Saturday, March 5, 2011

Victoria Tower Gardens, London

A little roguery

Having admired the façade of St John’s Smith Square the other day, I glanced away from Smith Square towards the river and this wonderful little structure caught my eye. It’s the Buxton Memorial Fountain, and I’ve often noticed the way it adorns the Victoria Tower Gardens near the Houses of Parliament. But I’d not seen it from this angle before, its ornate Gothic arches and pointed roof aligned with the end of the street.

This little building was commissioned in 1865 by an MP, Charles Buxton, to commemorate the work of his father, Thomas Fowell Buxton, and the group of colleagues who had campaigned for the abolition of the slave trade. It originally stood in Parliament Square but was taken down in 1949 and moved to its current happy location in 1957.

The fountain was the work of Samuel Sanders Teulon (1812–73), a Gothic architect who designed a multitude of churches, vicarages, and allied buildings and who was designated by H. S. Goodhart-Rendel as one of the ‘Rogue architects’ of the Victorian era. What Goodhart-Rendel meant was that these architects were original to the point of eccentricity, designing buildings that were Gothic, but not as we know it. They would combine styles from different sources, introduce jazzy patterns, and use vibrant, sometimes brash colours.

The Buxton Memorial Fountain begins like a conventional, if highly ornate, structure of Gothic arches. But the roof is something else – a brightly coloured extravaganza of enamelled iron tiles that sings in the sun and enlivens a dull day. In this part of central London, with its familiar mixture of brick and stone buildings, this jewel-like roof comes as a surprise, and a welcome dose of colour. Sometimes a little roguery is not such a bad thing.


Hels said...

I don't know the work of Samuel Sanders Teulon, the Gothic architect who designed churches and vicarages etc. But I do know the sentiment that HS Goodhart-Rendel was expressing.

Of course rogue architects of the Victorian era built eccentric buildings, but only because eccentric patrons asked/allowed them to. Upper class, monied eccentrics in particular were tolerated and even celebrated :)

Gareth Williams said...

It's certainly an intriguing and enjoyable structure. Quite strange, in a literal sense. I posted on it here.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Hels: Good point. The role of the client is often overlooked by writers on architecture! I have to say, though, that the eccentricities of Teulon often go beyond those of his clients. Some of his buildings for the Church of England are far out. I'll have to find one and do a post on it.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Gaw: I enjoyed your post on the fountain - and also your son's thoughts on picture-hanging and the logistics of gathering elephant poo! (That will get people clicking that link above, if they haven't already!)

rental elf said...

Nice article, thanks for the information.

Vinogirl said...

It must be very heavy, I wonder how they moved it!

Philip Wilkinson said...

Vinogirl: It comes apart like IKEA furniture!
Another odd thing is that there was a gap of several years between it being taken down in Parliament Square and re-erected in the gardens. I wonder where it was all that time!