Friday, September 1, 2017

Broseley, Shropshire

Hurrah for Filocalus!

After the small tiled extravaganza of a butcher’s shop in my previous post I didn’t expect to find any more memorable tiles in Broseley, but then I spotted the mass of brownish brickwork that is the Victoria Hall. Dark and brooding, with arches of blue, rather industrial-looking bricks, this building doesn’t have the kind of look that immediately appeals to me…but then I spotted the tile panels and I looked again. I took the building to be some kind of community hall, built in 1867 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s coronation, but in size and proportions it reminded me of a nonconformist chapel.

The enigma was solved when I looked it up online, simultaneously remembering that the Brethren often call their places of worship halls. This one was put up by the Plymouth Brethren in 1867. It remained in their hands until about 1905, when it passed into wider community use as the Victoria Institute and Assembly Hall. It looks as if they kept the original tiles, which no doubt came from Maw’s works in Jackfield. The ornate lettering contrasts with the sombre appearance of the rest of the building. The date numerals are typical of the kind of fancy figures used on Victorian Gothic buildings. The letters of ‘VICTORIA HALL’, with their bifurcated endings to the strokes, are another Victorian speciality, though one more often seen on flashy shopfronts than places of worship.

This fancy letterform is what the writer and scholar Nicolete Gray* called the ‘Filocalian letter’, after the 4th-century Roman letterer Furius Dionysius Filocalus, who made a number of inscriptions with similar ornate forms for Pope Damasus I. As Niolete Gray points out, the Victorians used this kind of lettering with great freedom and whenever I see it I give an inner cheer for the wonderfully named Roman letterer† and the Victorians who picked up his idea and ran with it.

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*See Nicolete [yes, just the one ‘t’] Gray, Lettering on Buildings (Architectural Press, 1960); a very good book – it’s a shame it’s now so hard to find.

† Ms Gray believed the name Furius Dionysius Filocalus to be a pseudonym and that it ‘expresses the man’s attitude to his work: conscious, devoted and expressionist’.


Tabitha said...

Really interesting find here! The Ficolian letter is gorgeous testament to the attention to detail that used to go into these small features!

bazza said...

Furius Dionysius Filocalus! Wow, I'm thinking of changing my name to that.
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s fastidious Blog ‘To Discover Ice’