Wrenaissance Architecture

19 Nov
The Ashton Memorial, 1906, John Belcher Port of Liverpool Building, Arnold Thornley, 1904 Colchester Town Hall, John Belcher
 
Stockport Town Hall, Alfred Brumwell Thomas, 1905 Belfast City Hall, Alfred Brumwell Thomas, 1906 (thought of as the finest example of Edwardian Baroque in the British Isles)  
     
Revival of late-C17 architecture in the period c.1890–1914 in which themes from designs by Wren were prominent. Its chief protagonists were Belcher, Macartney, and Sir Alfred Brumwell Thomas.
 
The term Edwardian Baroque refers to the Neo-Baroque architectural style of many public buildings built in the British Empire during the reign of Edward VII (1901–1910).

The characteristic features of the Edwardian Baroque style were drawn from two main sources: the architecture of France in the 18th century and that of Sir Christopher Wren in England in the 17th. Some of the architecture that borrowed more heavily from the English Baroque architects was known by the term Wrenaissance. This period of British architectural history is considered a particularly backward-looking one, being as it is contemporary with Art Nouveau.

Typical details of Edwardian Baroque architecture include heavily rusticated basements, sometimes pierced by round arches (derived from French models); mansard roofs; a profusion of dormer windows; colonnades of (sometimes paired) columns in the Ionic order and domes modelled closely on Wren’s for the Royal Naval College in Greenwich. Some Edwardian buildings derive their details from different sources, such as the Dutch gables of Norman Shaw’s Piccadilly Hotel in London or the influence of the contemporary Grand Palais in Paris on Cardiff City Hall by the architects Lanchester, Stewart and Rickards.

 
Making the grade: Novello House, Wardour St, W1
Keith Miller

Keith Miller on a Soho building where music was once bought and sold

Wardour Street in Soho used to be the louchest address in the country, a good place to make new friends or drink after hours, the epicentre of Paul Raymond’s skin empire and the spiritual home of Jack Spot’s “scenic railway”, a patented trick with a cut-throat razor. Needless to say, it was also the heart of the entertainment industry.

‘Wrenaissance’ architecture: Novello House

In 1906, the music publishers Novello & Co hired Frank Loughborough Pearson, son of the great Gothicist James, to build their headquarters near the northern end of the street. It’s a pleasing, though not deeply remarkable, exterior, the sort of thing that gets variously called Queen Anne, Edwardian Baroque and Free Architecture.

It is faced in red brick with stucco dressings, the Wardour Street frontage decked out with tall, pedimented and mullioned windows in a Flemish-accented baroque style, the printing and bookbinding part behind more simply done, with a plain grid of windows and a heavy arcade below. It’s been Grade II-listed since 1969.

The building’s chief glory lies behind those mullioned windows. This was the Sales Hall, where scores were laid out for public browsing by day, and music played to would-be investors and other worthies by night. It is panelled in oak, and adorned with rich carvings in a sort of Grinling Gibbons style. There is an elaborate marble chimneypiece, and a mezzanine gallery bulges out along one side: here musicians could play unobserved. Entry is via a heavy pedimented door and a grand staircase, top-lit by an oval dome. Roubilliac’s statue of Handel, now in the V & A, used to stand on the landing.

The fashion for this sort of architecture around the turn of the last century is interesting. During the 1890s and 1900s, a rash of banks and town halls appeared which imitated not only the rich plasticity of Wren, Hawksmoor and Vanbrugh – but also the curvaceousness and heavy decoration of their French, Italian and Austrian contemporaries.

Novello House doesn’t go quite as far as this, of course. Its models are more northerly, if not quite purely domestic, and earlier (at least as far as the outside goes), and its detailing rather freely done in places. But the Sales Hall is an unabashed piece of what Charles Jencks has called “wrenaissance”. It might well have lulled a gullible Edwardian into thinking he was at a country house party rather than in a place of business just off Oxford Street.

What a difference a century makes. That Edwardian baroque bank is now a trendy wine bar. Novello has been through various ups and downs, including a relocation to Sevenoaks (I leave it to interested parties to judge whether that is an up or a down).

The building in Soho, occupied for years by an enclave of the British Library, is now rented out by the Crown to commercial tenants; the Sales Hall is the upper floor of an outdoor equipment supplier. The chimneypiece has hiking accessories propped up on it. The great half-columns between the windows are hidden by shelving units. The musicians’ gallery is a testing area for boots, where the outward-bound customer can try them out on a small rectangle of scree. And Wardour Street is full of expensive restaurants and film-processing labs. You can still get an after-hours drink there, but it will cost you the sort of money that would have made Jack Spot instantly realise he was in the wrong racket.

www.telegraph.co.uk

 
John Belcher (1841-1913) was an English architect.

Belcher was born in Southwark, London. His father (1816-1890) of the same name was an established architect. The son was articled with his father, spending two years in France from 1862 where he studied contemporary architecture. In 1865 he was made a partner with his father, who retired in 1875.

His first work to be built was in the City of London, the 1865 Royal Insurance building in a French Renaissance style (razed 1913). Also in London he designed the 1870 Mappin & Webb building in Gothic style on the corner of Queen Victoria Street and Poultry (controversially razed in 1994 and replaced with the No 1 Poultry Building), and was joint architect, with his partner John James Joass, of Whiteleys department store.

In 1890 he designed the hall of the Institute of Chartered Accountants, which was one of the first Neo-baroque buildings in London. It featured extensive sculptural work by Sir Hamo Thornycroft, Harry Bates and others, consisting of several high-relief panels as well as stand-alone statues.

Belcher’s major commissions outside London include Colchester Town Hall 1898-1902 and the Ashton Memorial, designed and built 1906-1909 in Lancaster. Both of these are in the Baroque style, typical of the lavish creations of the Edwardian era.

In 1907 Belcher won the Royal Gold Medal of the Royal Institute of British Architects, and published Essentials in Architecture: An Analysis of the Principles & Qualities to be Looked for in Architecture. He died at Champion Hill, Dulwich on 8 November 1913 and is buried at West Norwood Cemetery. After his death his practice was taken over by John James Joass, his partner since 1905.

 
Mervyn Edmund Macartney, architect 1853-1932

Son of a Co. Armagh, Ireland, family, he was born in London, was a pupil of Norman Shaw, and a founder of the Art-Workers’ Guild. He began practice in 1882, his work showing Shaw’s influence with a strong dash of late-C17 and early C18 architectural elements. Among his buildings, 169 Queen’s Gate (1899), 1–6 Egerton Place (1893), and the Public Library, Essex Road, Islington (1916), all in London, may be mentioned, but he was better known for his publications, including The Practical Exemplar of Architecture (1908–27) and (with Belcher) Later Renaissance Architecture in England (1898–1901), which celebrated the riches of English architecture in the age of Wren. He was Editor of Architectural Review (1905–20), and, as Surveyor to St Paul’s Cathedral, London, carried out important works of conservation on Wren’s building (1906–31), including the strengthening of the dome.

 
Sir Alfred Brunwell Thomas (1868-1948) was an architect born in Virginia Water, Surrey who trained at Westminster School of Art and became an exponent of the Baroque Revival, a style of architecture prevalent for public buildings in the early years of the 20th century.

In 1906, he was made a fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects, knighted by King Edward VII, and also designed two more public buildings: town halls in Woolwich in South East London, and the city of Belfast. Belfast city hall, faced with portland stone and with a copper dome and lavish marble interiors, is thought of as the finest example of Edwardian Baroque in the British Isles.

Sir Alfred is also known for his war memorials at Dunkirk and Belfast.

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