The heart and the honeysuckle, revisited
Walking around Cheltenham this afternoon I was reminded that I was going to post an example of the town’s iron balconies – specifically one using the ‘heart and honeysuckle’ motif I also spotted a while back in London. These iron balcony fronts, produced by the Carron ironworks in Glasgow, seem to have become very popular in Cheltenham because they were stocked by a local builder and because they seemed to exemplify the classical sophistication that Cheltenham’s developers wanted. This was a place, after all, that was marketing itself, with some success, as a country spa and resort for the upper and middle classes who wanted a break from London.
The trouble is, there’s a tendency to paint this ironwork either black (which blends with the window glass) or white (which blends with the stuccoed walls), which makes clear photography difficult. I see now that I must get up early and go around with my camera while the white shutters are still closed, then the black ironwork at least will be clearly visible. Here’s one house with some closed shutters, together with a clearer detail below.
Classical sophistication? That’s because the honeysuckle (aka anthemion) was much used as an ornamental pattern in ancient Greek architecture. In Cheltenham, instead of running round cornices, it’s most common in the ironwork, inside the heart, as you can see here: it looks like a fan of sylized petals. The balconies themselves cantilever out from the walls in such a way as to make it unlikely they’d take a lot of weight. They’re there mainly to make it safe to open the glorious floor-to-ceiling windows, and to accommodate plants. Real honeysuckle to complement the iron version? Perhaps that’s unlikely. But something green and flowering, at least.