A Royal Church

Image from a late 1940s postcard by Valentines.

St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church – Built 1721-26, is perhaps the finest work of James Gibbs. Familiar to all “Listeners” on account of its Broadcast Services.
Postcard by Valentine & Sons, Ltd.

We come now to a place known through the broadcasting world, St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Proudly it stands by [Trafalgar] Square, broadcasting to the millions its message and the music of its bells, alive with every kind of good activity, its crypt open every night to scores of London’s homeless.

It is one of our finest churches, the masterpiece of Wren’s friend and disciple James Gibbs, whose bust (by Rysbrack) is inside. There had been a church here for centuries, and the fields were still green in [Oliver] Cromwell’s day, but St. Martin’s as we see it comes from 1726. Its architecture should be admired from across the square, where the splendid proportions of the classical design are best seen. The impressive portico is one of the best in London, and above it the royal arms remind us that this is the parish church of Buckingham Palace, so that the name of a royal baby born at the palace is entered in the register here.

[The interior is] full of interest, though unhappily so dark that it must always be lit by day. The roof is unusual for curving down in the shape of an ellipse, an arrangement James Gibbs thought “much better for the voice.” It is panelled in blue and gold, and adorned by fretwork. Royal boxes, like open windows, look down on the sanctuary, and between them is an east window of the Ascension with expressive faces.

Plain in architecture but warm in welcome, the crypt is like a second church below the first. It is one of London’s Ever Open Doors, and is used for worship when the crowd is too great for the church itself. In the crypt is a rare little Children’s Chapel, domed and coloured like the vault of heaven, and among the interesting things kept here is a fine model of the church by its architect, waiting to light up for a penny, an old chest, a kneeling Tudor figure, a row of ten kneeling children, a whipping-post of 1752 from Trafalgar Square, and a tablet to a lady of 1687 whose early death led her friends to write of her:
A friendly neighbour and a virtuous wife,
Doubtless she’s blessed with Everlasting Life.
‘London’, Arthur Mee, Hodder and Stoughton, 1937.

In 2006, work began on a two-year £36 million “renewal programme” for St. Martin’s. The crypt is now a cafe and concert area.

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A Bath for the Gods

Continuing from Tuesday’s post, following J. A. Froude’s account of his adventures in the geothermal region of New Zealand’s North Island in 1885.

Leaving the White Terrace behind, the guides Kate and Mari led the group on a track past boiling pools where the “heat, noise and smell were alike intolerable”, and steaming cones of mud. “Suspicious bubbles of steam spurted out under our feet as we trod, and we were warned to be careful where we went.”

After lunch beside Lake Rotomahana, Mari ferried them accross the “weird and evil looking” hot lake in a leaky dugout canoe.

The Pink Terrace, the object of our voyage, opened out before us on the opposite shore. It was formed on the same lines as the other, save that it was narrower, and was flushed with pale-rose colour. Oxide of iron is said to be the cause….

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A painting of the Pink Terrace and Lake Rotomahana by Charles Blomfield. The White Terrace can be seen in the background on the other side of the lake. The height and shape of Mount Tarawera has been exaggerated and distorted. (Compare with the photograph at the bottom of the post).

The party landed at the terrace-foot “with no more misfortune than a light splashing”. Some intrepid tourists of the time felt their trip wouldn’t be complete without bathing in the terrace pools and Froude was keen to take the plunge.

To my great relief I found that a native youth was waiting with the towels, and that we were to be spared the ladies’ assistance. The youth took charge of us and led us up the shining stairs. The crystals were even more beautiful than those which we had seen, falling like clusters of rosy icicles, or hanging in festoons like creepers trailing from a rail. At the foot of each cascade the water lay in pools of ultra marine, their exquisite colour being due in part, I suppose, to the light of the sky refracted upwards from the bottom. In the deepest of these we were to bathe. The temperature was 94°F or 95°F. The water lay inviting in its crystal basin.

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Falling like clusters of rosy icicles.

