You have probably never heard of Capper Street in WC1, unless you work there or nearby. I say that without patronizing in the least as I had never heard of it either until this morning. You will find it on the map here.
We were out and about today and entertained a vague intention of visiting the Tate Britain and having a look at the Turner exhibition there. How that means that we were strolling around in Fitzrovia, I couldn’t say, but we were. Or more precisely, in that bit of it often known, half jokingly and half fondly, as the Gower Peninsula, because it lies between Gower Street and the Tottenham Court Road.
Just by chance, we spotted Shropshire House and went to take a look. Or, to be honest, Tigger saw it and went for a look and I followed to see what she was so interested in. We both agreed it was something special.
It was at this point that I met the Young Man in the Hard Hat (YMHH hereafter). He was heading into the building where, he told us, he was working. More particularly, he said, he was “bashing out the windows.” (This was part of the work of refurbishing the building.)
YMHH was intrigued as to what we were up to and gobsmacked to learn that we liked the building. “It’s just a building” was his considered opinion. I was asked to explain what, exactly, I liked about it. Well, for starters, I liked the font in which the name was written – unusual but pleasing, and legible, unlike some awful modern fonts.
Tigger, who had been photographing further down the street, arrived as I was explaining that I liked the two curvy pseudo-balcony features which contrasted with the rectangular plan of the rest of the building. Tigger said it made her think of a cloud with a flash of lightning underneath it. (Look at the above picture and you’ll see what she meant.) They are delightfully whimsical on an otherwise rectangular background (except for the unusual curved end – see the second photo from the top).
I don’t think we managed to convince YMHH, who went on his way, though cheerfully enough, muttering something like “I wish I could see what you see in a building.” Later, as we prepared to leave, we heard a shout: it was YHMM calling to us from an upper floor where he was once more bashing out the windows.
I know nothing about the building, though I am guessing that it was built in the 1930s – it has that feel about it. The style is indeterminate, a one-off. It’s quirky but for my money, it works. I hope the refurbishment is successful and that the new tenants will enjoy working in it.
Also in Huntley Street is a building bearing the name Gordon Mansions. There are two doorways, on opposite sides of the street, and this one has scallop shell decorations over the door. Both have a pair of figures holding up the lintel or narrow canopy.
These figures interested me because they seem rather ambiguous. At first sight they look like putti, but these usually have wings, which these figures lack. They are holding up part of the building like caryatids, but caryatids are female figures. There is a male equivalent of the caryatid, called an atlas, but I’m not sure a child figure qualifies as an atlas which sounds more like a muscular adult figure. Not that this really matters, as I think the doorways possess their own logic and harmony.
A couple of buses took us to the Tate Britain. Our intention was to visit the Turner Collection in the Clore Gallery. We tried to do this back in April but had had to leave as soon as we arrived because the fire alarms had sounded (see Pimlico, Millbank and St Paul’s).
At the Tate you are allowed to take photos except in the exhibitions for which you pay for tickets. Flash photography is not allowed but apart from that you can click away happily.
Much of Turner’s work exhibited here is experimental. Perhaps it is interesting and important historically but it does nothing for me. I prefer those of his works which are more conventional, “proper paintings”, as you might say. Fortunately, there were paintings of this type by Turner and by others.
Though it was permissible to take photos of the paintings, that didn’t interest me. I prefer to look at the actual paintings and then take photos of the building.
The art works are what people come to see and the building allows them to be exhibited to their best advantage but it is worth looking at the building itself and reflecting on its graceful curves and elegant design.
This concave mirror proved fascinating. It probably attracted more people than any other work in the gallery. From a certain angle, a figure reflected in the mirror seemed to stand out in front of it in 3D.
Apart from not liking some of the works of Turner I enjoyed the visit. The Tate is a wonderful place and it adopts a sensible approach, allowing photography and providing floating curators whose role is to answer questions rather than check that visitors behave themselves.