Kingsway - some early 20th Century sculpture

Sculpture by Benjamin Clemens on Africa House, Kingsway, 1922.

Kingsway was a new road of the 1900s, and contains a series of large stone-faced buildings at the underground station end, with progressive replacement by more ugly things going southwards. The architectural partnership of Trehearne and Norman designed several of them. Architectural sculptural interest is from the early 20th century, then, and includes half a dozen groups, including attributable work by Richard Garbe, LF Roslyn and Gilbert Seale. At the southern end Kengsway meets the middle of Aldwych, a semicircle of a road off the Strand. Aldwych also dates from the turn of the century, and has some 1900s architectural sculpture, as well as the more modern statues on Bush House.

We start at the station, and before going left, briefly go right into Southampton Row, because by the first street off it, called Catton Street, is a statue of John Bunyan on the face of a building, most likely in terra cotta. A pleasantly-faced work by the always interesting Richard Garbe, dating from 1903. Bunyan is there because this building was built as the headquarters of the Baptist Union, and to its rear is the octagonal Kingsgate Baptist Church.

John Bunyan, by Richard Garbe.

Back by the station, before heading south, stand on the corner and look up at the red-brick Queen Anne style building a couple of frontages along on High Holborn. It is called Kingsgate House, no 114-115, and high up at 5th floor level are seated statues of two kings - Edward I and Edward VII, again by Richard Garbe. You will need a pair of binoculars to appreciate them properly, so here they are.

So now we are ready to go south along Kingsway. I should mention that behind the buildings on the left hand side, lies Lincoln Inn Fields, with the wonderful Soane Museum, but this is not covered here. The classical portico almost opposite the station, now housing a Government agency, but once the lower part of Holy Trinity Kingsway, by the architect John Belcher and his partner J. J. Joass, bears a pair of slight semidraped stone figures, which I have not identified. Leftwards, a few paces along on the station side, needing to be seen from the other side of the road, is Africa House. It is essentially a massive oblong block, with the central third treated as a portico. The actual arched entrance is only of ground floor height, with 6 storeys above it, but above to left and right are stone lions, then above, pillars running from 2nd to 5th floor height - Corinthian of course - then a blocky and massive pedimental sculptural group, then two further storeys and some small crest in the shape of a shell. The two lions, couchant, are very severe, and firmly date the building in the early 1920s. The tops of the pillars bear African faces of various types. The sculptural group, a low pyramidal composition, is too high up to be seen from a good angle even on such a wide road. It contains three main figures, two subsidiary ones, and various animals. The central figure, a seated female, with oversize Corinthian crest and sword, and a round shield from which the design has been worn away. Possibly a Britannia, rather ugly. On the left hand side, two Arabic men, seated and standing, a lion, seated camel and stretched out crocodile, with reeds behind - see picture at top of page. To the right hand side, a black man carrying tusks, a seated colonial loading a gun, the head of an elephant, a standing wildebeest and a snake, all among tall grasses. Suitably exotic. The sculptor was a certain Benjamin Clemens, a now rather obscure sculptor who exhibited from shortly after the turn of the century, mostly female nudes, before turning to teaching.

One of two girls, block next to Parker Street.

Opposite is Parker Street. The building on its right hand corner has a pair of crouched girls, with swirling cloaks, above the corner entrance. The building on the left hand corner and occupying the whole block through to Great Queen Street, is Kingsway House (1906, by Sykes), with a series of projecting balconies held up by alternating pairs of mermaids and mermen, more properly grotesques, in that their tails are more decorative flourishes than fishlike in nature. Engaging. (See here for a page on mermaid sculpture.)

On the left, opposite is Remnant Street, and on the right hand corner of this is Imperial Buildings (1913, Trehearne and Norman again). Above its two entrances are two pairs of figures, signed by LF Roslyn, 1914, a male and female to each pair, flanking a shield with IB of Imperial Buildings and some small motif. One pair apparently symbolises work and commerce (man with hammer, girl cradling an ocean liner). The other pair signifies the Empire (Roman soldier with full armour, shield and sword) and perhaps learning semidraped girl with a feather for writing). All in stone, good work, especially the Roman. Round the corner, a lion’s head higher up.

L.F. Roslyn's sculpture for Imperial House, Kingsway.

Keeping on the right hand side of Kingsway, a couple of minutes along, on the corner of Kemble Street, is Leeds Building Society, no. 40 or 41. the sculptural decoration consists of good swirly-tailed mermaid and merman above the corner entrance, with little Roman-style dolphins between. The group is signed by Gilbert Seale and Son, sculptors, and Gibson, Sopwith and Gordon architects. There is a cupola high up over the corner, and round the corner, a couple of winged cherubic heads of a type favoured by Gilbert Seale.

Mermaid, by Gilbert Seale, Leeds Building Soc.

A couple of minutes leads to the end of road, in the middle of Aldwych – facing down Kingsway is Bush House (completed 1930s, by the American architects Corbett and Helmle), with the American sculptor Malvina Hoffman’s statues of England and America above tree level.

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London sculpture // Sculptors

Walk along Aldwych // And East to the Gladstone Monument

North-West to Bloomsbury Square (from North end of Kingsway) // or West to Oxford Street


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