Monday, November 2, 2015
Great Malvern, Worestershire
Postcards from England
I’m fascinated by the way in which shop designers used tiles to make a colourful splash on street frontages, a type of decoration that enlivened many a shop front from the Victorian period until well into the 1930s. One of my favourite examples of this is on the front of a branch of W H Smith in Malvern, and one of its tile panels came to mind the other day when, in my previous post, I used the phrase ‘postcards from England’ to describe my blogging activities. This is a building I’ve posted before but one of its tile panels* is so beautiful, and, I think, so mysterious, that’s worth sharing once more.
This panel, set into a narrow reveal to one side of the shop window and so very easy to miss, advertises postcards – clearly, in a much visited spa town like Malvern, postcards were an important thing to stock. The view it depicts is a bit of fantasy architecture by moonlight. A medieval stone bridge leads across a river towards a gatehouse in what looks like a town wall. In the background is a looming tower, that seems to exist in a space that’s separate from the rest of the picture. Or not quite. In the foreground, the corner of this tower seems to grow out of the bridge, but in the background it appears to be behind the city wall. It’s also drawn, to seems to me, to a much larger scale than the bridge or gatehouse.
None of this matters very much, because the image, with its varied shades of blue and purple and its eery moonlight is a lovely confection that seems to invite us into a world of night-time mystery and make-believe. It certainly draws you in, although a postcard with a run-of-mill photographic view on it might be a bit of a come down after seeing it.
The other wonderful thing about the tile panel of course is that (together with another opposite it advertising maps) is still there. It must have been installed in the 1920s or 1930s and it takes us back to a time when shop fronts were designed for a life of decades rather than a year or two, when businesses weren’t expected to reinvent themselves every six months, but traded on their history and reputation. My readers can decide for themselves whether or not the change to a less long-term outlook is a good thing. But I’m glad at least that the old ways produced bits of occasional art like this.
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*Made by Carter's of Poole, as one of my fastest-off-the-mark readers has reminded me.