Tuesday, March 1, 2016


Café and curves

The Resident Wise Woman and I have a habit of parking in Park Street in Bristol and either climbing up the hill to browse in the Oxfam bookshop or going a bit further to find something to eat or drink. One day I wandered down the hill to College Green and, turning my back on the cathedral and library to my right, had a look above some of the shop fronts. This one stood out in particular: a study in turn-of-the-century classicism with a hint of baroque. There’s a mix of traditional details (the little pediments trailing stone carving down the wall) and elements that could only be from this period: above all the windows – the shallow bow; the segmental (curve-topped) window just above it; the tall, narrow openings right at the top; and those tiny round windows (oils de boeuf) below the pediments. All these are features straight from the school of turn-of-the-century English design.

But there’s something more. A mosaic frieze of stylized plant forms running in a band across the bow window. The pale-green stems twist and turn in curves that are more art nouveau, as if whoever designed this frontage wanted a hint of the continent, a breathe of French air, to enliven the building. On either side of this frieze are perhaps the best bits of all, a pair of lead canopies, flaring slightly and adorned with art nouveau pomegranate reliefs. The stems here form those multiple curves doubling back on themselves (‘whiplash curves’, in design-speak) that are so redolent of French and Belgian art nouveau. Such curves are not that common in England, but you find them occasionally on shop fronts that wanted to look highly fashionable between 1890 and 1910.
This little gem of a building was built as the Cabot Café. The architects were La Trobe and Weston, but the art nouveau decoration was created by the owner’s daughter, Catherine Hughes. Pevsner sources the mosaic from an 1891 bookbinding design by Charles Ricketts. He further observes that there are traces of the original interior inside, although these certainly weren’t in evidence when I peered through the door. I must return, buy myself fish and chips, and investigate further.

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In previous posts I’ve noted a full-blown art nouveau shop front in Cambridge and a hint of one in Leamington Spa.


Jameso said...

Bristol's also got that wonderful Everard printing works, which is a very different sort of art nouveau indeed. I don't know the city well enough to say if there are more, but I rather assume there may be on this evidence.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Jameso: Yes! Everard's works is one of the very first buildings about which I posted, back in 2007 (crumbs). Copying and pasting this will take you there: http://englishbuildings.blogspot.co.uk/2007/07/everards-printing-works-bristol-bristol.html

There are other bits of art nouveau in Bristol (plaques on the Colston monument, for example), but I'm aware of nothing quite so magnificent in this line as Everard's.

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

Leaving aside for the moment the Art Nouveau motifs, the white Neo-Baroque building - often neglected, tatty, and unnoticed - seems to be a local signature in the South Wales Valleys. The date 1912 on at least one of them fixes them as belonging to the heyday of the South Wales Coalfield. I wonder if any firms working in Bristol were designing our local Neo-Baroque at the same time?

bazza said...

I spent several years doing professional valuations of fish & chips shops but never saw anything like this little gem! Although it's a very 'busy' style it all hangs together in a wonderful way.
I really like Park Street and we usually head their to eat when in Bristol - it's usually worth the climb!
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s fabulous Blog ‘To Discover Ice’