Sunday, 31 January 2010

Edward Everard's Printing Works

A recent visit to Bristol brought us face to face with this polychromed architectural treasure at 37 Broad Street. Built in 1900-01 to house the Everard Printing Works, it boasts a spectacular ceramic facade designed by William J Neatby and manufactured by Doulton that radiates Victorian pride in the ancient and sacred craft of printing. In best Victorian fashion, religious imagery was employed to add benediction to commerce and while the figure of Light and Truth looks down from the gable, the resplendent Spirit of Light, absorbed in reading, spreads her wings over the window arches. Johannes Gutenberg and William Morris representing the Founding Fathers are portrayed, engaged in honest toil. The flamboyant Art Nouveau font in which the company name is lettered was designed by Everard himself. The printing works closed in 1967 and the building narrowly escaped demolition. It is now II* listed, follow this link to read the English Heritage description. Nothing of the original interior survives and the current occupant is the nation's favourite pantomime villain, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS). UK taxpayers are the proud owners of more than 60% of RBS. It follows that between us we own 60% of this very fine building.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Postcard of the Day No. 34, Vanished Leeds

By the time it was completed in 1941, Quarry Hill Flats was the largest such development in England and was home to 3,280 citizens. The city planners had sought inspiration in the 1930s by visiting the Karl Marx Hof in Vienna and La Muette at Drancy (northeast of Paris, later infamous during the Occupation as the reception point for Jewish deportees en route for Auschwitz). The provision of communal laundries, kindergartens and a waste disposal system was not enough to overcome the traditional English antipathy to high-density living and the flats were demolished in 1978. A large office block occupied by the Department of Work & Pensions / Department of Health now stands on the site. This postcard includes two features that no longer exist in Britain. Local authority housing schemes and municipally owned and operated bus services are both a thing of the past. All these services have been transformed since they became the responsibility of private enterprise and the monopolistic uniformity of the corporation bus has been replaced by the monopolistic uniformity of Stagecoach, National Express and First Bus.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

R and Q

Those of you fluent in the language of flags will observe that the letters being spelled out here are an R and a Q. What we are seeing on this postcard is a rare image of the US Naval Chapter of Oulipo signalling a tribute to their founder, the great and much missed polymath, Raymond Queneau. This is especially appreciated by the literati of Hill House where M. Queneau’s fiction is held in the very highest regard.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Bedford Lemere

The past is meant to be a comfortably blurry and indistinct place recalled via unfocused images around which a lazy eye may wander and dream of past glories. The architectural photographs of Bedford Lemere (BL) offer a much more bracing experience. Twelve by ten glass negatives carry an almost excruciating amount of unforgiving detail, revelatory in small quantities but somewhat indigestible on a large scale. The company was in business from c.1867 to 1954 and was the pre-eminent photographer of buildings, interiors and exteriors, of its time. The Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England (RCHME) acquired 18,000 glass plates from the period 1885 to 1925 after the demise of BL.

The only publication I’ve been able to track down exclusively devoted to BL photographs is The Streets of London, published in 1990 by Editions Limited of Liverpool. It’s a 64 page card covered book tantalisingly sub-titled, Volume One: Westminster. There’s no trace so far of a Volume Two. Other than that, there is a fine selection to be seen in Kathryn A. Morrison’s endlessly diverting book, English Shops and Shopping: An Architectural History. As for the images themselves they seem to have been divided between English Heritage (EH) and the National Maritime Museum (NMM). The NMM has made a decent effort to facilitate online access on its own website and on Flickr but EH has a very modest selection of thumbnails for online browsing with industrial strength water-marking to render the experience even more dismal. EH charges over £12 for a high-res download which compares very unfavourably with what’s available free of charge in the US from American Memory at the Library of Congress or the Detroit Publishing Co. (and other agencies) via Shorpy. A 7 by 5 print from EH will set you back £5, plus £2.50 for post and packing. There would seem to be many publishing opportunities for EH in both book and digital form but the fact that they have to date only digitised 92 of their 18,000 negatives suggests we may wait a long time to see any progress.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Great Railway Stations: Hebden Bridge

It is the great good fortune of this island nation to have the blessing of teams of accountants, consultants and cost cutters whose business is to inflict death by a thousand cuts on all our publicly owned services. Among their many melancholy achievements, they have left us with hundreds of railway stations that have been stripped of all but the most rudimentary facilities. The Parcels Office, Refreshment Room, Booking Office, Waiting Room and toilets have been consigned to history along with the human presence of porters, booking clerks and stationmasters. All that remains in many instances is a platform, a single shelter (open to the elements) and some feeble tungsten lighting. Indigenous aesthetes add their singular tribute to the architectural splendour in the form of acres of monotonous graffiti spread across every accessible surface. Public space is reduced to utter degradation making the case for complete elimination ever more easy to argue.

It seems like a miracle that against all the odds some railway stations have survived in something close to their original condition and one such example is to be found in West Yorkshire at Hebden Bridge. It’s a busy working station serving a small town in the Calder Valley that retains many of the features more usually seen on heritage rail attractions. The vintage platform signage with large cast-iron letters screwed to wooden boards has been studiously maintained in good order and the basic structures and roof canopy show few signs of modernisation. In its present form it was built by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway in 1909 and features a mansard roof and staggered platforms connected by a subway. The staff in the booking office have yet to be replaced by machines and the station café is still in business with picnic tables on the platform. There is an air of purpose that suggests to the traveller that the business of transport is taken seriously and they deserve to be treated with respect.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Boston Transit

Two postcard views of the multi-level Dudley Street Terminal in Roxbury showing the tracks of the Washington Street Elevated with streetcar loops at either side and at ground level. A model-makers dream captured from north and southbound directions. Most has been swept away in recent decades but the central section has been adapted for use as a bus depot and appears to retain some of its former distinction.

The story of Boston’s subway is complicated and anyone interested can read about it here. The Scollay Square station shown here was opened in 1898 and after much rebuilding is now known as Government Center. The Tremont Street Subway, the oldest in North America connects it with the location of our last card, Park Street station. This composed and untroubled image contrasts greatly with the spatial complexities existing below the surface that featured in an earlier posting and can be viewed here.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Postcard of the Day No. 33, A Capoulade

This is the café A Capoulade in the Thirties when it was located on the corner of boulevard Saint-Michel and rue Soufflot. The postcard artist has assembled another gallery of types Parisiens to animate the scene including a news vendor, messenger boy, pipe-smoking, bookish intellectual and an African seller of beads and trinkets. At the end of the street, the ashes of the great and good lie enclosed by the dome of the Panthéon. The café no longer exists having been replaced by a fast-food outlet.

History records that this café was a meeting place for mathematicians which certainly makes a change from the ubiquitous population of indolent artists. In 1934 the Bourbaki Group of mathematicians was formed on these premises with the aim of introducing greater rigour into contemporary mathematics. Bourbaki was a fictional personage invented to provide a non-existent figurehead for the group. In this, if nothing else, the mathematicians displayed some affinity with their contemporaries in the Surrealist movement for whom the invention of fictional entities was a regular event.