Category Archives: Victorian Architecture

Exploring Melbourne – William Wilkinson Wardell

St Mary's Roman Catholic Church, East St Kilda, Melbourne, Australia

St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, East St Kilda, Melbourne, Australia

The architect William Wilkinson Wardell (1823-1899) is a classic example of the British expatriates who made their career in the growing cities of mid-nineteenth-century Australia.

A Londoner, born in Poplar, a Catholic convert and a pupil of the Gothic Revival architect A W N Pugin, he had designed or restored at least thirty English churches when at the age of thirty-five he and his family emigrated to Melbourne and he was appointed Government Architect.

As such he was responsible for the design of Government House (1871-6) in an Italianate style that hinted at Prince Albert’s Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.  He also designed the noble Gothic St Patrick’s Cathedral (1857-1897) and, later in his career, St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney (1868-1928).

In his private practice, which ran alongside his government work, he built the flamboyant ANZ Gothic Bank, Collins Street, Melbourne (1883-1887) and the Australasian Steam Navigation Co Building, The Rock, Sydney (1884).

Inevitably, his position in Melbourne’s government and Catholic circles meant that he built numerous parish churches, including St Mary’s Catholic Church, East St Kilda (1858), where Wardell and his family worshipped, and the magnificent St Ignatius’ Catholic Church, Richmond (begun 1867), both in the basalt bluestone characteristic of Victoria, quarried in north Melbourne.

William Wilkinson Wardell is an example of the pioneering English architects – others include the Southwark-born Edmund Blacket (1817-1883) and Ipswich-born Benjamin Backhouse (1829-1904) – who brought their expertise to Australia in the days before the new colonies could call on a generation of Australian-born architects.

Zion Graveyard

51750-Sheffield-Attercliffe

There’s not a lot left of the vibrant community that existed in Sheffield’s Lower Don Valley until the late 1950s.  Two ancient structures – Carbrook Hall and Hill Top Chapel – survive from the seventeenth century.  There are some twentieth-century buildings, such as Banners Department Store and the former Adelphi Cinema.  Other, less prepossessing buildings have become significant simply because they survived – a number of banks and pubs, two Burton’s tailors, a chapel, a swimming baths and a library.

In a corner behind the remaining shops on Attercliffe Road is a historic discovery.

Parallel to the main road runs Zion Lane, a narrow alley still paved with bricks and stone setts.  It takes its name from the former Zion Congregational Church, a place of worship since 1793, the site ultimately occupied by a grand Romanesque chapel with a tower and spire, opened in 1863.

Inevitably, as the houses were cleared in the 1950s and 1960s the church became unsustainable. The building was sold in 1976 and the church became a furniture store until it burnt down in 1987 and was afterwards demolished.  The Zion Sabbath School across the lane survives as a motor-repair business.

Through all this, in the graveyard behind the church generations of Attercliffe people slept undisturbed.  I photographed it in 1977, and another photographer recorded it in 1994, when it still looked like a burial ground.  Eventually it became a jungle.

The graveyard still belongs to the United Reformed Church, which needs to divest itself of the responsibility.  A sharp-eyed member of the Friends of Wincobank Hill, an energetic conservation body operating a couple of miles away, spotted the sale notice, which led to the formation of the Friends of Zion Graveyard who have cleared sufficient clutter to reveal that this place is freighted with historic significance.

Among the graves so far uncovered and identified are Mark Oakes (died September 19, 1856) – assayer, refiner and crucible maker, John Pearson of Hall Carr House (died January 14th 1877) – organist to Zion Church, buried with his wife and sister in an elaborate grave marked with iron posts and railings, and Jonathan Wood (died October 20th 1848), – owner of Wood’s (or Bridge) Foundry, member of the Zion Church choir, and his wife Catherine Wood (died September 12th 1873) – buried with their two infant children in an tomb surrounded by iron railings that were once painted gold, and two other children with the same family names, aged one year and two months, close by.

Most important of all, the Friends have located the family vault of the Read family.

