Looking at Buildings

, printed from the Looking at Buildings website on Friday 7th May 2021


classicalGlossary Term [1] style of the earlier school, shown in a carved stone plaque on the south wing, the present building is consciously ecclesiastical making use of decorative polychrome patterning popular for urban church buildings of this period. Red brick with blue brick diapering and stone dressingsGlossary Term [2], steep slate roof with ornamental ridge tiles. The centre range of two storeys and four half-dormered windows contains classrooms over a GothicGlossary Term [3] arcaded covered playground (now filled in), constructed on arches in orderGlossary Term [4] to avoid disturbing graves. Stairs at either end, one in a bayGlossary Term [5] fronted lobby, the other open. Flanking this are projecting wings, originally designed as houses for the school master and mistress.

Whitechapel Road [6] by George Baines, 1884-5 was a unique attempt to provide distractions for boys over thirteen years old after they had finished work. First proposed in 1876 by J.E Saunders of the Corporation of London, the institute at Whitechapel was to have been the first of several in London with reading room, library, classroom, bank and clothing club. Extended 1886-8 for lecture hall and swimming bath. Now flats.

Mile End Road [7] was the most ambitious, if misguided attempt to provide the East End with a cultural and educational institution worthy of the West End. The inspiration was Walter Besant's ""All Sorts and Conditions of Men"" which decried the lack of any centre for ""rational recreation"" in the East End, away from the immoralities of the pubs and gambling dens. Bread riots during the winter of 1885-6 raised fears about the conditions of East London and gave impetus to a successful fund-raising campaign which culminated in 1887 with designs by E.R. Robson for an opulent fantasy hall that was part Crystal Palace, part Alhambra. In the final design, Robson provided a quasi neo-Grecian facade, behind which stood the Queen's Hall, an outrageous confection with statues of England's Queens ranged on both sides between tiers of balconies. It was intended ""for those to whom high rents forbid the luxury of a drawing room"" and attempted to reproduce Besant's literary fantasy in almost slavish detail. But the People's Palace was ill-fated and unpopular. The destruction of its hall, by fire in 1933, allowed however for the adjoining technical schools to be re-established as Queen Mary College, University of London.

Whitechapel High Street [8]. 1891-2 by Potts, Son & Hennings; one of the many free public libraries and institutes to appear in London c.1890-1905 funded by J. Passmore Edwards, editor of the Building News. This was the first in East London and characterises the drift away from sermonising GothicGlossary Term [9] towards a warmer aesthetic combining Northern RenaissanceGlossary Term [10] details with BaroqueGlossary Term [11] asymmetry. Red-brick with mullioned and leaded windows dressed in terracottaGlossary Term [12] tiles by Burmantoft's, popular for their perceived resistance to the polluted atmosphere of the East End. Showy sculpted friezeGlossary Term [13] of interweaving foliage at first floor and sculpted spandrelsGlossary Term [14] of putti over the entrance signed by R. Spruce. The roofline was originally more distinctive with shaped gables and a central cupolaGlossary Term [15].

Whitechapel Art Gallery [16], 1898-1901 by Charles Harrison Townsend, was also executed with funds from Passmore Edwards. Wonderfully original and an epoch making building in spite of its moderate size. Initially referred to as the ""Whitechapel Art Palace"", it typifies efforts to bring, in the language of the period, "the best to the lowest" accompanied by Ruskinian exhortations that ""Life without Industry is guilt, Industry without Art is brutality." Its facade is without any borrowed motifs of the past, as original as any Art NouveauGlossary Term [17] on the Continent, with the lower storey dominated by an asymmetrical double doorway under a massive keyed archGlossary Term [18] springing from the stringGlossary Term [19] courseGlossary Term [20]. Upper storeys faced in familiar hard-wearing buff terracottaGlossary Term [21] tiles with realistic layered foliage, possibly by William Aumonier, clasping the baseGlossary Term [22] of a pair of squat towers. In the centre is a dark painted blank sectionGlossary Term [23], originally intended to hold a mosaic panel by Walter Crane representing "The Sphere and Message of Art". Passmore Edwards would not pay for its commission after Barnett refused to let the galleryGlossary Term [24] bear his name. Remodelling by Colquhoun Miller Partners in 1988 gave the interior an elegant all-white treatment which retains the sense of Townsend's spaces but compliments them with rational classicalGlossary Term [25] forms. The geometricGlossary Term [26] details of the doors make appropriate nods to the tradition of Glasgow and Vienna Secessionist designers of c.1900.

Last updated: Monday, 26th January 2009