10 January 2017

Architectural limbo

Right next door to the Victorian extravagance of the Bell pub in Forest Road, this little architectural gem goes un-noticed. Clearly, nobody cares about it at the moment, it's just a roof over the fish and chip shop and some no doubt awful flats upstairs. The crass metal facade of Tesco Express next door really doesn't help (although that is not Tesco's fault, it used to be Jewsons the builders merchants), boiler flues are crudely bodged through the fabric of the building, and if all those satellite dishes are not illegal they ought to be. Even so, the architectural quality is rather outstanding, crisp bold details carved in good quality limestone, set off nicely by the red bricks. The original shopfront is long gone, but the upper floors are basically intact. Date, at a guess, around 1910, a time when buildings were almost extravagantly substantial, if not always outstanding as architecture. It sits stranded between the pub yard and the single storey supermarket, as if waiting for better times.

Walthamstow has a reasonable architectural heritage - thousands of solidly-built terraced houses, some good civic buildings, the remnants of some fairly unexciting country houses - but not so many buildings like this, ordinary commercial buildings with a bit of class. We can't afford to build anything like as good now, for complicated reasons which I suppose come down to all the things people didn't have and didn't even aspire to in 1910, but do now. All the more reason to value what we do have, a wealth of decoration and craftsmanship that can't be replaced, and saves the modern city from uniform contemporary blandness.

Discussion point: wanting buildings like this to be cleaned up is arguably a sign of creeping gentrification, but does this sort of mess really represent some kind of gritty authenticity?