Joseph Read (1774-1837) established the Sheffield Smelting Company (which is still in operation as Thessco Ltd) at Royd’s Mill, Washford Bridge, half a mile away from the Zion Church.  They lived at Wincobank Hall.

One of his daughters, Mary Ann Rawson (1801-1887), was a notable anti-slavery campaigner who with her sister Emily Read was a founder-member of the Sheffield Female Anti-Slavery Society and its successor, the Sheffield Ladies Association for the Universal Abolition of Slavery.

Another of his daughters, Elizabeth “Eliza” Read (1803-1851), married William Wilson (1800-1866), a nonconformist Radical who was chairman of the Nottingham Anti-Slavery Committee.

Their son, Henry Joseph Wilson (1833-1914) was the “stern and uncompromising” Liberal MP for Holmfirth (1885-1912).

His teetotal, non-smoking younger brother, John Wycliffe Wilson JP (1836-1921) became Lord Mayor of Sheffield (1902) on condition that alcohol should be banned at the Town Hall during his term.  As Chairman of Sheffield Board of Guardians he instigated the development of cottage homes for orphaned children.

Henry Joseph Wilson’s son, Cecil Henry Wilson (1864-1945) was Labour MP for Attercliffe (1922-1931 and 1935-1944).

In this nonconformist, Radical, individualistic town, this self-made dynasty is working-class aristocracy and Mary Ann Rawson’s campaigning career entitles her to national recognition.

Their unassuming, long-forgotten burial place deserves to be treasured and celebrated.

It commemorates what made Sheffield.

Exploring Tasmania – Port Arthur

Port Arthur, Tasmania, Australia

Port Arthur, Tasmania, Australia

I’ve wanted to visit Port Arthur ever since I read Matthew Kneale’s haunting novel English Passengers (2000): https://www.amazon.co.uk/English-Passengers-Matthew-Kneale/dp/0140285210/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1489093076&sr=8-1&keywords=Matthew+Kneale+English+Passengers.

It’s a beautiful, miserable, fascinating place.

Set in a cove near the southern tip of Tasmania, the penal colony was founded in 1833 as a high-security jail for transported prisoners who were too recalcitrant for the main convict settlements of New South Wales.

Port Arthur was practically escape-proof:  the only direct land-access was by a narrow spit at Eaglehawk Neck.  By sea there was nothing to the south but Antarctica, to the east New Zealand, to the west the continent of Africa.

Islands in the cove were given over to the first reformatory for boys in the British Empire, Port Puer, and a cemetery, the Isle of the Dead, where convicts, guards and the guards’ families were buried in strict hierarchical order.

The modern tourist site also contains an area commemorating the thirty-five people who died in the Port Arthur Massacre, when a lone gunman on a killing spree fired on visitors in the café, gift shop and car-park areas on April 28th 1966.

When the penal colony was first founded there was much work to do, and the settlement was intended to be self-sufficient.  The Penitentiary itself was initially built as a water-powered mill.

Though Port Arthur was built by physical convict labour, its design reflected contemporary ideas about using psychological punishment to alter prisoners’ minds.

The dominant building on the whole site is the huge Convict Church, its central position symbolising the place of religion in the process of reforming wrong-doers.

The Separate Prison was built to the specification of Jeremy Bentham’s aborted Panopticon project, which allowed all inmates to be supervised from a central point, without individual prisoners having any personal contact with any other individual prisoner or guard.

The idea was that prisoners would have time to contemplate their predicament and the evil ways that brought them to it.

The outcome was that some of them simply went mad.

Exploring Tasmania – Richmond

Richmond Gaol, Tasmania, Australia

Richmond Gaol, Tasmania, Australia

The town of Richmond (population 880), fifteen miles north of Hobart, is a popular tourist spot with links back to the early history of European settlement in Australia.

In the early years of the nineteenth century settlers established themselves around Hobart and began to supply wheat to the rest of the colony of New South Wales, of which Tasmania formed part until it became a separate colony in 1825.