The water was deep enough to swim in comfortably, though not over our heads. We lay on our backs and floated for ten minutes in exquisite enjoyment, and the alkali, or the flint, or the perfect purity of the element, seemed to saturate our systems. I for one, when I was dressed again, could have fancied myself back in the old days when I did not know that I had a body, and could run up hill as lightly as down.

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The bath over, we pursued our way. The marvel of the Terrace was still before us, reserved to the last. The crater at the White Terrace had been boiling; the steam rushing out from it had filled the air with cloud; and the scorching heat had kept us at a distance. Here the temperature was twenty degrees lower; there was still vapour hovering over the surface, but it was lighter and more transparent, and a soft breeze now and then blew it completely aside. We could stand on the brim and gaze as through an opening in the earth into an azure infinity beyond.

The hue of the water was something which I had never seen, and shall never again see on this side of eternity. ….. Here was a bath, if mortal flesh could have borne to dive into it! It was a bath for the gods and not for man.
Extracted from ‘Oceana’, J. A. Froude, Ed. Geoffrey Blainey. Methuen Haynes, 1985.

Froude was right – he would never see the sight again. One year after his visit, this landscape changed forever. More about that tomorrow.

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Wellington architecture #3 – the evolution of Parliament.

When New Zealand’s capital, or Seat of Government as it was known then, moved from Auckland to Wellington in 1865 Parliament’s “House of Assembly” moved in to the existing Provincial Council Chambers.

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Photo: ATL – Swan, George Henry, 1833-1913. Provincial Council building, Wellington. Ref: 1/2-003739-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22494909

It was a convenient place to start but obviously not big enough. Additions to accommodate debating chambers for Upper and Lower Houses, committee rooms, the members’ restaurant (very important) and offices were added in stages until the original became part of a much bigger complex.

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Photo: ATL – Parliament Buildings, Wellington. Ref: 1/2-011625-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22795018

Restricted by Sydney Street on the left and Hill Street on the right, architects had to build over the back yard. Twenty years later, the side view from Sydney Street looked like a Gothic fantasy castle made in wood.

Parl buildings_S

In the 1890s, when the overflowing Parliamentary library demanded a new fireproof home, architect Thomas Turnbull went full circle and put his masonry extension in front of the original Provincial Council Chamber.

Pre 1907 postcard image of Parliament Buildings, Wellington.

It should have been a three storey building but political bickering over cost saw it redesigned by the Government’s architect with two storeys. Turnbull resigned from the project and asked for his name to be removed from the foundation stone. Fortunately, fireproof rooms and doors remained part of the design, despite budget cuts.

Parliament fire

On 11th December 1907, the tinder-dry wooden buildings burned down. The library and most of its contents survived, was rebuilt, and can still be seen today.

Parl library

The destruction of everything else disrupted Parliament for years to come and brought about a dramatic change in the landscape. The Governor abandoned his official residence, Government House (see previous post), and it became a “temporary” House of Assembly. An architectural competition for a new building was won by John Campbell – the Government’s own architect – with a grandiose design. The shallow gully that was Sydney Street was filled in and the site levelled to accomodate it. Construction began in 1912. And then came the Great War.

Work dragged on despite the lack of manpower available but when the war ended enthusiasm waned. An already small population had been decimated by conflict and the Spanish flu pandemic, materials became difficult to source, and the country was short of funds – again. Construction stopped in 1922 when the new House of Assembly was literally half the building it was meant to be. It has never been completed.

Parliament buildings, Wellington, New Zealand.

The building you see today is only half of the original concept, which is why the entrance steps are at the left instead of in the centre. The “Beehive” Executive Wing was added in the late 1960s to make a bold statement about “modern” New Zealand.

Whether or not you think these buildings “work” together is a matter of personal taste, but they have their own story to tell and represent three distinct periods in the architectural history of Wellington.

Wellington architecture #2

From the Cyclopedia of New Zealand.

