Tuesday, October 31, 2017

St John's Wood, London

Specific gravity

My photograph shows a representative selection of the architecture of St John’s Wood High Street. In the left background are classical blocks, probably of the 1830s or soon after, of white or yellow brick with stucco details. Then, a bit closer, a red brick and white ‘Queen Anne’ group with the fancy curvy gables and the characteristic square-pane glazing of the late-19th century. There’s a lot of  late-19th century stripy masonry round here, as witness the building in the right foreground, a bank, more classical but still in a contrasting mix of materials, here brick and Portland stone.

In the middle of it all is the pub, the Sir Isaac Newton, standing out like a flashing beacon. This is another late-19th century building (1892, says Pevsner), this time in red brick and orangey terracotta, a combination of colours that means that the bands are there but don’t provide much contrast. Instead, the whole building glows. Like its neighbour, it has ornate gables.
The other stand-out feature is the integral sign on the side wall. This is bordered by rich foliate architectural ornament and within this border is some outré Art Nouveau lettering of the kind that people rejoiced in during the period 1890–1910. It’s a confection of bifurcated strokes, over-the-top spiralling curves (especially the S and C), curious concavities (the N, E and A), and sheer eccentricity (the W). If we associate Sir Isaac Newton with gravity, this intoxicated lettering hardly embodies that characteristic. Perhaps another kind of gravity, specific gravity, comes to mind. Cheers!


Hels said...

Where does the late-19th century stripy masonry come from? The contrasting mix of brick and Portland stone certainly stands out from all the other buildings, but does it evoke some previous architectural style we are familiar with?

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

Yes! A building in stripy orange and red, and "Queen Anne" gables as many and as picturesque as you like. And lettering, not just stick-on plastic signs. Why not?

Apparently they can't any more: we get a box on our corner, a plain, plain angle projecting out into the line of the street, no openings, with strips of decayable wood and that white rendering that will be weather-stained after two winters.

Forgive me for harping on the same subject - but isn't the utterly beautiful building in your photo a much better model of how to handle a street-corner?