The Gargoyles on 51-54 Gracechurch Street
Look up above the Santander at 51-54 Gracechurch Street and you spy a collection of gruesome-looking gargoyles* staring down at you.
Having previously written about menacing demons in the City of London here, I was intrigued to find out more about these poor souls…
*Ok, so technically they’re grotesques, not gargoyles (they’re only gargoyles if they have water spouting from them)
51-54 Gracechurch Street
Built between 1928-30 and designed by Leo Sylvester Sullivan, there’s not much further information about the faces or why Sullivan chose to include them.
The Mysterious Sculptor
Pevsner doesn’t make any mention of the curious faces or who carved them. However, Sullivan regularly worked with a sculptor called Henry Poole, as mentioned in three buildings listed by Historic England; St Martin’s House and 37-39 Lime Street in the City as well as 233 Shaftesbury Avenue in Westminster.
However, the plot thickens as the only sculptor named Henry Poole that I can find any information about died in 1928. Also his style was far more Arts and Crafts, verging on Art Nouveau but not similar to the sculpted faces here.
Details on 51-54 Gracechurch Street
Though 51-54 Gracechurch Street isn’t listed, it contains many similar features to the others; strong vertical lines and neo-Egyptian and Greek stylistic details.
As well as looking out for the faces along the top of the building, it’s worth peering into Talbot Court to admire the side of the building; covered in classic Art Deco motifs of zigzags and chevrons.
But let’s have a closer look at the faces…
The Gracechurch Street Grotesques
There are two levels of highly animated faces, the lower ones contain more geometric elements and are set above a zigzag frieze;
While the upper ones are more human-like and show a range of emotions; shock, bewilderment, disappointment and even happiness!
History of Gracechurch Street
A very old thoroughfare, Gracechurch Street was formed in the 10th century to connect the old Roman Road of Bishopsgate with London Bridge. Its name – claims John Stow – comes from a grass or haymarket on the site.
In researching the post I had hoped that the street’s history might provide some clues to the building’s appearance. However all I stumbled across was this hilariously scathing conclusion from British History Online;
“Some London streets seem determined never to distinguish themselves. No mediaeval scuffle has ever occurred in them; no celebrated church hoards its monuments; no City hall cherishes its relics there; no celebrated person has honoured it by birth or death. Gracechurch Street is one of these unambitious streets.” – Walter Thornbury, ‘Cornhill, Gracechurch Street, and Fenchurch Street’, in Old and New London: Volume 2 (London, 1878), pp. 170-183. British History Online
Ouch. However, perhaps that’s being too hasty. The City of London have erected one of their own blue plaques to commemorate a notable former resident; William Curtis, an 18th Century botanist.
Curtis published Flora Londinensis (first appearing 1777), a study into the flora found in London which was aimed for the general reader and made accessible through the addition of illustrations, common names and other names of plants and flowers.
Although this book didn’t bring him much fortune, he did become famous with the publication of The Botanical Magazine from 1787. It’s a title still going today, under the name of Curtis’s Botanical Magazine.
So no link with the curious faces, but an interesting historic figure nonetheless.
Have you noticed the faces before?
They certainly provide a bit of a break from the surrounding plain stone, glass and steel.
Gracechurch St is where Mary Bennett, sister of Elizabeth, finds happiness in The Other Bennett Sister.
They certainly look incongruous with all the glass and steel surrounding it or is it the other way round ? Personally I think they all blend together well and are what makes London interesting.
Me too Yvonne, the mix is what makes it interesting!
Thanks Katie keep it up .Love your tube station safari .As we visit london four times a year .We have noticed most of the animals .And love the history of spitalfields it`s a must we find the door knockers (a bit sad ) .But last week we found granary square near kings cross lovely place for a meal & and a drink .We love brick lane , petticoat market ,wentworth street ,Leadenhall market .Please keep me in touch