A ford across the Coal River provided a vital link between Hobart and the east coast of what was then called Van Diemen’s Land, and the British lawyer John Thomas Bigge (1780-1843), sent from London to report on the colony’s administration, recommended replacing the ford with a bridge.

Richmond Bridge, the first stone-arch bridge and the oldest bridge still in use in Australia, was built by convict labour in 1823-5, and the surrounding settlement was designated and named in 1824.

Richmond Gaol, opened in 1825 and enlarged in 1832-33, survives almost intact as a historic site, giving a vivid impression of the misery of convict life.  It remained in use until the mid-1850s.

Richmond grew to be the third biggest town in the colony.  Its Catholic church, St John’s (1836), is the oldest in Australia, designed from a plan provided by the Bath architect Henry Edmund Goodridge (1797-1864).  It was extended, making clumsy use of a plan by A W N Pugin, in 1858.

The Anglican parish church of St Luke, designed by the Colonial Engineer, John Lee Archer and built with convict labour, opened in the same year.

An alternative road, the Sorrell causeway, opened in 1872 and bypassed Richmond, leaving it as a reminder of the Georgian origins of Tasmania.

The Richmond Arms Hotel, formerly the Commercial Hotel of 1888, replaced a predecessor destroyed by fire.  It’s one of a number of attractive places to eat and drink in the village:  http://www.richmondarmshotel.com.au.

Richmond thrives on its tourist trade, an easy drive from Hobart and accessible by bus:  http://www.richmondvillage.com.au/home.html.

San Sebastian Church, Manila

Basílica Menor de San Sebastián, Manila, Philippines

Basílica Menor de San Sebastián, Manila, Philippines

Deep within the hot, noisy, grimy centre of Manila, in the district of Quiapo, stands one of the most remarkable nineteenth-century churches anywhere.  It’s not a place that many tourists reach, though it’s not far from Manila’s old walled town, Intramuros.

The Basílica Menor de San Sebastián, or San Sebastian Church in English, is fabricated entirely of steel:  its exterior is unmistakably metallic because it looks like a cardboard wedding cake;  the interior is a scholarly and innovative essay in pure Gothic Revival, designed by a Spanish architect, Genaro Palacios, then the director of public works in Manila, and fabricated by a Belgian company, the Societe anonyme des Enterprises de Travaux Publiques, which sent over fifty tons of castings to be erected by local labour.

San Sebastian Church was intended as a permanent replacement for the last of a succession of earlier churches, the first in timber, the others in brick, that had succumbed to fire or earthquake since 1651.  Its priest, Esteban Martínez, was a member of the Order of the Augustinian Recollects, a contemplative order that had played a major part in evangelising the Philippine islands from the seventeenth century onwards.  He was determined that the new church should be fire-resistant and earthquake-proof.

Before construction began it was designated as a Minor Basilica by Pope Leo XIII and it was completed, from first column to consecration, within a year in 1890-1.

Inside, the steel looks like stone, most of the surfaces painted gloomy grey with faded images of saints.  The proportions are authentically European Gothic:  indeed, the only real giveaway is that the piers are square in section with rounded corners.  The transepts don’t protrude from the aisles, and the crossing between the transepts is lit by a vaulted octagonal tower very like Ely Cathedral. 

The interior is light and airy because there are plenty of stained-glass windows, and the great steel doors at the west end and each transept are left open, so the nave chandeliers sway gently in the breeze.  As often in Catholic countries, a constant stream of people came in to pray and go again.

There’s no evidence, and indeed little likelihood, that Gustave Eiffel was involved in its design.  Perhaps his name has attached to the building by association, like the Martinique buildings of Pierre-Henri Picq (1833-1911) – or the numerous late-seventeenth century English buildings that were once hopefully ascribed to Inigo Jones.

As an island of calm in the bustle of the city, it is a welcoming place. 

Liberty enlightening the World

Statue of Liberty, New York City

Statue of Liberty, New York City

Every citizen of the USA, unless they are a Native American, is by definition the descendant of immigrants.

Something approaching 40% of the current population of the United States can claim ancestry from immigrants who entered through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954, arriving under the gaze of the Statue of Liberty.

