Category Archives: Victorian Architecture

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-sacha-baron-cohen-film.

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.

Take a pew

Bench-end, Holy Trinity Parish Church, Hull

Bench-end, Holy Trinity Parish Church, Hull

Years ago, when I was involved with what was then called the Main Committee of the Victorian Society, I recall overhearing a conversation in which someone was indignant that “…they want to punch a doorway through the east end of the church, and it’s a Grade II* listed building!”

Years later, preparing a Birmingham’s Heritage tour, I wandered into All Saints’ Church, Small Heath, and eventually realised that this was the church in question.  In fact, it’s a model conversion that retains most if not all of the original features, radically reordered to suit modern worship needs.

The Victorian Society lost that particular case, but the building still stands, recognisably intact, and continues its Christian mission in what is now a predominantly Muslim area.

I took my Yorkshire Mills & Mill Towns tour-group to Saltaire, for lunch at what was then the Vicars Café Bistro (now the Saltaire Canteen).  One of our members was a retired Anglican canon, to whom I pointed out the Bradford Cathedral choir CDs on sale, and remarked that Vicars was run by vicars.  He replied that it’s possible to do a great deal to further the Gospel without preaching.

More recently, I’ve taken my Humber Heritage tour group to Holy Trinity Parish Church, Hull, shortly to be redesignated Hull Minster and the subject of a radical reordering scheme which aims to bring members of the public, whether or not they embrace the Christian faith, into the building for all sorts of purposes:  http://www.holytrinityhull.com/amazing-development.

In the process, the church authorities wish to clear the nave of pews, returning it, as they say, to its medieval emptiness and flexibility.

The Victorian Society objects to the scheme, and I can see their point.  The beautiful, highly individual pews, carved by George Peck in the 1840s, are a huge cultural asset and deserve to be kept, or at least kept together.

I haven’t the remotest clue how to resolve this conflict, because I support the conservationist principles of our major amenity societies at the same time that I’m concerned to see the Church of England find useful purposes for its stock of beautiful buildings and their contents.

And I hope Peck’s pews remain intact.

The cakes at Café Trinity in the south choir aisle are heavenly:  http://www.holytrinityhull.com/cafe.

Update:  The pews are coming out, to be truncated and returned in a state that makes them removable:  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4233202/Britain-s-largest-parish-church-removes-pews-concerts.html and http://www.hulldailymail.co.uk/houlton-starts-stripping-out-victorian-pews-in-hull-s-holy-trinity-church/story-30132370-detail/story.html.

Not one of Brunel’s best ideas

Starcross Pumping Station, Devon

Atmospheric railway track, Didcot Railway Centre

Atmospheric railway track, Didcot Railway Centre

Starcross Pumping Station, Devon

Starcross Pumping Station, Devon

To modern eyes the atmospheric railway, with its leather flaps and rats in the pipes, seems a Heath Robinson contraption, but when it was devised by a gas engineer, SamueI Clegg, and the brothers Jacob and Joseph Samuda and patented in 1839 it attracted the serious attention of the brightest brains in the engineering profession.

The idea was to evacuate the air from a tube between the rails, so that the vacuum in front of a piston underneath the train would cause air behind the vehicles to propel them forward at speed, without the weight of a heavy locomotive and the fuel it had to carry.  The slot that admitted the piston was sealed by leather flaps that maintained the vacuum before and after the train passed.

This worked quite well on a 1¾-mile extension of the Dublin & Kingstown Railway in Ireland.  This former horse tramway had an average gradient of 1 in 110, and opened in 1843.

Trains carrying up to two hundred passengers weighing 38 gross tons were propelled by the vacuum in a tube between the running rails at speeds of up to 40mph.

On one occasion the piston carriage set off without its train, and covered the entire line in 75 seconds at an average speed of 84mph.

The London & Croydon Railway ran trains using the atmospheric system between Dartmouth Arms (now Forest Hill) and Croydon from January 1846.

The interior of the pipe was sealed by a mixture of tallow fat and beeswax which melted in hot weather and attracted rats, whose corpses were regularly evacuated each morning.

In frosty weather the leather flaps froze stiff and broke away and snow, instead of rats, got into the tube.

The system was so unreliable that it soon gave way to steam locomotives and the tube was dismantled after May 1847.

