Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Neal Street, London

Advertising your wares

However many times (it must be hundreds, maybe thousands) that I’ve walked along Neal Street in London’s Covent Garden, I never fail to spare a glance for the Crown and Anchor. It’s not a pub I ever patronized when I worked in the district, even when, in the early days, a key requirement for holding down a job in publishing seemed to be the ability to ingest large volumes of alcohol.* Nevertheless, its architecture has that inviting quality associated with the urban variety of the traditional British public house.

‘Traditional’ in this case means a building put up in 1904. There’s much to like in the architecture of this corner-dwelling building – a neat domed corner turret, a datestone high up on the Neal Street side, helpfully telling us when it was built, and what you can see in my photograph: a bright red tiled frontage, liberally supplied with arched windows in that brown wood finish that many associate with similar finishes that once made English pubs so warm and inviting inside. The fashion now is for lighter wood effects (‘Out with the brown furniture!’ cry the mavens of the modernist revival), but the darker look can work well in an Edwardian pub.

The red tiles and dark wood also set off the fine tiled panels advertising what, back in 1904, one could expect to be served from the pumps: Watney’s ales and, as in this panel, Reid’s bottled stout. These panels are done with typical Art Nouveau lettering. What’s Art Nouveau about it? Mainly, the way the letters are proportioned – the way the S and the B have tighter curves at the top, broader ones at the bottom; the high position of the cross-bar of the E; the larger, tapering loop of the R. It’s stylish stuff, but also clearly legible, not over the top.† The other letters visible here are the big gold capitals of the pub name. These are probably standard off-the-shelf letters and may well be made of wood. The way they stand slightly proud of the red wall (producing a bit of shadow), their clarity, and colour are all effective. It’s a shame the R is hanging loose. And was it intentional to make the ampersand slightly bigger? Who knows?

Set all this off with some colourful hanging baskets and no wonder the pub was already attracting lots of custom when I passed one late morning recently. I must return and sample the interior.

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* The culture changed, and both my own alcohol intake and that of most of my colleagues, dropped appreciably as the 1980s progressed.

† The position of the apostrophe, high and oddly tilted, is perhaps a bit eccentric, but it’s my impression that you often see it on lettering of this period.

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