Thursday, July 7, 2016


Unanswered question

I am revisiting the terracotta roundels of poets featured in my previous post, because a reader has raised an interesting question, one that had also occurred to me. He asks whether these three roundels, showing busts of Milton, Shakespeare, and Tennyson, were mass produced, and whether if that was the case, they appear on any other buildings. I don't know the answers to these questions. Architectural terracotta decorations certainly were made in quantity –  as were the flower motifs that flank the roundels on this very building. However terracotta panels were also made as one-offs and I wonder which was the case here. So I'm illustrating the roundels of Milton (above) and Shakespeare, to go with the Tennyson shown in my earlier post, in the hope that they may jog some reader's memory. Has anyone seen these somewhere other than St Stephen's Street in Bristol? If so, I'd be fascinated to hear from you. The comments section is easy to use via the link below.

I previously noticed that the bust of Shakespeare had almost the look of a Romantic poet of the 19th century. He's certainly rather downcast, and the locks are wilder and more flowing than the poet's hair in the familiar Droeshout portrait in the First Folio, in which he is also slightly fuller of face and looks us straight in the eye. Perhaps this Bristolian bard is more the Shakespeare of Henry Irving than of Heminges and Condell, the actors who put together the First Folio and created the poet's most familiar image. 
William Shakespeare, St Stephen's Street, Bristol



The Bard of Tysoe said...

These people may know: – I used to be their postman 30 years ago!

LondonRemembers said...

Very interesting topic. Here at London Remembers we consider busts of this type to be memorials and so we collect them - those in London. On this page you can see all the “busts” that we’ve collected. Our bust category includes heads in full 3D all the way through to flat mosaics. We have a lot of heads of the type you found in Bristol, some in low relief but others almost 3D like yours. The quality varies greatly but we have never spotted any duplicates. We’ve certainly not found any duplicates of the Bristol ones. Though the same names (Shakespeare, Milton, etc.) do recur. We’re also very interested to see if anyone has spotted duplicates.

We don’t collect the generic heads that one finds on (often Edwardian) buildings representing “types”: Tudor lady, Tudor man, Arab man, Negro, etc., etc. They can be found on terraced housing, in places like the keystone above windows or the porch. These are often of much lower quality and we think these probably were mass produced.

(Some of our heads are unidentified so if you can help with any of these we’d be grateful. And see our Puzzle Corner for other similar mysteries.)