Wednesday, May 21, 2014


Insurance agent's baroque?

Here's a building arrestingly adapted to its site, the baroque structure that forms the continuously curving corner of Wardwick and the Strand in the centre of Derby. I know it as the Refuge Assurance Building, and that company certainly occupied it for a long while, although I don't know whether it was originally built for them. Its grand style, the high baroque of the late-19th century, is rather well adapted to follow this tight corner. The cornices, string courses, balustrades, and window ledges all go with the flow, taking the eye around the curve, while the windows – one lot plain and rectangular, the other lot more fancy, with semicircular tops, carved keystones, and little balustratdes along the bottom – form a steady rhythm punctuated by various upright pilasters. All these classical details give the place a kind of grandeur, which is augmented by the striking skyline, with its French pavilion roof crested with ornamental ironwork. The narrow profile of the building at the corner also adds to the effect of the height, making the building look taller than it is.

This is how the 1880s did urban grandeur and when they went for, they were cooking with gas, to use a figure of speech that might have been made for the Victorian era. It's roughly the style that has been dubbed 'banker's baroque' and the insurance-men of the late-19th century had it taped too. There are examples all over Britain's major cities, especially in London, but few are graced with such a dramatic shape. Here's to Victorian confidence!


Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

Yes: these "familiar" buildings in the middle of busy streets are so easily overlooked, particularly when the ground floor has some contemporary shop front added on. Not always easy to find a position where you can safely look up or take photos. Is it making a reference to any Baroque buildings in particular, or is it just a creative jumble of different "Baroque ideas"?

Philip Wilkinson said...

I don't know if there are allusions to any specific building – I'd guess that it's more likely to be a creative hotchpotch.