Government House, Wellington, is built on one of the most favoured sites in the City. The location is immediately between the Houses of Parliament, where the laws are made, and the Government Buildings [previous post], where they are administered. The grounds have an area of about six-and-a-half acres….. The House itself is a two-story edifice in the Italian style, 165 feet in length, and slightly less in depth, the top of the tower being eighty feet above the ground level.

Vintage postcard image of Old Government House, Wellington.

Government House up till 1868 was a very unpretentious affair, and only remarkable from other humble buildings of those days by the flagstaff and the two guns in front. Originally erected for and occupied by Colonel Wakefield, of the New Zealand Company, it became the first Government House on the removal of the Administration of the Colony [from Auckland] to Wellington [in 1865].

The present building was completed in 1871, and contains two spacious drawing rooms, which open out into each other, a dining-room, a ballroom, a billiard-room and conservatory, together with a full suite of offices for the Governor and his staff, and the Executive Council. There are upwards of twenty bedrooms, and the servants’ quarters are commodious, and arranged with all the conveniences modern ideas of comfort suggest. Ventilation has had due attention paid to it through-out, and gas and electricity are both laid on.

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An imposing view of Government House with shops on Lambton Quay in the foreground.

The stables are situated at the south-west corner of the grounds, and are built with loose-boxes ten feet square, brick floored, and with every convenience for feed, water, etc., for ten horses. There are two coachhouses, in which are kept five carriages, and adjoining are the cottages for the accommodation of the grooms and gardeners.

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This rear view taken in the 1870s shows Government House and grounds in the centre with part of the Parliament Buildings at left. A gate from Hill Street (foreground) leads down to Sydney Street. The stables are on the corner.

The out-of-door staff consists of two coachmen, and three gardeners. There is also a lodge at the main entrance, where a bombardier and three privates of the Permanent Artillery are constantly on duty, one being always on guard, and the squad being relieved at 9 a.m. every morning; there are also three of the same force always in attendance at Government House itself, one attending at the door, and the other two acting as messengers. The domestic servants consist of four employed in the kitchen, three housemaids, one schoolroom maid, two ladies’ maids, one butler, and a man and boy for odd jobs. The laundry is occupied by one of the permanent force who is employed on duty at the House.
Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1897. [abridged]

Govt reserve

This photograph, copied from an old postcard, was taken sometime before 1897. Government House, at left, and the Parliament Buildings, right, are separated by the tree-lined Sydney Street, which no longer exists. I’ll explain why in my next post. The church tower in the background belongs to St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Hill Street.

This fine old building lasted until 1968, by which time it hadn’t been used as a Governor’s residence for decades and was in very poor condition. It was demolished to make way for the new Executive Wing of Parliament, a controversial design by Sir Basil Spence, and a building more commonly known as the Beehive for obvious reasons.

Govt_Parl beehive

#3 on Monday.

Wellington architecture #1

Govt offices

The Government Buildings, built on newly-reclaimed land in 1876 and photographed by James Bragge soon afterwards. Wellington would continue to spread into the harbour for most of the next century.

To many, the gem of Lambton Quay, undoubtedly one of the finest structures the Dominion has to offer, is the Government Buildings, erected in 1876 to meet the needs of the rapidly growing civil service, a beautifully proportioned block somewhat resembling a wooden replica of Somerset House, and standing in grounds which, though limited, serve to enhance not only the building they surround but the whole northern end of the Quay. The building is constructed entirely of wood, and forms the largest permanent wooden structure in the world.

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c. 1902. The original “ugly” corrugated iron fence was replaced by railings, and the gardens improved, in the 1890s.

And what wood! A list of the materials used – a million feet of them – sounds like a building contractor’s dream. For the main block, the framework of Tasmanian hardwood, the weatherboards and interior of kauri, For the wings, added later [1897 and 1907], the framework of rimu, the piles of totara, the weatherboards and flooring of matai, the interior finishings of kauri – an epitome of all the most precious of New Zealand forest products. The thought comes uppermost: “What forests passed beneath the axe to rear its walls!”
‘The Streets of my City’, F.L. Irvine-Smith, A.H. & A.W. Reed, 1948.

