Sunday, January 4, 2015


A new light

A change in the light, a chance upward glance, and we can see familiar buildings anew. I’ve walked past this branch of Lloyd’s Bank in the middle of Gloucester dozens of times, and often registered its 1890s gables, Flemish Renaissance details, and modest signs. It took a particularly strong dose of winter sunshine to make me see its familiar face more clearly: to mark the differences between the pediments above the windows (segmental in the projecting side bays, triangular in the central recessed section); the ornate pinnacles and oeil de boeuf at the top of the central gable; the horizontal bands giving a touch of extra richness in that gable; the variations in the window sizes.

The architect was a local man, Frederick William Waller, son of Frederick Sandham Waller, also an architect. Both father and son worked widely in Gloucestershire and round about and must have been successful men of the city. They were both architects to the Dean and Chapter of Gloucester Cathedral as well as prolific designers of new buildings and restorers of churches. This bank shows Waller Junior articulating in his building some of the prosperity and confidence of his home city – port, mercantile hub, manufacturing centre, and county town.

When the sun lit up this facade the other day, making the red bricks as red as they can be in all their colourful glory, its illumination made me look a little more closely than I’d done before at this confident frontage. It helped me to realise that the dressings of this very red brick exterior were not stone, but terracotta, lending the whole upper part of the building a warmth that contrasts with the paler granite of the arched ground floor, just visible at the bottom of my photograph. Perhaps I was seeing this frontage for the first time as the architect hoped people would see it, standing out in all its redness against a clear deep blue sky.


Hels said...

It is interesting that the 1890s red brick gables, clearly of the Flemish Renaissance taste, would be selected to display the prosperity and confidence of this mercantile and manufacturing town. Perhaps the architects of 1890s Britain looked back to 17th century Flanders and Netherlands, and identified with what they saw.

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

Once again congratulations on getting the building in the shot! Many a pound have I taken out of that particular branch on my travels. Gloucester is worth a slow walk when it's not too busy: I once had a guidebook which drew attention to the half-timbered detail in the alleys behind the facades. Are they still there? Interesting too that it's still on the Roman street-plan. My favourite is Westgate Street - not only for itself, but so you can walk to Telford's little squashed-arch bridge over the Severn - once the main road to Wales, tho' now pedestrianised.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Joseph: Even with a wide-angle lens, I had to lean!

Gloucester's alleys still conceal quite a few half-timbered bits and pieces – there's one in particular that is a real belter, a substantially complete late-medieval town house, invisible from the street thanks to its later stucco front. But a lot of these alleys are out of bounds (gated, private) so it's difficult to gain access.