From bank to beauty parlour

AL SAQI BOOKSHOP in London’s busy Westbourne Grove occupies a shop with a façade that would not look out of place on a palazzo on the Grand Canal in Venice. I have already described the interesting history of this building elsewhere (https://adam-yamey-writes.com/2020/10/18/the-story-of-a-bookshop/).

62-64 Westbourne Grove, London

Further west along the Grove, well past the Planet Organic ‘wholefood’ store and Alounak, one of the Grove’s several Persian restaurants, we reach number 62-64, whose façade is almost as grand as that of Al Saqi. Unlike the latter, this building’s history is harder to ascertain. Currently, it is the premises of Aveda, a beauty salon also called Gina Conway Salon Spa.  The ground floor façade of this edifice includes neoclassical columns with Doric capitals, and decorative mouldings, which include the letters ‘C’, ‘L’, and ‘M’. These are intertwined to form a logo. The first floor is fronted by three large arches separated by decorative mouldings and the top storey has three sets of windows set back behind lintels supported by short columns with Doric capitals. The salon, although modernised to suit its current purpose, has its original elaborately decorated moulded plaster ceiling and wall mouldings, some of which depict the heads of angels or putti.  Nobody in the salon had any ideas about the history of this attractive building.

A photograph in the London Metropolitan Archives describes number 62 as having an Edwardian façade. When this image was created in 1974, the building was a branch of the Midland Bank, which occupied its western two thirds. The eastern third of the place was the premises of The French Kitchen and Tableware Supply Company. The bank was already in existence at this address in 1940.  What was there before the bank occupied the edifice and when exactly it was built, I have not yet discovered. The building is marked as a bank on a detailed map surveyed in 1914, but not on one surveyed in 1893. However, Allan & Mortons Street Directory of 1867 revealed that number 62 was then the address of Dr Barry, who practised homeopathic medicine.  Both the 1893 and the 1914 maps mark the building west of number 62-64 on the corner of the Grove and the western arm of Newton Road as being a bank at those times. This building currently houses Farmacy, a vegan eatery.

The logo ‘LCM’ on the old bank stands for ‘London, City, and Midland’, a bank founded in 1898, which was renamed the London Joint City and Midland Bank in 1918 and then the Midland Bank in 1923 (www.gracesguide.co.uk/London_City_and_Midland_Bank). In the absence of any more information and in view of the fact that the architectural historian Pevsner regarded it as “Edwardian”, it might be safe to conclude that the present building at 62-64 Westbourne Grove was originally constructed to house a bank sometime during the reign of Edward VII, i.e., between 1901 and 1910, and certainly before 1918.

Lift your eyes

IT IS TEMPTING to concentrate on the wonderful collection of exhibits in Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum, but you should spare some of your attention for the magnificent decoration of some of its galleries. Look up from the paintings and display cases to see superb ceiling decorations above you, and also around you when using the grand staircase. You are sure to be amazed.

The museum is housed in a neo-classical edifice initially designed by George Basevi (1794-1845), architect of London’s Grosvenor Square. After Basevi’s death, the planning of the structure was completed by Charles Robert Cockerell (1788–1863). Built to house the collection bequeathed to the University of Cambridge by Richard FitzWilliam, 7th Viscount FitzWilliam (1745-1816), the present museum was opened to the public in 1848. Over the years since then, the museum has been enlarged by adding newer buildings and now it is home to about 500,000 artefacts.

Years ago, I remember reading (I cannot remember where) a comparison of a museum in the USA designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) with another one, the Guggenheim in Manhattan, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959). Both buildings are elegant but that by Mies Van der Rohe modestly allows the exhibits to grab the viewer’s attention more than the architecture, whereas the unusual design of Wright’s building competes with the artworks for the viewer’s attention. The internal decoration of the older galleries of the Fitzwilliam are sufficiently eye-catching to be able to compete with the exhibits housed in them, but somehow, they hardly do this. That is why I am asking you to take your eyes off the exhibits if only to glance briefly at the décor of the galleries,

On the temple steps

THE DOMED IONIC temple in the gardens of Chiswick House in west London was built in the early 18th century. It appears in a painting executed in 1729. This circular building is faced by an obelisk that stands in the centre of a circular pool. Today, we walked past these neoclassical garden features when we noticed a lady in a flowing white dress posing on the steps of the temple. Facing her across the circular pond were cameramen and their assistants, some holding large reflector screens. They were either carrying out a photo-shoot or making a film. Every now and then, a man holding a smoke gun ran past the temple creating an illusion that the temple was bathed in mist. Here is a photo I took whilst this activity was in progress.

