Sunday, July 24, 2011

Greycoat Place, London

Architectural pyrotechnics

Nowadays, fire stations are often seen as utilitarian buildings and most of us don’t give them a second glance. But in the Edwardian era, when the idea of purpose-built fire stations across the capital was still quite new, they could be built to stand out. A number were built in the early years of the 20th century when the architect to the London Country Council was William Edward Riley, son of a fireworks manufacturer. Riley got the LCC job in 1899 and stayed until his retirement 20 years later. He had a busy time, building slum-clearance housing schemes, continuing a programme of school building, and providing the capital with utility buildings such as fire stations.

The most famous of these is the fine Arts and Crafts inspired one at Euston, but here’s another good one, the Westminster Fire Brigade Station in Greycoat Place. The brickwork of the upper floors with its stripy stone dressings, sash windows, pilasters, and tall chimneys, is typical of the revivalist style called “Queen Anne”, a kind of loose imitation of a way of building popular in around 1700. But Riley placed this above a lower storey of granite, treated with banded rustication and big key stones above the openings. Details like the semicircular window to the side elevation and smaller round window on the front façade add to the interest.

This is a mix of styles and features that, although we could call it “Queen Anne”, defies classification. Architectural historians often resort to the term “Free Style” for this and other Edwardian mélanges. There’s certainly a freedom about the mix of styles and materials, and the various sizes and shapes of windows and doorways, all of which belie the stolidity of the classical granite and the sober but elegant lettering of the fire station’s name. But what we call it hardly matters. It’s a monumental building with some telling touches – a cracking display from the fireworks-maker’s son.


Peter Ashley said...

What a brilliant building. And those superb metal letters. So much better than a computer-generated bit of yellow plastic saying: 'Westminster. Putting Out Fires For U'.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Peter: Quite so. One can imagine the Edwardian firemen being really proud of a building like this.

bazza said...

This style of architecture also says "civic pride" doesn't it? I find most modern (I mean very recent) buildings seem to be unable to do this. I wonder why.
Click here for Bazza’s Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

Philip Wilkinson said...

Bazza: Yes. I think there are lots of reasons why civic pride isn't expressed in many recent buildings. Maybe it's at least partly because the civic pride itself has been eroded.

Gawain said...

This is one minute from my office! I am very fond of the variety of fire stations in London; we have this style and, nearer my home, the brick Deco of Heston & Isleworth station (still in use)

and the cute Trumpton-esque Victoriana of Richmond and Hampton (not).

Philip Wilkinson said...

Gawain: Fascinating links, thank you.

Anonymous said...

Who tells or records the demise of some of these lovely old buildings? Greycoat Place, no longer has the beautiful Fire Station. Townsend House, is the next building and this is to be demolished. A sad day for Westminster, London for another old building to be pulled down.
The character of London is being undermined and predominantly for money.
Sad. Concerned local resident.