Monday, 23 September 2013

9 Laurence Pountney Lane, EC4

Hemmed in by modern office buildings in the midst of the City, the narrow Laurence Pountney Lane, first recorded in 1248, cuts through from Cannon Street down to Upper Thames Street.

There used to be a church on the street, but it was burnt down in the Great Fire and never rebuilt. The churchyard is still here though, and directly south of it on the same side of the street is number 9, a red brick house dating from about 1670 - it was built on the site of a wine merchant's shop and house that also perished in the fire. It was partly reconstructed in the early 18th century, and a late 18th-century shop front has survived.

When it ceased to be a shop I don't know, but it was turned into offices at some point and only converted back into domestic use in 2004. The one-window wooden shop front, with a fairly large fascia and flat pilasters, is in great condition. There's also still a pulley and a trapdoor for lifting port and sack into the cellar.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

91-101 Worship Street, EC2

On the borders of the City and Shoreditch, the terrace at 91-101 Worship Street looks somewhat unloved. Yet as the steel and glass of the City flows ever onward, it has probably survived thanks to its architect, Philip Webb.

Of the shops with National Heritage listing, almost all will be Grade II - but this tatty block is Grade II* (a category only 5.5% of listed buildings have). This is because of Webb, friend of William Morris and at the vanguard of Arts and Crafts architecture - most famous for The Red House in Bexley.

Details on 91-101 Worship Street such as the pointed window arches and steep roofs are typical of Arts and Crafts architecture.

Webb usually stuck to domestic buildings, but accepted a commisson to design 91-101 Worship Street, a terrace of workshops, shops and housing for artisans. Originally the craftsmen would have lived and worked here, displaying their wares in the windows of the shops that project outwards on the ground floor. Windows let light into the basements so work could be done down there. A gothic drinking fountain on the southeast corner provided a final dash of Victorian philanthropism.

As standalone shops, there's not much to describe. The shop fronts have no ornamentation, the shop windows are basic, and the doorways with wide porches more residential than retail. The Builder magazine praised the use of "sound real materials" in the terrace's construction but complained that the finishings inside had a "degree of rudeness" that it predicted would deter those tenants able to afford the rent, meaning take-up of the properties may be slow. This pic is from The Builder's review of Webb's work.

When I visited, the gate had been left open so I nipped in to get a pic of the rear, although as regards the shops there's not much to see.

Today, all of the block has been split up into single floors with various uses such as a sandwich shop and offices, so Webb's original intention of artisans living above and working below has been lost.

However, in a retail sense it's a fine example of Victorian social ideals and the Arts and Crafts movement's focus on artisan traditions.