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The civil service had outgrown its old offices by 1990 and left them empty. In recognition of its status as a heritage building, government sponsored restoration and conservation began four years later. Most of the interior is now leased to the Victoria University School of Law but parts of it are open to the public and well worth a visit.

The city has grown around (and above) it as cities do, and it’s a little sad to see the old building, that used to dominate its surroundings, being overshadowed by modern office blocks.

Govt offices 4

This is the first of three loosely connected posts about the New Zealand capital’s early architecture. Next – Government House, 1871.

Crossing the Tamar

I recently acquired an interesting old letter card featuring eight photographs of Devonport, England. It was published by “W.B.P.” and my best guess for a date would be 1904 to 1907. Printed on semi-matt paper with a fairly course screen and a little faded with age, it doesn’t provide the best quality but I think these two images are good enough (after a little tweaking) to be posted for their historic interest.

Torpoint ferry

The ferry service across the Tamar estuary between what was then Plymouth, in Devon, and Torpoint, in Cornwall, was established in 1791 by the first Earl of Mount Edgcumbe. It’s still running – with three much bigger ferries. This image was also published by W.B.P. as a hand-coloured postcard.

Image from a letter card c. 1904-1907 published by "W.B.P."

Farther upstream, at Saltash, is the Royal Albert railway bridge opened by Prince Albert in May 1859. Still in use today, after periodic strengthening to take heavier trains, it is literally a monument to the brilliant Victorian engineer I. K. Brunel. He died four months after his creation opened and the railway company added his name, in large letters, to each end of the bridge as a memorial. A road bridge was built alongside it in 1962.

The Legend of Holyrood

Edwardian Valentine's postcard of Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh.

Valentine’s Series postcard printed after 1903 from a photograph believed to be c. 1878.
Caption: The Abbey and Palace of Holyrood
Was founded by David I, in the 12th Century. It has seen many changes, having been partly destroyed by Edward II, in 1321; burnt by Richard II, in 1385; restored by Abbot Crawford at [the] end of [the] 15th Century; demolished by the English in 1547; and sacked by a mob in 1688. What little remains of the original structure was put into order in 1816. Suggestions have been recently made for the restoration of the Chapel Royal, but it is feared that this is now unpracticable.

From ‘The History of the Abbey, Palace, and Chapel-Royal of Holyrood House’, Mrs John Petrie, Second Edition, 1821.

This monastery of Sanctae Crucis, or Holyrood, was founded by David I of Scotland, A. D. 1128, and, like most other religious establishments of the dark ages, originated in superstition. The account generally given is, that it was established by that Monarch, to perpetuate the memory of a miraculous interposition of heaven, said to have been manifested in his favour. This event is narrated by the historians of those times, with all their usual enthusiasm when treating of such subjects.

“The King,” say they, “while hunting in the forest of Drumselch, one of the royal forests, which surrounded the rocks and hills to the east of the city of Edinburgh, on Rood-day, or exaltation of the cross, was attacked by a stag, and would in all probability have fallen a sacrifice to the enraged animal, which overbore both him and his horse, (as his attendants were left at a considerable distance behind,) when lo! an arm, wreathed in a dark cloud, and displaying a cross of the most dazzling brilliancy, was interposed between them, and the affrighted animal fled to the recesses of the forest in the greatest confusion. This having put an end to the chase, the Monarch repaired to the Castle of Edinburgh; where, during the night, in a dream, he was advised, as an act of gratitude for his deliverance, to erect an Abbey, or house for Canons regular, upon the spot where this miraculous interposition had taken place.”

In obedience to this visionary command, the King endowed this monastery for Canons regular of the Augustine order, a colony of whom he brought from an abbey of the same kind at St. Andrews, and dedicated his new establishment to the honour of the said Cross.

It’s worth mentioning again, in case you missed it, that this book was published in Edinburgh by Hay, Gall and Co., forMrs John Petrie, No. 1 Abbey, and sold by her at the Chapel Royal, for behoof of herself and family.” An early 19th century example of self-publishing and business enterprise by a woman.