London’s Best Mosaics | And the History Behind Them!
Although we might expect mosaics in churches (and we have some beautiful examples!) some of London’s best mosaics pop up in surprising places. I’ve gathered up my 12 favourite London mosaics and the stories behind them.
1. Blake’s Lambeth
A hugely ambitious project, taking over a decade to complete, Blake’s Lambeth comprises of 70 mosaics inspired by the life and work of William Blake.
Blake – the poet and artist – lived in Lambeth in the 1790s while in his 30s and the works brighten up otherwise dingy underpasses in Lambeth, including this one off Hercules Road.
They were completed by the London School of Mosaic, previously known as Southbank Mosaics, who have now set up the first UK art school dedicated to the study of mosaics. We’ll see more of their cracking work throughout this post…
2. David Squires, Waterloo
Close to Waterloo Station you can find this touching memorial. Pretty self-explanatory really, but nevertheless a lovely local tribute.
3. Shepherdess Walk Mosaics
Set in the corner of Shepherdess Walk Park, you can find some beautiful, unexpected work by Tessa Hunkin.
Unveiled in 2012, they celebrate Hackney’s parks and green spaces with a wonderful mix of contemporary Londoners (think, a runner with iPod) in a classical Roman style. Read more here.
4. Fitzrovia Chapel
If you were to look up ‘hidden gem’ in the dictionary, a picture of The Fitzrovia Chapel, would do the trick. This surviving Victorian chapel is all that remains of the demolished Middlesex Hospital, nestled unexpectedly in Pearson Square, 5 minutes from Oxford Street.
Started in 1891, it was only finished in 1939 and when you step inspired you can see that John Loughborough Pearson and his son, Frank were inspired by the Basilica of San Marco in Venice.
Read more about the history and see more photos inside here.
5. The Apple Store, 235 Regent Street
Built in 1898, look above the doorways of the Apple Store on Regent Street and you’ll spy these beautiful mosaics.
They’re a reminder of the building’s former life; a showroom for Salviati Mosaics, a company founded in 1859 by Antonio Salviati. A Venetian native, Salviati was involved in the restoration work of San Marco (a nice link with the Fitzrovia Chapel mentioned before) and the company thrived during the late 19th century fashion for decorative furnishings.
Look closer when you next walk by and you can spot symbols referencing Venice as well as the City of Westminster.
6. St Paul’s Cathedral
Christopher Wren might never have approved, but I personally love the Victorian saucer domes at the East End of St Paul’s.
Supposedly installed after complaints from Queen Victoria about the Cathedral’s ‘dreary’ appearance, they’re the work of William Blake Richmond (1842-1912) who was named after the previously mentioned William Blake.
You can find more mosaics under the magnificent dome in St Paul’s, but this time by the aforementioned Antonio Salviati, whose company made 5 for the Cathedral in the late 1800s.
You can find more mosaics under the magnificent dome in St Paul’s, set into the spandrels (triangle-shaped spaces). They depict the Old Testament Prophets and New Testament Evangelists and were designed by the aforementioned Antonio Salviati, whose company made 5 for the Cathedral in the late 1800s.
7. Westminster Cathedral
For such an important – and huge – building. It’s surprising how few people have ventured inside Westminster Cathedral.
It’s worth it if you get a chance, the interior boasts plenty of varied mosaics, dating from the early 1900s right up to the present day. Read more here.
View this post on Instagram
8. Queenhithe Mural
Walk along the North Bank of the Thames Path and at Queenhithe – an ancient wharf – you’ll find a 30m masterpiece in storytelling.
Created by Tessa Hunkin (and a team of volunteers from London School of Mosaics) it was unveiled in 2014. See more details and read about the history of Queenhithe here.
Look up and you can spot these all over London…
They’re the work of Invader, the French Street Artist, who as of 2020 has installed almost 4000 of these invasions in 79 cities worldwide.
10. The National Gallery
Given the staggering amount of art on display in the National Gallery, you’d be forgiven for missing the mosaics on the floor…
Installed in 1933 by Boris Anrep, ‘The Awakening of the Muses‘ doesn’t look to classical antiquity for its inspiration but instead focuses on contemporary figures. This includes Winston Churchill, seen below, facing off with the Devil!
11. 13 Nelson Road, Greenwich
Now a branch of Bill’s restaurant, this might not be the most impressive mosaic but it’s a nice historic detail.
Built in 1932, it used to be a Burton’s, the menswear shop founded in 1903. It takes its name from Montague Burton, a Lithuanian Jew who arrived in the UK in 1900 and by the 1950s had over 600 stores!
12. Leytonstone Station
Brightening up commutes since 1999, these mosaics were installed to celebrate the centenary of Alfred Hitchcock; born in Leytonstone in 1899.
Each one celebrates a still from one of his films, probably most famous is The Birds (seen above), and they were designed and created by the Greenwich Mural Workshop.
Any more to add to the list? Let me know your favourites in the comments!
More London Inspiration
In Devonshire Square, a fairly uninspiring square by Liverpool Street Station, you can uncover some remarkable layers of London history - stretching right back to the 16th century!...
If you’ve walked along the Strand recently, there’s been a wonderful improvement. The surrounding area of St Mary Le Strand has been pedestrianised and this 300 year-old church can be fully appreciated. I was recently invited to have a look inside (and go behind-the-scenes!) of......