Travel Reference
In-Depth Information
Thames Street. Charles L. Eastlake's book, A History of the Gothic Revival (Longmans,
Green, London, 1872), is an invaluable guide to London Gothic, for many of the build-
ings described still exist in a more or less complete form. In these pages, the Gothic ideals
and aspirations of that time (the happiest, possibly, for a leisured Englishman that has ever
been known) stir once again, so that one feels impelled to rush out to relish all the Victori-
an Gothic that can be seen. This very strong flavour of mid-century Gothic can be sensed
in several of the London churches, particularly, I think, in St James the Less in Thorndike
Street off the Vauxhall Bridge Road which is illustrated here. I cannot do better than quote
Eastlake's description of it at length. After referring to the infiltration of a French element
into the Gothic of this period, he says:
But in no instance was this revolt from national style more marked than in the Church
of St James the Less, erected at Westminster by Mr Street. Here the whole character of
the building, whether we regard its plan, its distinctive features, its external or internal
decoration is eminently un-English. Even the materials used in its construction and the
mode by which it is lighted were novelties. The detached tower with its picturesquely
modelled spire, its belfry stage rich in ornamental brickwork and marble bosses, the semi-
circular apse and quasi-transepts, the plate tracery, the dormers inserted in the clerestory,
the quaint treatment of the nave arcade, the bold vigour of the carving, the chromatic dec-
oration of the roof - all bear evidence of a thirst for change which Mr Street could satisfy
without danger, but which betrayed many of his contemporaries into intemperance. Even
here there is something to regret in the restless notching of edges, the dazzling distribution
of stripes, the multiplicity of pattern forms, and exuberance of sculpture detail. But it is
all so clever and so facile, so evidently the invention of a man who enjoys his work - and
who, full of rich fancies and quaint conceits, is incapable of insipidity, but at any moment
if he so chooses can rein himself back from extravagance - that it is impossible but to re-
gard it with pleasure.
If Mr Street had never designed anything but the campanile of this church - and its
Italian character justifies the name - it would be sufficient to proclaim him an artist. In
form, proportion of parts, decorative detail, and in use of colour, it seems to leave little
to be desired. To form a just appreciation of its merits, let the architectural amateur walk
down to Garden Street from any part of London, and note as he passes the stereotyped
pattern of towers and spires which he will find to right or left of his road. How neat, how
respectable, how correct, how eminently uninteresting they are! No one cares to look at
them twice. They are all like each other, or so little different that if they changed places
any day, by help of Aladdin's lamp, the London world would never find it out. But here, in
one of the poorest and meanest quarters of town, hidden away behind dull masses of brick
and mortar, this fair tower, when one does see it, is something not to be easily forgotten.
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