Brunel was attracted to the apparent advantages of the atmospheric principle so that he could take the South Devon Railway around the south coast from Exeter to Newton Abbot, where the gradients and tight curves were challenging to contemporary locomotives.

He was unconcerned when questioned about the wisdom of adapting the workings of a 1¾-mile branch line to a fifty-mile main line.

Daniel Gooch, the young locomotive engineer of the Great Western Railway, remarked, “I could not understand how Mr Brunel could be so misled.  He had so much faith in his being able to improve it that he shut his eyes to the consequences of failure.”

The first atmospheric passenger trains between Exeter and Teignmouth ran on September 13th 1847 and to Newton Abbot on January 10th 1848.  The entire service was operated by atmospheric propulsion from February 23rd 1848.

The new system was much admired for the lack of noise, smuts and smoke, and in the first few months barely 1% of atmospheric trains were more than ten minutes late.  A 28-ton train could reach an average speed of 64mph over three miles.

On January 18th 1848, however, cold weather froze the leather and no trains ran until the afternoon.  Increasingly, the leather flaps tore away from their fixings, allowing air leakages to diminish the partial vacuum.  The underpowered steam pumping engines broke down repeatedly and coal consumption was excessive.

Everyone was aware that the London & Croydon Railway had given up on the atmospheric system in May 1847, and through the summer the directors and Brunel himself backpedalled.

The last atmospheric train ran on September 10th 1848.

The most visible reminder of the atmospheric railway is the pumping station alongside Starcross station which was used as a Methodist chapel from 1867 to 1958, while the boiler house became a coal store.

The entire building opened as a museum of the atmospheric railway in 1982 and is now the headquarters of the Starcross Fishing & Cruising Club.

Starcross Pumping Station is a destination on the Railways of Devon (June 12th-16th 2017) tour.  For further details, please click here.

Not-so-primitive Methodists

Former Primitive Methodist Chapel, Barton-on-Humber, Lincolnshire

Former Primitive Methodist Chapel, Barton-on-Humber, Lincolnshire

When I took my Humber Heritage (September 5th-9th 2016) group to the Wilderspin National School at Barton-on-Humber we were among the first to see the current restoration of the Primitive Methodist Chapel next door to the school.

The Primitive Methodists were a break-away group that followed a simpler, more frugal style of worship than the Wesleyans.  They have a reputation for plain, unostentatious buildings but the Barton-on-Humber example is relatively grand.

It was built, with its associated Sunday School, in eight months flat in 1867 in polychrome brick to the Romanesque designs of Joseph Wright (1818-1885).

Joseph Wright was a prolific architect of Primitive Methodist chapels and a pupil of Cuthbert Brodrick, the Hull-born architect of Leeds Town Hall and the Grand Hotel, Scarborough.  At the time Barton belonged within the Hull circuit of its denomination.

The existing house next door, No 2 Queen Street, was adapted for the chapel caretaker after it had been shortened to make way for the new chapel by removing the left-hand bay.

For their outlay of £1,500 the Barton Primitive Methodists got an imposing building with an impressive galleried interior, seating six hundred.

It was arguably as impressive as the Wesleyans’ Trinity Methodist Chapel of 1861 on Chapel Lane:  it dominates the National School next door and holds up alongside the surrounding public buildings on Queen Street, the Temperance Hall (1843) opposite, the Oddfellows’ Hall (1864) on the corner and the Police Station (1847) round the corner on High Street.

Twenty-two years after the opening, the congregation ordered an elaborate organ by the Hull manufacturer Forster & Andrews.  This was sold in the early 1960s to St Andrew’s Parish Church, Immingham;  it moved on in 1996 to All Saints’ parish church, Pickwell, Leicestershire.

Most of the disparate branches of Methodism united in 1932, and the Barton-on-Humber congregations joined together in the Trinity Methodist building in 1960.

The Primitive Methodist chapel closed after Easter Day 1961, and it was sold to the Salvation Army, which reopened it on May 22nd 1965.  They inserted a floor at gallery level and removed the ground-floor pews.  Most of the gallery pews, the fine plaster ceiling and the round arch that framed the organ case remained.

Latterly the Queen Street School Preservation Trust, owners of the Wilderspin National School, has taken over the chapel building as an extension of their premises.

