Battishill Street Gardens frieze

Monday, January 26th 2015

Last week I ordered some tea online. Predictably, it arrived while we were out on Saturday and on our return the familiar red and white “We called but you were out” card lay on the mat. So today I went to the sorting office to reclaim my parcel.

Almeida Street and Battishill Street Gardens
Almeida Street and Battishill Street Gardens

The sorting office is in Almeida Street (near the centre of the above map – click for the Google map of the area) and, having collected my package, I thought to pay a visit to the nearby Battishill Street Gardens – Battishill Street is the one that branches north off Almeida Street near its middle.

I’ve already mentioned the gardens, first when I discovered them in October 2010 (see A discovery) and again on a subsequent visit in January 2011 (see A quiet visit to a damp sculpture). A remarkable feature of the gardens is a large early Victorian sculpted frieze that was dismantled from its original site and then restored to this quiet corner in 1974.

The nearby information board tells the story thus:

The stone frieze was carved by Musgrave Watson in 1842 and formed part of a Hall of Commerce in Threadneedle Street until it was demolished in 1922. The stonework was salvaged by Sir Albert Richardson and remained in pieces at London University. In 1974 these were given to the Borough Architect who replaced the missing sections to make the frieze a feature of the new Battishill Gardens.

When I photographed the frieze previously, there was not sufficient room for me to photograph it as a whole. This time, however, I was able to use the panorama function on my camera to capture it in its entirety, though there is some barrel distortion (as I have mention with regard to previous panorama shots). Please click on the image to see a larger version.

Battishill Gardens Frieze
Battishill Gardens Frieze
Click to see a larger version

The frieze is affected by algae and is partly obscured by the branches of shrubs and trees. If it is not taken care of, then I rather fear that it will decay until it reaches a state where it can be demolished without a qualm by those who order its destruction. If it is to survive, it needs to be kept in a more friendly environment.

Battishill Gardens Frieze - detail

As the details are relatively difficult to make out in the panorama version, I also include three partial views. I haven’t tried to photograph the whole thing, just to show three parts that were visible in spite of the undergrowth.

Battishill Gardens Frieze - detail

The information board interprets the imagery as follows:

The sculpture is an allegorical composition showing Commerce standing centrally with wings outstretched to welcome all nations. On the left hand side there is a lion and representations of poetry, Music and Painting; then Enterprise guided by Genius with a group looking towards the Messenger of Peace and Glad Tidings. On the other side of Commerce is Peace and Bearers of Fruits of the Earth, then Navigation guided by Urania and others personifying Geography and Education. To the far right are people of other countries shackled and dejected looking imploringly towards Britannia holding a flag, symbolic of liberty and protection.1

Battishill Gardens Frieze - detail

The style and imagery of the work are not in modern taste and we might find the message somewhat bombastic and out of kilter with modern hard-headed business mores. Surely, though, we can understand it in the context of that vigorous age in which Queen Victoria presided over the birth of the modern world and the invention of so much that we today take for granted.

If the frieze perishes, what will we have lost? Nothing essential, perhaps, but certainly another link in the increasingly tenuous chain uniting us with that extraordinary age with which we are still coming to terms.


1I have copied the text verbatim, including a couple of infelicities of capitalization and verb agreement.

Copyright © 2015 SilverTiger,, All rights reserved.


About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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4 Responses to Battishill Street Gardens frieze

  1. WOL says:

    The sculpting is well done, although the whole thing is so very Victorian. It reminded me of a scene from a dramatization of Dickens’ Nicholas Nickelby, where one of the minor characters is attempting to describe “the Aristotelian unities” of dramas. .

  2. Oh, this is such a treasure. To be able to walk up close – and it’s big! Do hope it survives – art is a record of an era’s thoughts, priorities, and dreams.

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