The Story Behind the Barbican Frieze on Aldersgate Street
The Barbican complex is a strange beast, confusing to navigate and ‘ugly’ to some. However, give it a chance and there’s gems to be found.
One of my favourites is the Barbican Frieze on Aldersgate Street
Background to the Barbican
The City of London (along with the East End) suffered much more than the rest of London during The Blitz. One particular section; the ward of Cripplegate was almost completely destroyed.
This hand-coloured bomb damage map of 1945 makes it pretty clear. Purple = damaged beyond repair.
But out of the rubble come the towering Barbican estate, with 2,014 flats housing around 4,000 Londoners.
Thankfully, fragments of the history before remain. Like the frieze on Aldersgate Street;
It was removed from 53 & 54 Barbican, the premises of W. Bryer & Sons. They were gold refiners and assayers (those who determine the quality of gold or precious metals) and the frieze depicts their trade.
The Barbican Living blog says the firm was established in 1815 at no. 53 Barbican, then expanded to 54 when John Bryer – a watchmaker – took over. Later the family business passed to William, Thomas and Henry Bryer.
Although the buildings actually escaped the bombs, they were demolished in 1962, unfortunately in the way of the new complex’s plans.
The details are beautiful. Close up you can see the men at work; weighing the raw product,
contentedly using long tongs for smelting,
sweating from the heat,
casting; pouring the molten metal into a mould before finally…
Ensuring you sell for a good price!
What do you think of the Barbican? Despite almost always getting lost, I’ve grown to love it.