Saturday, September 3, 2016
Pancras Road, London
This small structure is a drinking fountain, just opposite St Pancras Old Church Gardens, where I visited the mausoleum of Sir John Soane many moons ago. It’s the sort of street furniture that’s easy to miss and it’s hardly big enough to be a building. But it’s certainly architectural: a quintet of slender classical columns set on a drum and supporting a shallow dome topped with a putto (a cherub if you like) holding an urn.
This little bit of classical elegance was donated to the church in 1877 by William Thornton, Church Warden. It was one of the many bits of Victorian architecture made of cast iron, this time by Andrew Handyside of Derby, a company who produced everything you could make from iron, from railway components to ornamental vases.
The design, incidentally, is based on one of the go-to structures for architects who wanted to base their buildings on the ruins of Athens: the 4th-century BC Choragic Monument of Lysicrates.* It’s by no means an exact copy – Lysicrates’ monument has a square base, and is filled in behind the columns. But the proportions, the encircling group of columns and the shallow dome are all there in both structures. It’s close enough for classicists to nod, or to shake their heads depending on how purist they are. Athenian classicism in cast iron: a very Victorian mix of ancient and modern, and of art and industry.
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*Choragic, from choregos, one who paid for and trained the dance-chorus in ancient Greek drama; Lysicrates was a patron of musical performances.