Friday, April 2, 2010

Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Girl power

One of the most elegant rows of shops anywhere is Cheltenham’s Montpellier Walk, It was designed by local architects R W and C Jearrad, begun in 1843, and its chief joy, apart from the way the gentle uphill slope of the street is managed, is the fact that between each shop the cornice is supported by beautiful armless caryatids, the urban, sophisticated sisters of the Atlas figures discussed in a previous post and the descendants of the caryatids that support the portico of the Erechtheion temple on the Acropolis at Athens.

Robert Jearrad was one of the town’s most remarkable architects. As well as designing and developing (with his London-based brother Charles) much of the town’s Lansdown area, he also invented a kind of washing machine that was intended especially for hospitals and could sterilize towels in quantity, reducing the risk of infection. The Jearrads designed several other major Cheltenham buildings, including the classical Queen’s Hotel and the gothic Christ Church, with its tall tower, visible from miles away.

Two of Cheltenham’s caryatids were sculpted in terracotta by John Charles Felix Rossi and these were used as patterns for a local sculptor called Brown, who carved the rest in stone. Rossi was another interesting character. He won prizes at the RA, worked for Coade of Coade Stone fame, developed an artificial stone of his own, and produced the caryatids on St Pancras Church in London. After a successful career with work including royal portraits and major monuments in St Paul’s, he died poor, perhaps because his large family (two marriages, sixteen children) soaked up his income.

The Jearrads, Rossi, Brown – as always, it takes many people to make a building. Rarely do they come together so happily, and with such grace and flair.


Vinogirl said...

Caryatid...what a great word.

Peter Ashley said...

I too love the word. I never cease saying "Just look at those caryatids" and being looked at blankly.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Yes, it's good word. Its origin is Greek and it is supposed to refer to the women of Karyae, who, being from the Spartan region, were said to be both beautiful and strong. I hope to say more about caryatids when next I see some to photograph.