Monday, March 27, 2006

Edwardian Baroque

click photo to enlarge
The historians of the development of modern architecture between the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century would have us believe that there is an unbroken thread that runs from the Arts and Crafts Movement, through Art Nouveau, to the Bauhaus and the International Style. And in a sense there is: but only if you ignore most of the architects, and most buildings that were erected during that period! For every Voysey, Wright, Garnier, Gropius, Asplund and Johnson there were dozens of architects building in variations of the "historical" styles. One such architect was John Belcher.

At the age of 63, in 1904, Belcher received a commission that every architect working in the classical style dreamed of getting: a building of no utilitarian purpose whatsoever for which a massive amount of money was available. Lord Ashton who had become a rich Lancaster man through the family linoleum business wanted to build a memorial to his wife on the summit of a hillside park that is father had bequeathed to the town. Belcher's design - the Ashton Memorial - is a magnificent white, columned and domed building, 150 feet high, in the Edwardian Baroque style. It cost £85,000 to build between 1906 and 1909. This striking building, visible for miles around, is one of the last of its type in England.

The photograph shows one of a pair of steep staircases with balustrades that sweep around each side of a pool and fountain at the bottom of a steep slope below the Memorial. These staircases combine higher up and ascend, as one, to the main building. They are made of Cornish granite from Penryn. The attractive linear curve of the steps and balusters, their repetitive rhythm, and the "stop" of the large block at the bottom suggested an attractive composition for my photograph. The monochrome treatment has, I think, emphasised these qualities.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen