Category Archives: Victorian Architecture

Gap in the townscape

Tudno Castle Hotel, Llandudno

Tudno Castle Hotel, Llandudno (2014) 

When I visited the Llandudno Arts Society to give a lecture recently, my host Mark Esplen drove me round the town to show me recent developments in which he felt pride, such as the refurbished Railway Station (completed 2014) and the Lifeboat Station (2017).

Driving past the former Tudno Castle Hotel, he remarked that it was about to be demolished after unsuccessful attempts at redevelopment.

There’s more to the story than meets the eye, as I discover from a recent Victorian Society bulletin.

This Grade II listed building, which was originally two hotels, the Tudno Castle and the Temperance, seems not to be datable, and is not credited to a named architect, but it was obviously an integral component of the development of Llandudno as a resort, occupying a prominent site between Mostyn Broadway and Conway Street, closing the vista at the south end of the principal shopping thoroughfare, Mostyn Street.

The reasons for listing, last revised in 2001, are vague:  “C19 hotel retaining its character on important free-standing site.  Group value with adjacent listed buildings”.  It seems nobody took the trouble to recognise its history or its townscape value.

In 2014 planning permission was given, against the strong objections of the Victorian Society, for a retail development and a Premier Inn hotel, retaining only the façade of the building.

The interior, when surveyed by Archaeology Wales, was a mess and had clearly seen better days, but it was intact and the better parts could have been incorporated into a sensitive redevelopment:   http://www.dailypost.co.uk/news/north-wales-news/inside-tudno-castle-llandudno-demolish-13468477.

There is a slide-show of the April demolition which was intended to leave the façade supported by scaffolding at http://www.dailypost.co.uk/news/north-wales-news/plan-submitted-tear-down-grade-13467581, along with a depressing sketch of the limp proposed replacement.

When demolition began, the contractors noticed “historical movement” [http://demolishdismantle.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/tudno-castle-hotel-demolished-due-to.html] which made it impossible to support the façade for retention.

This euphemism turns out to cover a failure to realise, when the 2014 application was processed, that the walls were not ashlar but rubble, and the Victorian Society is questioning how the developer and the authorities can have failed to survey the building adequately before making their proposal.

Anna Shelley, Conservation Adviser at the Victorian Society, is clearly spitting tacks:  “The complete demolition of the Tudno Castle Hotel was entirely avoidable, and the plans could have been revised and reconsidered at various stages in the assessment process.  All those responsible – particularly developer and Local Authority – should take a good hard look at themselves. How has this been allowed to happen?” [http://www.victoriansociety.org.uk/news/irresponsible-development-razes-tudno-castle-hotel]

Primarily as a result of watchful care over decades by the landowner, the Mostyn Estate, Llandudno has remained one of the finest and most intact of British seaside resorts, and now its streetscape has a regrettable and unnecessary gap.

Other local authorities have shown a more muscular response to ostensibly fortuitous demolitions:  http://www.eastlondonadvertiser.co.uk/news/politics/illegally-demolished-historic-cottages-must-be-rebuilt-brick-by-brick-tower-hamlets-council-orders-1-5209885?utm_source=Twitter&utm_medium=Social_Icon&utm_campaign=in_article_social_icons.

The replacement building had better be good.

Dig in the park

Firth Park bandstand dig, Sheffield, July 6th 2017

Firth Park bandstand dig, Sheffield, July 6th 2017

When I took my friends John and Lynn for a post-prandial walk in the park we came upon a deserted trench, surrounded by security fencing.

We were intrigued to see brickwork exposed, and I surmised that it would have some connection with the bandstand that I knew stood on the park from the Edwardian period until it was demolished in the 1970s.

Sure enough, when I saw activity a couple of days later and walked across to ask what was going on I discovered it was Dig it!, a project led by Dr Katherine Fennelly, Lecturer in Heritage at the University of Lincoln, and Colin Merrony from the Department of Archaeology at Sheffield, a happy combination of academic investigation and outreach to encourage local school and college students to take an interest in the fascination of archaeology and to think about taking the opportunity to study at university:  https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/archaeology/news/digit_2017-1.714348.

Teenagers are likely to take notice when they see young people a few years older than they are – in this case Sheffield University students Ceiridwen Blakesley and David Inglis – enjoying themselves with hands-on work that also requires serious thinking.

By the end of the two-week dig the team had determined the dimensions of the octagonal bandstand from its remaining foundations, and had decided that the brick-lined compartment in the centre was a furniture store accessed by a trap-door in the wooden floor of the bandstand.

The exercise will be all the more valuable if, sometime in the next five years, some kid from a north Sheffield school decides they want to train their mind and expand their career by going to university, whatever they choose to study.

And I trust the Department of Archaeology will continue to Dig It! – after all, in archaeology as in show business, you’re only as good as your last dig.

