Saturday, August 1, 2015


Waterhouse in Nottingham: a postscript

As often happens, I had a number of appreciative comments – both by email and in the comments section itself – on my previous post, and a couple of my readers mentioned the profuse decoration of this building, the former Prudential offices in Nottingham, designed by Alfred Waterhouse. It occurs to me that I perhaps rather under-did my account of this decoration, so, to compensate for this, here's another image, a close-up of part of the wall above the doorway, to show that Waterhouse, at least, could not be accused of under-egging the pudding.

The centrepiece is the figure of Prudence, the Cardinal Virtue most appropriate for the Prudential company, elegantly robed and holding serpent and book. It's worth clicking on the image so that its details can be seen more clearly. I particularly like the way in which the sculptor has shown the tail-end of the snake, which appears between the folds of Prudence's garment. Around the figure a riot of decoration breaks out. From the arched and vaulted canopy above Prudence's head to the columns and pilasters on each side, there's plenty of architectural embellishment. There are also vigorous leaves, scrolling and intertwining bands, and the heart-shaped cartouches that contain the Roman numeral representing the date of the company's foundation. These letters, although they represent a Roman date, are not exaclty classical in their forms – the Cs in particular seem, in their varied but gentle curves, to look forward to the freedom of Art Nouveau. Altogether, this decoration is a glorious array, a tribute to the visual resourcefulness of the Victorians, and of Waterhouse in particular.


Chris Partridge said...

It would be nice to know who the sculptor was. The figure of Prudentia on the Holborn building was by Frederick Pomeroy, but it shows her with the more usual mirror rather than the snake of wisdom. Pomeroy was also responsible for the most famous Cardinal Virtue of all, the figure of Justicia on the Old Bailey.

Stephen Barker said...

To be honest I have never liked the Prudential building on High Holborn and I can't say that I am taken with the building in Nottingham. Red Terracotta as a building material I find very unattractive and harsh in it's appearance.

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

I take back nothing. It's wonderful: rich, eclectic, and referring to the inherited values of our civilisation. And I bet there isn't a single architect or sculptor who could do as good a job today - and all for a "utilitarian" commercial building!