Wednesday, April 15, 2009

High Holborn, London

French dressing
Now I’ve got my discontent about the current state of our public libraries off my chest, I’ll get back to what this blog is really about, which is sharing buildings that I like. This building was once St Giles’ Library, and it’s one of the many public buildings put up in London during the building boom of the late-19th and early-20th centuries. By 1894, when St Giles’ Library was built, Victorian architects had revived virtually every past European style and British cities were full of Gothic revival churches, Classical public buildings, and houses built in a style copying the Tudors or Jacobeans.

With the old St Giles’ Library the predominant effect is created by the rich carved decoration in the French Renaissance style. This kind of extravaganza of curvaceous plant forms, cartouches, scrolls, and faces, is yet another of the styles the Victorians revived. The architect of this building is said by Pevsner to be W. Rushworth. I’ve not been able to find out anything about him, but he was clearly adept at the kind of ornament fashionable on the other side of the Channel in the 16th century. But with an added British touch. Amongst the Francophile curves and medallions, in pride of place in the lower part of the oriel, Rushworth placed a bust of Shakespeare – just to remind us where we are.


Peter Ashley said...

Whose bust would we put up on a library now I wonder.

Ed said...

Can't help you much on W Rushworth, Philip. Pevsner's Durham lists two buildings by a W. Rushworth built in the early 1900s in the neo classical style. One is New College, Durham, where I briefly taught many years ago.

My copy of London 1 (revised 1973) describes High Holborn library as "undistinguished Early French Renaissance". 25 years later, London 4: North describes it as "pretty French Renaissance". Things obviously improve with age.

Back to libraries, I had a couple of hours to spare in London yesterday whilst waiting for the off-peak train back to the Midlands. I visited the newly reopened Whitechapel Art Gallery which has been extended by incorporating the neighbouring Passmore Edwards Library (closed 2003). It's certainly good to see a former library put to good use.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Ed: Interesting about the changing taste demonstrated by 'Pevsner' - I'd not looked back at London 1. Not surprising the great man himself was rather dismissive of this ornament, I suppose.

Ron Combo said...

Harry Potter. And probably no bad thing.