The Victorian Society South Yorkshire Group has a meeting that includes a talk by Kathy Clark of Historic England on Bandstands on Thursday November 23rd 2017 at 7.30pm at the Friends Meeting House, St James’ Street, Sheffield, S1 2EW.  There is a charge of £5.00.

 

 

The St Pancras clock

British Horological Institute Museum, Upton Hall, Nottinghamshire:  St Pancras Station clock hands

British Horological Institute Museum, Upton Hall, Nottinghamshire: St Pancras Station clock hands

The clock at St Pancras Station has long been a rendezvous for couples to meet, a tradition now symbolised by Paul Day’s magnificently kitsch thirty-foot-high sculpture The Meeting Place (2007).  (The frieze below the huge figures, added in 2008, is actually much more interesting.)

The clock itself is not original.

The original eighteen-foot-diameter dial was sold to an American collector in the 1970s for £250,000, but during the removal fell to the concourse and smashed to pieces.

Mr Roland Hoggard, a railwayman and clock enthusiast, paid £25 for the pieces, including the hands and clock mechanism, and took it all back to his home village of Thurgaton in Nottinghamshire.

There he reconstructed the dial on the side of his barn and powered the hands by the original motion.

When the station was refurbished as the permanent terminus for Eurostar, the clockmakers Dent & Co took moulds and samples and reproduced the dial and hands exactly, with new Swithland slate numerals and much 23-carat gold leaf.

In 2015 the artist Cornelia Parker devised a second, black dial to hang in front of the not-original clock-face.  The installation was entitled ‘One More Time’  [https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibition/cornelia-parker-st-pancras-international].

When Mr Hoggard died in 2013 at the age of 96 he bequeathed the clock to the British Horological Institute museum, five miles away from Thurgaton at Upton Hall, where for the moment the hands sit incongruously on top of a doorcase.

The BHI museum conservators are restoring the clock mechanism.  Where they’ll find space to put the dial remains to be seen.

The BHI Museum at Upton Hall is open on a limited basis: http://bhi.co.uk/museum/museum-events

The spire and the minaret

Trinity Methodist Church and the Jamia Mosque Ghausia, Firvale, Sheffield

Trinity Methodist Church and the Jamia Mosque Ghausia, Firvale, Sheffield

The multicultural, multi-faith nature of the local community, depicted in the Channel 4 documentary Keeping up with the Khans (2016) [http://www.channel4.com/programmes/keeping-up-with-the-khans], has a remarkable architectural expression in the buildings of Trinity Methodist Church, Firvale, Sheffield, which has closed because its congregation felt they could no longer maintain their large, listed building:  http://www.thestar.co.uk/our-towns-and-cities/sheffield/a-120-year-old-sheffield-church-to-close-due-to-cost-of-upkeep-1-8561680.

The church was built in 1899, designed by the Derby architect John Wills (1846-1906), a prolific builder of nonconformist churches and chapels.  The Gothic design is remarkably church-like, with a chancel, an altar and a tall spire that dominates the narrow fork of the junction between Firth Park Road and Owler Lane.

This High-Church Methodist layout, unusual in north Sheffield, is more often found in the affluent south-western suburbs.

The interior, split to provide meeting rooms in 1979-81, still retains its alabaster pulpit and font, and a three-manual Wilcox organ.

The adjacent Sunday School, added in 1907, was sold in 1976 and has become the Jamia Mosque Ghausia, carefully extended with a domed minaret that echoes the Gothic spire at the other end of the complex.

The church itself was put up for sale, with a price of £375,000, early in 2017.

The departure of the Methodists diminishes the symbolism of the two groups of worshippers as neighbours.  It will be interesting to see whether the church is taken over by the Muslim congregation or put to some other use.

Christians and Muslims remain neighbours in the heart of Firvale, however, because the Anglican parish church of St Cuthbert continues its work, with a well-designed community centre leading from the north aisle, opened in 2014:  http://www.thestar.co.uk/news/community-boost-from-new-sheffield-church-1-6698115.

St Cuthbert’s is a building of quality, dating shortly after the opening of Trinity Methodist Church.  It was built 1901-5, designed by John Dodsley Webster (d 1913) whose many Sheffield buildings included the recently demolished Jessop Hospital for Women.

The diminutive tower of 1959 is an unfortunate addition.  However, the church contains fine stained glass by Archibald Davis (1877-1953) of the Bromsgrove Guild, including a particularly beautiful war-memorial east window depicting the Resurrection and the Ascension.

Whatever happens to the Trinity Methodist Church buildings, the Christians and the Muslims will continue to be neighbours and no doubt will work together for the good of the local community.

St Cuthbert's Church, Firvale, Sheffield:  east window

St Cuthbert’s Church, Firvale, Sheffield: east window

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) – whose daughter Martha was assistant 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…”