‘Liberty Enlightening the World’ is the full title of the great copper colossus, perhaps the most famous of all the visual symbols of the city and the nation, designed by the French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904).

The statue was financed by the voluntary subscription of the French people at a cost of $250,000 “to commemorate the alliance of the two nations in achieving the independence of the United States of America”.

Though the American people were happy to accept the gift, they proved reluctant to subscribe to the cost of the pedestal until Joseph Pultizer, in the editorial columns of the New York World, galvanised public energy into sufficient fund-raising:

It would be an irrevocable disgrace to New York City and the American Republic to have France send us this splendid gift without our having provided even so much as a landing place for it.

It is ironic that even the Statue of Liberty had problems securing a landing here.

The famous figure of a robed woman, stepping forward bearing a flaming torch in her right hand, is formed of copper sheets 3/32 of an inch thick.  The suggestion to use this material, shaped by repoussé hammering, came from the architect Eugène Viollet le Duc, and the problem of supporting it was resolved by the engineer Gustave Eiffel who designed the framework and armature on which the copper sheets are mounted with sufficient flexibility to absorb changes in temperature and the effects of wind.

Fabrication initially took place in Paris, where it gradually dominated the streets surrounding Bartholdi’s studio, after which it was dismantled and shipped across in 214 large crates.

The location in New York Harbour, formerly known as Bedloe’s Island, was chosen by Bartholdi.  The structure stands on the foundation of the former Fort Wood, in the shape of an eleven-pointed star:  the stone pedestal is itself 89 feet high, and the torch of the statue rises to 151 feet above ground-level.

The statue’s size, though it looks insignificant across the distance of the Harbour, is prodigious – the eyes are each two feet wide, and the right arm and torch, which were displayed as a separate unit at the Centennial exhibition at Philadelphia in 1876, are 42 feet high.

This magnificently flamboyant project came to final fruition in 1886, when the completed structure was dedicated by President Cleveland.

Its visual impact was immediately enhanced in the public consciousness by Emma Lazarus’ famous poem written in 1883:

…From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The word ‘iconic’ is heavily overused, yet ‘Liberty Enlightening the World’ is an icon, to everyone from the protesters in Tiananmen Square to Kate Winslet’s character, Rose, in the 1997 film Titanic, as it might be to the property developer and TV show presenter, descended from German and Scottish immigrants, who became the 45th President.

Which is why it’s both distressing and heartening that a protester against Donald Trump’s 2017 travel ban was photographed carrying a placard with the words, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses…”

La Tour Eiffel

Eiffel Tower, Paris

Eiffel Tower, Paris

The Eiffel Tower, like the London Eye, was intended to have a limited life.

The most memorable creation of the prolific engineer Gustave Eiffel (1832-1923) was devised as the centrepiece of the 1889 Exposition Universelle, marking the centenary of the start of the French Revolution.

Eiffel was not at first interested in the proposal of its initiators, his colleagues Maurice Koechlin and Émile Nouguier.  He rose to the challenge because his experience of working with wrought iron in structural engineering made him the pre-eminent specialist in his field:  no contemporary could have accomplished so elegant a solution.

Eiffel had made his name as a bridge-builder – in particular for the magnificent Maria Pia Bridge (1876-7, 353 metres high) in Portugal, and the Garabit Viaduct, (1882-5, 565 metres high), in the French Massif Central.  Both are higher than the Eiffel Tower, which was ultimately 324 metres high, and both consist of an elegant arch which supports piers carrying the deck.

The Tower’s appearance challenged the traditionalists – Guy de Maupassant took to eating in its restaurant, declaring it was the only place in Paris where he couldn’t see it – but Eiffel insisted its daring design had its own aesthetic, “Do not the laws of natural forces always conform to the secret laws of harmony?”.

More importantly, Eiffel intended it to be useful for scientific experiments, some of which he carried out from a private apartment at the top.   After the exhibition and his subsequent withdrawal from engineering work, he conducted experiments in aerodynamics, set up a meteorological station and encouraged its use as a communications tower.

