Shoreditch Town Hall sculptural decoration

Grim picture of Shoreditch Town Hall.

Shoreditch Town Hall is one of the better surviving town halls in London. It is just round the corner from St Leonard’s on Shoreditch High Street, in Old Street, and it is unfortunate that the road is narrow enough that viewer cannot go far enough backwards to get a good view of the frontage. It takes a moment to appreciate that we are looking at a composite building. Thus the building was originally by C. A. Long, 1866, and extended by William G. Hunt in Edwardian baroque, including the tower, which includes the date 1902 in a cartouche. We thus have sculptured keystone heads which date from the 1860s, nicely allegorical, and three figures on the tower of Edwardian times. The use of Portland stone throughout the frontage gives a certain unity to the design. It cannot conceal that the building has had to be extended asymmetrically, and the later architect makes a feature of this by maintaining the treatment of the ground and first floors, to give unity, while varying the roofs on the two sides of the tower .On the right, we have a pediment with figure sculpture (see below) over a three-bay wide wing. On the left there are five bays, so to avoid the pediment becoming two high, it is broken, with a narrower third storey projecting through it with a single window, but to the total width of three bays, the extra width being filled by two niches containing pots.

Allegorical keystone heads - Labour, Justice, Protection.

Now to the sculptural decoration. The Victorian keystone heads are variously related to the attributes and concerns of the local authority. Thus we see a Justice, Labour, with crossed hammers, Mercury (public health, here), one with a castle, symbol of municipality (5 crenellations), and one more like a portcullis which may also indicate safety/protection, and a woman with fruit and corn, indicative of the authority’s role in providing sustenance and support to the local populace. (There are lots of allegorical statues on this site accessible from this page, and also a keystones page.)

Allegorical statue of Progress.

The standing figure of Progress, in her contrapuncto pose and the manner of the drapes, fits comfortably into the Edwardian Baroque. She wears a winged helmet, symbol of speed, a torch, thus the shining light of progress, and an axe, as if to cut down virgin forest and transform it into the attributes of civilisation. She has the physique of a Valkyrie – note especially the solidity of the raised right arm – and could fairly fit as one of our caste of Warrior Women statues.

More light, more power.

The pair of reclining figures flank a shield, with under it the motto ‘More Light, More Power’. More Light has a flaming lamp, more power has a sceptre, symbol of authority. Both wear thin drapes above, heavier ones for the skirts, and are barefoot. The treatment is broad, and suitable for the height at which the statues are placed.

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Go East and South to St Leonard's Church, Shoreditch

Another sculpturally decorated town hall, at Deptford

London sculpture // Sculptors // Pediment sculpture.


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