Friday, April 7, 2017

Castle Street, Liverpool

Insurance at sea

The second of my clutch of buildings from Liverpool illustrates a trend common in the manufacturing and mercantile cities that were expanding in the last decades of the 19th century – the fashion for terracotta used in combination with either brick or red sandstone. These materials produced buildings of deepest red, and terracotta – ‘baked earth’ similar to brick but usually with a finer grain to give fine detail – allows a variety of ornament. This is a kind of decoration beloved of architects of city office buildings and their clients.

This example is the British and Foreign Marine Insurance Company offices (1888–90) in Castle Street. Insurance, of course, was an important business in a maritime city like Liverpool, and the place has several Victorian insurance offices, a number, like this one, by the local architects Grayson and Ould. The British and Foreign offices, in red sandstone and terracotta, are outstanding because the designers turned up the decorative volume with the use of mosaics.
The mosaics were designed by Frank Murray (they bear his signature) and produced by Salviati, the glass- and mosaic-maker that was founded in Venice but worked all over Europe. They show marine scenes, naturally, along with the flags of Liverpool and England, and feature a whole panoply of historical shipping, from galleys, through galleons in full sail, to what would in 1889 have been the latest in steamship technology. They ply, these ships, a beautifully depicted ocean in shades of green, punctuated by occasional dashes of bright reflected colour and enlivened by pale spray. Behind, as a background, an enormous sunburst spreads across the sky.

The British and Foreign was established in the 1860s and the friezes of historical shipping no doubt gave what was quite a young company an air of historical respectability and soundness, as well as alluding to Liverpool’s history of sea trade. They did their job – and still do a very satisfying decorative job today.

With many thanks to Joe Treasure, whose new novel is just out, for the images


bazza said...

I assume that the Prudential building in Holborn is terracotta and there are some nice terracotta tiles on the old National Penny Bank building in St John's Lane, Clerkenwell. It's always attractive.
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Philip Wilkinson said...

Yes, Bazza. The Pru building has loads of terracotta on it - there's a post on here somewhere about it. I vaguely recall the Penny Bank building - must get down there and have another look.

Tabitha said...

This looks like the influence of Alfred Waterhouse, an established architect from Liverpool who specialised in the use of terracotta and red brick. Waterhouse also designed 27 buildings for the Prudential Assurance Company.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Yes, you are right. I should have mentioned Waterhouse. I have been admiring his big Prudential building in London for years, but of course he did many many others.