Monday, November 16, 2015

Wells, Somerset

Slightly foxed

At the weekend I was teaching a course about architectural ornament and the participants were amused and, I think, charmed by a number of variations on the classical orders that I showed them. I wanted to demonstrate that the orders weren’t necessarily regarded by masons, carvers, and builders as a set of hard-and-fast rules. They could be starting points on which the craftsman played variations. A particular hit was a Corinthian capital with a bird fluttering among its acanthus leaves in Birmingham. It reminded me that there are capitals featuring animal heads on a building in the High Street at Wells. They occur on the Bath stone facade of a bank of about 1880. But what kind of capitals are they? And what are the animals?

The official listing text for the building describes the capitals as “quasi-Ionic”; the text doesn’t mention the animals at all, not concerning itself with such trivialities. The Ionic element is the spirals, although there are also some acanthus leaves lurking at the back, so it might just as well be “quasi-Corinthian” I suppose. The beast is an oddity: the Resident Wise Woman suggested an attempted fox, observing that the ears seem to be turning into a leaves. A mythical beast? Or just a poorly carved one? No matter. It’s a bit of fun however you look at it.


Jenny Woolf said...

I never like it when people stick to the rules too rigidly. Long live quirkiness and individuality.

Chris Partridge said...

Looks a bit like a fox to me. Another factor is a couple of centuries of erosion, cleaning and possibly recutting so its identity might have been clearer when it was originally carved.

Stephen Barker said...

I think they look like truncated Corinthian capitals. Does the rest of the bank fall into Osbert Lancaster's category 'Bankers Georgian' a style which was supposed to inspire confidence in the bank. It is hard to imagine any architectural style could that now.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Stephen: It doesn't quite fall into the 'Banker's Georgian' style. The upper floors are 19th-century classical and very simple, with sash windows and a moulded cornice. The ground floor facade I think a is later add-on, said to be c 1880, with quite an ornate door case and these odd pilasters. So the effect is similar to Banker's Georgian but with two versions - plain and fancy as it were. I do like Osbert Lancaster's description of the style he identified as 'like an MGM production of The School for Scandal'.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Chris: Yes, erosion is one thing happening here.

Jenny: Hear, hear!

bazza said...

It's got the wolf-fox-dog thing going on but the ears are definitely puzzling. Let's just appreciate the fun! I am often intrigued when trying to identify a classical order in a building and finding a mix of styles - but I quite like it.
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s fabulous Blog ‘To Discover Ice’