Adam in the garden

WHEN I WAS BORN, my parents wanted to call me ‘Adam’. That was in the early 1950s. However, Mom and Dad were worried that Adam was a relatively unusual first name in those far-off days and that with such a name I might have been teased at school. As it happened, I only attended schools where the pupils were addressed by their surnames and mine, Yamey, was subject of a lot of mirth amongst my schoolmates. In view of their concerns, I was named ‘Robert Adam’, but have always been called ‘Adam’. My father, an economist, was all for calling me ‘Adam Smith Yamey’ in memory of the father of economics Adam Smith (1723-1790), but my mother was not keen giving me this name. The choice of Robert was possibly influenced by the fact that one of my mother’s brothers bore this name. It is also very vaguely possible that the name ‘Robert Adam’ was chosen in memory of another man who was alive during Adam Smith’s lifetime, the architect Robert Adam (1728-1792).

Garden House by Robert Adam at Osterley Park

Maybe because I share his name, I have grown to like and appreciate the architecture and interior decors created by the 18th century Robert Adam. However, you do not need to be called Robert Adam to enjoy Adam’s great works.

Last year, we visited Osterley Park on an extremely rainy day and were able to wander around the interior of Osterley Park House (https://adam-yamey-writes.com/2020/11/02/at-home-with-adam/). Built by the merchant and founder of London’s Royal Exchange Sir Thomas Gresham (c1519-1579) in about 1575, the house was extensively remodelled by the Child family, who owned it, during the 1760s and 1770s. The remodelling was to the detailed designs of Robert Adam.

When we visited the house on that rainy day in November 2020, we omitted walking around the house’s fine semi-formal gardens. On our recent visit, the house was not open because of covid19 prevention measures and there was no rainfall. So, we wandered around the lovely gardens. Like so many other 18th century landscaped gardens attached to stately homes, that at Osterley contains several buildings that were placed to add to the picturesqueness of the grounds.

The Doric Temple of Pan with four columns and four pilasters was built in the 18th century, probably to the design of the Scottish-Swedish architect William Chambers (1723-1796), who was born in the Swedish city of Gothenburg. Between 1740 and 1749, while in the employ of the Swedish East India Company, he made three voyages to China, where he learnt Chinese. A major rival of Robert Adam, he was an exponent of neo-classicism, of which the small Temple of Pan is a fine example. The interior of the temple, which we were unable to see because of covid19 prevention measures, contains, according to Nikolaus Pevsner and Bridget Cherry:

“… mid c18 interior plasterwork with Rococo flourishes and medallions of Colen Campbell and Sir Isaac Newton.”

The front of the temple faces across a lawn towards a structure, 175 yards away, designed by Chambers’ rival Robert Adam: The Garden House.

Adam designed the Garden House in about 1780. It has a semi-circular façade with five large windows within frames topped with semi-circular arches. Pevsner and Cherry describe these windows as “five linked Venetian windows”. A balustrade tops the façade and almost hides the conical roof. Between the windows, there are roundels containing bas-relief depictions of classical scenes with bucolic themes. The building was part of Mrs Child’s Flower Garden. The National Trust, which manages Osterley Park, notes in its website (www.nationaltrust.org.uk/osterley-park-and-house/features/the-garden-house-at-osterley-park-and-house) that the Garden House’s original purpose was:

“… a display house for the collection of rare trees and shrubs that were housed here in the 18thC. The main type of plant that we always grow and display in this building is lemon trees as we have historic evidence that 45 lemon trees were on show here in the 1780’s. We choose to have a mixed display of other interesting specimens alongside the lemons so as to give a greater display and range of interest for our visitors. All of these plants are known to have been either at Osterley in the 18thC or to have been available to grow at that time.”

Although it is not as spectacular as Adam’s interiors of Osterley Park, the Garden House is both delightful and elegant, a fine feature that enhances the appearance of the formal part of the gardens. This and other buildings designed by the same architect makes me proud to have been given, maybe accidentally, the name Robert Adam Yamey.