Sunday, October 15, 2017


Pride of lions…and gryphons

It was with difficulty that I restrained myself from lying on my back and purring when I found this beautiful shop front in Lincoln’s Corporation Street. Restraint was a little easier than it might have been because of the number of other people present on the street and because of the poor 20th-century shopfronts on the building’s ground floor – I have spared you, gentle reader, from witnessing more than the merest sliver of these.

The upper part of this building is a gem. It’s a lovely example of the hybrid style of about 1900 – a bit Tudoresque, a bit Queen Anne. In the middle, just above the shop signs and at the bottom of my picture is a carved plaque bearing the building’s name: ‘St Hugh’s Chambers’ and the date 1899. Corporation Street was new in the 1890s, St Hugh’s Chambers must have been built soon after the street was laid out, probably for the two solicitors who are recorded as occupying the building in 1901.*

There is much, decoratively speaking, to like about the facade. The fenestration, with the circular window and the curving glazing of the bays, is good, and some of the leaded lights remain to show how it would have looked back in 1899. The wall decoration with its gryphons, carefully positioned to frame the round window, is a joy. The gryphons are in plaster,† in very low relief, and have been emphasized by the pale blue paintwork of the background; I presume this would have been left white originally.

There’s a niche in the middle of the wall, which would have housed a statue of one of the St Hughs associated with Lincoln.¶ Beneath this bit of Gothic finery is the carving around the name plaque, featuring scrolls, shields, and rampant lions. In spite of being knocked about, this frontage is still of enough interest to be protected by listing. The listing text mentions it as a good example of a Victorian commercial building with decorations that suggest qualities such as respectability and dependability. To which perhaps I would add tradition (the use of heraldic beasts) and also a touch of daring (the sheer size of those gryphons). The Edwardian lawyers who worked there must have been proud of it.

- - - - -

* ‘Chambers’ is the usual name for barristers’ offices, but solicitors are sometimes based in ‘chambers’ too. The word was also used for apartments, especially ones occupied by single people.

† I have posted another example of this technique, called pargetting, here.

¶ Probably St Hugh of Avalon, the French-born monk who came to England to be prior of the first Carthusian house in England, and was subsequently Bishop of Lincoln. As an upholder of the rights of the Jews, a rebuilder of Lincoln cathedral, and a man who had the strength of character to stand up to that dynamic but difficult English king, Henry II, St Hugh gets my vote.


Stephen Barker said...

Do you ever think there will be a time when a few surviving modern shopfronts will be cherished. It seem hard to imagine.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Frankly, Stephen, it does seem hard to imagine.