Thursday, January 14, 2016
Hercules Road, London
The heart and the honeysuckle
Growing up in Cheltenham, I was fascinated early on by the variety of the ornamental ironwork patterns in the town. Leaves, stylised flowers, scrolls, Greek key patterns and all kinds of designs in ironwork trail their way across balcony fronts all over the parts of the town, delightful details dating from its Regency heyday. One of the most common and distinctive is a combination of hearts and the classical anthemion or honeysuckle motif, usually in pairs and usually on their sides. Ironwork of this pattern was made by the Scottish Carron ironworks in the 1820s and sold to builders by a local supplier called Wheeler.
I identify this design so strongly with Cheltenham (and with reason – there really are quite a lot of examples) that it’s a shock when I come across it elsewhere. But hearts and honeysuckles could travel from Scotland as easily to other towns as to Cheltenham, so they do pop up here and there. Here’s one I spotted the other day in North Lambeth on my way to meet up with a friend in London. As in many of the Cheltonian examples, the structure it adorns isn’t a full-scale balcony – it’s too narrow to step out onto, though it could support a window box full of flowers. But its main purpose is stop you falling out when you open the generous floor-to-ceiling window: an elegant solution to a 19th-century health and safety problem. A world away from the lumps of concrete (or indeed lengths of coloured tape) with which we solve similar problems today. Autre temps, autre moeurs…