of course Prudence - I'm slow on the thought processes this morning - not really religious but one of the virtues close to the Victorian heart.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Per Apse: Thank you. I think the figure is Prudence. She holds a snake and a book. Prudence in Renaissance and Baroque art is often shown holding a snake (or a remora) and a mirror. This seems to be a variation on the theme and the iconography.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Per Apse: I wrote my reply before seeing your second comment - the comments don't always come through straight away. The four cardinal virtues are Prudence, Temperance, Fortitude and Justice. They were all much valued by the Victorians - probably the one we're most familiar with today is justice.

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

I notice you make a "thing" of its redness! Vivid red is a nice contrast with the rather dull colour of brick generally in Nottingham, and suits terracotta anyway. This is a superb illustration of how ornament and form can work together, rather than being seen to be at odds.
I very much fear 20th-21st century architectural Puritanism would never let anybody attempt anything like it now.

bazza said...

Nottingham is lucky to have this one still standing. Holborn is so much the poorer without the old Pru building. My first job was in Holborn and Leather Lane market and Lincoln's Inn made it a wonderful lunch-time location. Bring back nostalgia, that's what I say!
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s fabulous Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

Chris King said...

Thanks for posting one of Nottingham's most monumental Victorian buildings - one which makes such effective use of its position in the streetscape. For me the deep red colour really allows the play of light and shadow on the deep relief surface ornament to come to the fore.

Sadly one of Nottingham's other Victorian gems, Watson Fothergill's offices on George Street, was struck by a lorry last week and badly damaged.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Bazza: The Prudential Building is still there in Holborn - although not occupied by the Pru.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Chris King: Thank you for your comment. I'd not heard that Watson Fothergill's offices had been struck by a lorry. How sad. I hope this extraordinary and decorative building is repairable.

bazza said...

Doh! I was looking in the wrong place Philip!

Philip Wilkinson said...

Easily done, Bazza! But the building is hard to miss when you are in the right place!