Royal Station Hotel

Former Royal Station Hotel, Hull, now the Mercure Hull Royal Hotel

Former Royal Station Hotel, Hull, now the Mercure Hull Royal Hotel

My Humber Heritage (September 5th-9th 2016) tour has had to relocate from the Beverley Arms Hotel, which has ceased trading, to the Mercure Hull Royal Hotel, which has the advantage of being literally across the platform from the trains:  http://www.mikehigginbottominterestingtimes.co.uk/?page_id=4223.

This splendid traditional station hotel was completed in 1849, designed by George Townsend Andrews (1804-1855), house architect for the York & North Midland Railway, as part of the second terminal station into the centre of Hull, replacing an earlier station adjacent to the Humber Dock which then became a goods depot:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manor_House_Street_railway_station#/media/File:Railway_Street_Goods_shed_1905.jpg.

Andrews was also responsible for the original York railway station (1841) and other surviving stations including Whitby, Pickering and Beverley.

The new station was named Hull Paragon because it stood on Paragon Street, which was itself apparently named after a long-vanished pub.  Hull people thought it grossly over-ambitious and called it “Hudson’s Folly”:  the “Railway King” George Hudson was indeed guilty of more than folly, but his station and hotel remain in use, and both have been repeatedly extended.

Andrews’ career as a railway architect seems to have been eclipsed when George Hudson was disgraced for his unscrupulous financial dealings, and the Hull hotel was his final major commission.  At the time it opened it was the largest station hotel in the country, and Andrews’ largest building.

It became the Royal Station Hotel after Queen Victoria’s visit in October 1854, for which a throne room was contrived at the south-east corner of the first floor, along with a bedroom, drawing room and boudoir, and a bedroom and drawing room for the royal children.  The royal household lodged on the second floor.

The following morning she greeted an assembly of Sunday School pupils from the balcony, and then processed through the Old Town to the Corporation Pier, which was renamed the Victoria Pier, and boarded a launch to inspect the docks.

Additional wings to the hotel were designed by the North Eastern Railway’s company architect, the York-born William Bell (1844-1919) and constructed in 1903-5.  Both the station and the hotel were damaged in air raids in both the First and Second World Wars.

The Hull poet Philip Larkin, whose statue by Martin Jennings is on the concourse, found it a gloomy place in 1966 [http://www.poetryconnection.net/poets/Philip_Larkin/4774] though he was apparently a regular customer.

The interior of the present-day hotel is mostly a tasteful pastiche by the Fisher Hollingsworth Partnership, following a fire which gutted the building in 1990:  http://www.hulldailymail.co.uk/remembering-drama-hull-royal-station-hotel-25/story-27933477-detail/story.html.  The hotel reopened in 1992 and has traded happily ever after.

Wallace Collection

Wallace Collection, London

Wallace Collection, London

My friend Eric and I, trapped by the rain in a Lebanese restaurant behind Selfridges, made a run for it to the Wallace Collection, which I’d never visited before.

This stunningly beautiful treasure house of art is the product of four generations, the 3rd, 4th and 5th Marquesses of Hertford and the 5th Marquess’s illegitimate son, Sir Richard Wallace Bt (1818-1890), whose widow bequeathed it to the nation.

It’s located in Hertford House, Manchester Square, Sir Richard Wallace’s townhouse.  In the glazed-in courtyard there is a brasserie restaurant, the Café Bagatelle, named after Sir Richard’s French residence.

Like the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Port Sunlight, the Wallace Collection is a static collection reflecting the taste of its period.  Nothing may be added or subtracted, and nothing from the Wallace Collection can leave the building, even on loan.

You could visit the Wallace Collection every day for a year and still find fresh treasures.

I had always regarded Franz Hals’ ‘Laughing Cavalier’ as somewhere between an icon and a cliché until I stood in front of the original and marvelled at the minute detail of the textiles, particularly the lace, and the realistic treatment of his beard and moustache.

The breadth of the collection and the sheer volume – twelve Reynolds, nineteen Canalettos, several hundred pieces of Sèvres porcelain, nearly two dozen pieces of Boule furntiure  – provides a plethora of enjoyment.

The Wallace Collection is open to all, free of charge, 362 days a year:  http://www.wallacecollection.org/visiting.