The Story Behind No.1 Poultry’s Decorative Frieze
Next time you’re by Bank Junction, look up at No.1 Poultry.
The post-modernist office building continues to divide opinion but I wanted to share a saving grace. It’s a decorative frieze, revealing lovely details from London’s history.
Before we get into the details, a bit of context.
No.1 Poultry is one of the most controversial ‘new’ buildings in London. Construction started in 1994 following the demolition of the (listed!) Victorian cluster of architecture referred to as Mansion House Buildings.
View of Bank Junction and the former Mansion House Building as seen from the Royal Exchange, 1902.
Image labelled for re-use from Wikipedia
The most celebrated of these building was known as the ‘Mappin & Webb Building’ by J&J Belcher (1870-1994) show above in the centre of the photograph.
This post is not about lamenting the loss of the building (you can read about the history of the architectural site and see pictures of alternative plans here) but rather to shed light on the quirky details that can be found today.
The Decorative Frieze
On the North side of No.1 Poultry, you have to look up (and squint) to spot this sculptural decoration.
Originally part of the Victorian Mansion Buildings, these terracotta panels were created by I.C. Kremer in 1875, but salvaged and incorporated into the current No.1 Poultry.
They show processions of British monarchs who have at one time or another walked this route through the City of London along Cheapside and Poultry.
From left to right they showcase four monarchs; King Edward VI (1547-1553), Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603), King Charles II (1660-1685) and Queen Victoria (1837-1901).
King Edward VI
On the far left is King Edward VI, only son of King Henry VIII who came to the throne aged 9.
A close up reveals the handsome and youthful looking royal gesturing down to the crowd. Albeit a bit cross-eyed.
Queen Elizabeth I
Queen Elizabeth followed her half-brother Edward VI to the throne after a brief (5-year) stint by her half-sister Mary I (of Bloody Mary fame). It was a complicated time.
Carried in an extravagant sedan chair, Elizabeth I is wearing her trademark pearl earrings and looks quite solemn as she is shown to the people of London.
King Charles II
Skipping forward about 100 years we move from the Tudors to the Stuarts, specifically to the ‘Merry Monarch’ King Charles II.
Charles was restored to the throne after we had 11 years of being a republic under strict puritan rule. Charles is often characterised as bringing the fun back after 1600; reopening theatres and taverns and he certainly looks the life and soul of the party here.
With heeled, pirate-style boots and flowing curly locks he cuts a striking figure as he waves his wide-brimmed hat.
The last monarch we see is Queen Victoria in the 19th Century. Like Elizabeth, she sits in a more ‘ladylike’ carriage, gazing out at her loyal subjects. A group of soldiers follow on looking alert and ready for trouble.
Zoomed in, Victoria looks more like she’s dishing out curses than waving the royal hand in what is a particularly angry-looking portrait.
More details of No.1 Poultry
Directly under the decorative frieze of No.1 Poultry, there are a few more details to spot.
The barely legible stone below supposedly shares information on the frieze above, however it’s so hard to read I had to resort to the fabulous London Remembers to make sense of which sculptures represented which monarch.
Nearby there’s a clearer City of London blue plaque which records the location of the Loriners’ Trade.
Loriners were established as a trade guild in the City back in 1261 and made bits, bridles, stirrups and other metal items of horse’s harnesses. Ambiguously labelled as the ‘site of trade’ it seems a pretty apt link given the number of horses shown in the frieze above.
Passing further into the centre of No.1 Poultry’s external atrium, you can spot the old Mappin & Webb clock that used to be on the front of the building.
As ever, it’s also worth looking up. You’ll be rewarded with colourful tiles that clad this section of No.1 Poultry.
Plus, if you haven’t been, you may also like to take the lift up to Coq d’Argent restaurant on the top floor. It depends who is on the door but often they’ll let you have a look at the wonderful view from their rooftop garden!
But the story of our decorative friezes doesn’t end there.
Stuart House, Cadogan Gardens
Originally there were more terracotta friezes on Victorian Mansion buildings and additional Kremer friezes can be found across London in Chelsea.
Stuart House, the Grade II listed building on the corner of Cadogan Square and Cadogan Gardens was glowing orange in the Autumn light when I visited. Designed in 1880 by architect A.A Hunt, it was built as a residence for Oscar Leslie Stephen, a director of the Great Northern Railway.
When searching for the final missing frieze, I was in luck. It was a case of buy one, get two free!
King James I
First up we had King James I (1603-1625) arriving in London. He succeeded the throne from Queen Elizabeth I becoming the first King of both Scotland and England together.
The first in the Stuart dynasty of English Kings, James looks pretty stern. The ruff is a hang-on from Tudor fashion, but we start to see the heeled boots and floppy cap from the later King Charles II.
Mary Queen of Scots
Around the corner of Stuart House we have two further friezes celebrating King James I’s mother; Mary Queen of Scots. Remember, she was killed on the order of Queen Elizabeth I.
Rather than showing her arriving in London, these two friezes show her return to Scotland.
Hard to spot, but judging from the signature in the bottom right corner of the terracotta frieze, it appears that there’s a signature of I.C. Kremer behind the legs of one of Mary’s entourage.
However the other Mary frieze has another signature along the side of her boat. I’ve searched for various connected sculptors but no concrete answers yet!
Another question remains…
Why are they here?
Unfortunately it’s a bit of a mystery! Although established c.1000 AD, The Cadogan Estate history only goes back as far as 1717. This was when the daughter of Sir Hans Sloane (founder of the British Museum and after whom Sloane Square is named) marries into the Cadogan family.
Have you ever spotted these? Or got any theories about why one some friezes moved to Chelsea? Let me know in the comments!