Monday, January 4, 2016

Limehouse, London

A question of viewpoint (2)

Several of my readers correctly guessed my location in my previous post. I was indeed at the top of the Limehouse Accumulator Tower in East London. Many of you will know this building, which was constructed in 1869 to supply hydraulic power for equipment the nearby Regent’s Canal Dock (now Limehouse Basin). The role of the tower was to hold a huge weight, which pressed down on a supply of water, keeping it under pressure. The resulting hydraulic power was supplied via a network of pipes to provide power for cranes and lock gates in the basin – and also, apparently, to power lifts in offices and hotels. These hydraulic devices have long gone, but some of the remaining pipes now carry data cables. The octagonal brick tower remains, holding a large tube-shaped container which once, when filled with gravel, provided the weight; the tower also contains stairs, which lead to the view that was the point of my previous post.

Here’s another view from the top of the tower, looking roughly eastwards. To the right-hand side of the picture is the pale white Portland stone steeple of St Anne’s church, Limehouse, one of Nicholas Hawksmoor’s magnificent London churches, which I’ve posted about before.

To the left of the picture is another church, Our Lady Immaculate with St Frederick. This Catholic church is in a dark red brick, forming a strong contrast to pale St Anne’s. It was designed in 1925 by A J Sparrow and perhaps its most surprising detail is the turret bearing a statue (in painted wood) of Christ the Steersman, who looks out towards the River Thames and was no doubt meant to be seen from there, a signal to seamen, who abounded hereabouts. The number of places from which the statue can be now seen is limited by the more recent brightly coloured tower between the two churches. Visible in the distance, on the horizon between this block and the statue of Christ, is the top of another tower, the Balfron Tower, a block of flats of the late-1960s. This is by Ernö Goldfinger and is the elder sibling of the similar Trellick Tower in West London. One can just make out Balfron’s separate service tower, connected to the main building by a series of covered bridges.

All of this rises behind a low backdrop of Georgian and Victorian houses and offices and the variety goes to show how much one can see in London by finding a higher viewpoint – even if all this interesting stuff has now to contend with some (to me) less interesting architecture from the more recent past.

So, as well as heeding the oft-repeated advice to look up – remember occasionally to look down too.


Hels said...

Erno Goldfinger wasn't my favourite architect in the world but was Hungarian (this is a good thing) and he did know Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier (this is a very good thing). Balfron Tower and Trellick Tower were way too "late-1960s" for my taste, but I am glad they are heritage protected.

bazza said...

If I remember rightly, that pyramid in St Anne's churchyard is thought have once had Hebrew writing around it's base. Very mysterious indeed; it's an intriguing object.
The church was granted the rare distinction of being allowed to permanently fly the white ensign by Queen Anne.
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s fabulous Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

Philip Wilkinson said...

Hels: Well, the two Goldfinger towers aren't my favourites either. But there are things about them that I like, namely: certain sculptural qualities (which I know aren't everyone's cup of tea); the way the public spaces inside are handled; the fact that Goldfinger lived in the Balfron Tower for a while and used the experience to adjust the design of the slightly later Trellick Tower; the positive responses of some of the residents. And I think towers in London can be good in small doses, by which I mean that I have time for the better ones, but not for whole congeries of towers in the ill-mannered groups that are now gathering in the City of London, and other (soon more) parts of the capital, elbowing other better buildings aside.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Bazza: I'm not sure about the Hebrew, but the pyramid does bear the words "The Wisdom of Solomon" in English.

Peter Ashley said...

Ah yes, St.Anne's Limehouse. On our meandering way back to Kent in the 1980s my children often asked me to stop so that we could hide in the churchyard and then jump out on each other. Perhaps the White Ensign was given its special decree because St.Anne's was the church used for the baptism of babies born at sea.

Jenny Woolf said...

I've never noticed the Christ the Steersman figure, and even if I had, I don't think I would have known what it was.Thank you.