When Eiffel’s licence to operate the tower ran out in 1909 the City of Paris intended to dismantle it, but its value as a mast in the early days of wireless telegraphy, later known as radio, along with its status as an emblem ensured its survival.

It proved almost immediately useful in the First World War to jam the radio signals of the German army advancing on France.

In the Second World War French partisans made sure it was practically useless to the Nazis by cutting the lift-cables.

It is still used as the primary transmitter of digital radio and TV in the Paris region, and is the most visited paid monument in the world.  More than 650 million visitors have taken the vertiginous ride to at least one of the three levels.

Exploring Tasmania – Lenna

Lenna, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Lenna, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

My excellent travel-agent Lisa Machin at Sheffield Travel Centre Ltd [http://www.sheffieldtravel.net] has a knack of finding comfortable hotels for me even in unlikely places, and sometimes she excels herself.

From the bottom of the hill the Lenna Hotel, Hobart [http://www.lenna.com.au] looks like a conventional block of modern hotel rooms built above a carpark.  It’s only when the taxi turns into the entrance that Lenna itself, a largely intact and well-restored Victorian villa, comes into view.  The rooms, therefore, are modern and fully up to specification;  the lobby, lounge and restaurant are splendidly Victorian.  I was very happy to spend my stay in Hobart there.

Lenna – the word apparently the Tasmanian indigenous word for ‘house’ or ‘hut’ – was built on what was then a bare hillside overlooking the harbour by a whaling captain and ship-owner, James Bayley (1823-1894), in the 1860s.

It was bought by Bayley’s brother-in-law, the ship-owner and merchant Alexander McGregor (1821-1896), whose brother John had built the Gothic Hillcrest next door.  James Bayley requested that the original hip-roofed house should not be destroyed, and so Alexander McGregor incorporated it into the taller Italianate structure that he built between 1874 and 1880.

Mr McGregor could observe maritime comings and goings in Hobart harbour from his lookout at the top of the house.  The current hotel-owners are rightly proud of this and make it accessible to guests.

In other parts of the world this feature is known as a “widow’s walk”, presumably because it allowed widows during heavy mourning to take exercise unobserved while etiquette prevented them appearing in public.

Eventually, in 1914, the house passed to Sir Alfred Ashbolt (1870-1930), a rich businessman described in the Australian Dictionary of Biography as the “undisputed leader of the commercial community in southern Tasmania” in the final years of his life.

Lenna eventually became a hotel in 1973 and now belongs to Lloyd and Jan Clark, who treasure its original features.

Grim times for Grimsby’s buildings

Victoria Flour Mills and Corporation Bridge, Grimsby

Victoria Flour Mills and Corporation Bridge, Grimsby

Ice House, Grimsby Docks

Ice House, Grimsby Docks

Dock Tower, Grimsby

Dock Tower, Grimsby

As recently as 1950 Grimsby had the largest fishing fleet in the world.  Cod wars and economic change put paid to the rich, dangerous trade, and now Grimsby docks handle cars instead of fish.

Grimsby’s most distinctive architecture is firmly associated with the docks.

The Custom House (1874) and the Dock Offices (Mills & Murgatroyd, 1885) remain in use, but the Victoria Flour Mills (Sir W A Gelder, 1889/1906), which was partly converted to apartments in the 1990s, is threatened by structural problems with its unconverted silo tower:  http://www.victoriansociety.org.uk/news/grimsby-mill-tower-on-endangered-buildings-list.

The Grimsby Ice Company’s Ice House (1901), which could produce 1,250 tons of ice every 24 hours for direct loading into the trawlers, ceased production in 1990.  Though it still contains historic refrigeration equipment of world importance, it is no longer watertight and regularly appears on at-risk registers:  http://www.victoriansociety.org.uk/news/the-grimsby-ice-factory-gorton-street-the-docks-grimsby.

Most dramatic of all is the Dock Tower (James W Wild, 1851-2), its extreme height, 309ft, determined by the need to provide a head of hydraulic pressure, using a 30,000-gallon water-tank, by gravity alone.

The hydraulic machinery by Sir William Armstrong was the first to be applied to working dock gates:  both sets of gates could be opened within 2½ minutes by two men.

The relatively little-known architect was well travelled, and brought his sketchbook ideas to Grimsby.  Pevsner’s Buildings of England entry points out that “the tower…is straight from Italy [ie, Siena Town Hall], but the crowning minaret is oriental…”

Grimsby’s workaday architecture is too good to lose:  http://www.victoriansociety.org.uk/news/council-inaction-worse-for-grimsbys-image-than-cha-baron-cohen-film.

Update:  A recent article in the Grimsby Telegraph, June 8th 2017, illustrates the extent of the decay, and the beginning of the restoration, of the Victoria Mills: http://www.grimsbytelegraph.co.uk/news/grimsby-news/unveiling-marks-start-another-100-100989.

Christmas in a T-shirt: Martinique

Cathedrale de Saint-Louis, Fort de France, Martinique

Cathedrale de Saint-Louis, Fort de France, Martinique

Cruises are a good way to explore the world superficially.  A few hours on dry land is only long enough to sniff the atmosphere.

When my friend Jenny and I took a Caribbean cruise in 2011 my priority at our first port of call, Fort de France on the French island of Martinique, was to buy a pair of jeans, having omitted to pack any informal trousers.

My French is limited.  I now know that you should ask for le jeanLes jeans is apparently permissible, but you may get more than you bargained for.

Once that mission was accomplished Jenny and I wandered around Fort de France and drank mojito at Le Foyaal (now apparently closed):  https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g147328-d1567683-Reviews-Le_Foyaal-Fort_de_France_Arrondissement_of_Fort_de_France_Martinique.html.

I intended to follow the cruise spirit and simply idle away my days in tropical luxury, but my history antennae twitched when we passed the Cathedrale de Saint-Louis (1895), which looked for all the world like a British Commissioners’ Church but in Roman-Byzantine style, tricked out in tan and brown decoration with a tower and spire 186 feet high.

The building was being renovated, so we couldn’t go inside.  I simply photographed the exterior and looked it up later.

In fact, it’s an interesting and significant building, the seventh on the site since 1657.  The sixth church was destroyed in the great fire of Fort de France on June 22nd 1890, and a temporary repair-job was swept away by a cyclone the following year.

After this latest in a succession of natural disasters, the Archdiocese resolved to build an iron-framed structure that would resist hurricanes, storms and earthquakes.

The design of St Louis’ Cathedral is by Pierre-Henri Picq (1833-1911), who had worked alongside the ubiquitous Gustav Eiffel (1832-1923) in France.  Picq built the Palais du Chili [Chile Pavilion] for the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle for which Eiffel’s great tower was the landmark.

Both men used their knowledge of iron construction to construct public buildings abroad.  Eiffel, for instance, is responsible for the General Post Office (1886-1891) in Saigon, Vietnam.

Judging by photographs, the interior of Picq’s St Louis’ Cathedral [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Louis_Cathedral,_Fort-de-France#/media/File:Cath%C3%A9drale_de_Fort_de_France_-_Int%C3%A9rieur.jpg], is glorious – light, colourful and unmistakably iron rather than masonry.

Despite its iron construction, an earthquake in 1953 destabilised the tower so that the spire had to be dismantled.  A replacement spire was installed in a restoration programme of 1976-9.

Since the cathedral was designated a historic monument in 1990, successive restoration programmes have taken place.

Picq also designed the Bibliothèque Schœlcher [Schœlcher Library] (1893), commemorating Victor Schœlcher (1804-1893), the French abolitionist writer and Martinique politician.  The Library is recognisably by the same hand, in an eclectic Byzantine style, making use of an iron frame, glass, tiles and mosaic.

Another of Picq’s buildings in Fort de France is the Magasin du Printemps (1901).

You don’t see much of a place when you arrive on a cruise ship.  The way to know anywhere is to stay there, and in most places there are interesting buildings to look out for.

If I ever find my way back to Martinique, I now know what else there is to see.