Wednesday 11 February 2015

Passing Through Putney

A couple of Sundays ago we took a trip to Putney hoping for some fresh air to kill off a pair of nasty hangovers. To say we suceeded was an understatement as the air was more than fresh; it was absolutely freezing and all the new Christmas scarves in the world were no match for the icy blast that came careering up the Thames.

Fortunately, I managed to keep enough feeling in my fingers to photograph some of the typographic highlights that appeared along the way.

university mansions typography putney

After parking by the river near the Star and Garter pub, we passed University Mansions, a large residential development with an impressive doorway featuring some great type. The raised black lettering (above) sits atop the door in a suitably grand fashion, while on either side (see below) an elegant inscription indicates the year of construction. 

university mansions typography putney

university mansions typography putney

I'm a big fan of the Art Nouveau flick on the A, and the way the date is locked up is quite bizarre. Is this ornament for ornaments sake or the carver leaving his mark? Who can say but either way it's rather eyecatching and was a good first find of the day.

university mansions typography putney

Before leaving University Mansions I have to mention the decorative typeface used on the floor of the entrance (I did say this was a good doorway) where just about every character has a satisfying quirk of some sort. Look at that N! The E! The leg of the R and the cross bar of the A! This is a beautiful display alphabet that deserves better than being walked on all day.

kenilworth court putney typography

Continuing along in the direction of the High Street another grand block of flats presented itself. According to Wikipedia, Kenilworth Court was built at the turn of the century and has had a number of notable residents over the years, including Fred Russell, the founder of modern ventriloquism.

This marker above the doorway continues the impressive raised lettering theme of University Mansions, but this time with the addition of some big drop-caps for good measure. The CO lock up on the word 'Court' is fantastic and bring bags of character, while the open O's, the flared leg of the R and the cross bar of the H add touches of Edwardian style.

kenilworth court putney typography

But wait, that's not all! Not to be outdone, Kenilworth Court also boasts this magnificent wrought ironwork sign above the entrance to the car park. Slightly different in style to the type above the door (the concept of branding was in its infancy in those days) this type features more R's with flared legs and a K that wants to kick the E into next week. Again, loads of character and lets face it, who wouldn't want to drive out under this every day?

guinness mosaic whistle and flute the swift putney

Walking down Putney High Street, my manic scouring of doorways, pavements and corners of buildings was eventually rewarded with this floor mosaic located in the doorway of trendy Fullers bar, The Swift. With its heavy wear and seventies colour scheme I assumed the mosaic would be quite old though according to the Camra South West London branch, the pub was converted from a bank in 1995 and named P Shannon & Sons, before becoming The Whistle & Flute in 2000 and The Swift in 2013. I'm guessing the mosaic is from the P Shannon days, making it a fairly modern example of a doorway mosaic and the first that I've seen to feature the logo of a particular brand, rather than the name of the premises itself.

salisbury pavement buildings putney

Further down the high Street, this commermorative plaque sits high on the side of the Salisbury Pavement Buildings. It's unclear why the word 'pavement' would be used but Salisbury refers to Lord Salisbury, the British Prime Minister at the time. Busts of Salisbury and Disraeli are also visible above the shopfronts. This shows how differently the political figures of the day were percieved in the late 1800's - you certainly wouldn't expect to find busts of David Cameron & Co on a building today!

putney school of art sign

After walking to the end of the high street we eventually came upon the Putney School of Art building and this impressive sign overlooking the railway. Although the school was founded in 1883, my guess is that this sign is from a much later date as there's barely a scratch on it. The lettering appears to be hand painted and is quite striking from a distance, but then you'd expect an art school sign to be wouldnt you?

putney school of art doorway type detail

Located above the school's main doorway, this particular piece of lettering deserves a mention if only for the curved crossbar on the A.

putney school of art building date plaque

The same can also be said for this plaque near the top of the building which features some beautiful decorative figures, including a flat topped number 8 which seems to have been a popular style at the time. I always find it interesting that date plaques used to be such a common feature on all kinds of buildings, yet they are rarely seen on new architecture. Perhaps it's considered to be showing off, but it seems a shame that this tradition isn't carried on.

w h barnes piano london

After looping round and heading back towards the high street this painted piano lettering jumped out at me from a charity shop window. It appears to be an Edwardian script, with flowery capitals and cursive lowercase characters. The slight angle and bold underline give it a confident and dynamic air, while 'London' printed in a flared serif below provides grounding and balance.

The little information I've been able to uncover about WH Barnes on Piano Shop indicates that they were active in London between 1828 and 1937, and mostly produced affordable pianos that were very popular and can still be commonly found today. 

winchester house club gateway putney

Walking back towards the river this strange ornamental iron gate grabbed my attention. The type isn't particularly stunning but the phrase "Think and Thank" is quite memorable. It transpires that this is the home of the Winchester House Club, a private gentleman's establishment and the motto gives thanks to members of the club who have served with the armed forces. According to Dale Carnegie, "Think and Thank" is a common inscription within many of England's Cromwellian churches and refers to giving thanks to God. You learn something new every day!

undertaker ghost sign clock clinic putney

undertaker ghost sign clock clinic putney

Further along Lower Richmond Road the first ghost sign of the day presented itself. Half hidden behind a metal plaque the sign appears to read "...AIN ...TAKER".
I enquired with the buildings current owners The Clock Clinic as to the past occupants. They were able to confirm that the building was an Undertaker's premises until the early seventies, and that the basement served as an air raid shelter during WW2. Unfortunately, they couldn't tell me the name of the business and a subsquent trawl of the digitised London Trade directory archives hasn't revealed anything either. Sadly it looks as though this will remain a mystery for some time to come!

putney woodwork ghost sign

Also on Lower Richmond Road, our final find was this heavily faded ghost sign on the corner with Ruvigny Gardens. Sadly, most of the type is now unreadable though I can just about make out "...and Sons, Everything Woodwork" which at least tells us a bit about the nature of the business, if not the company name. Once again I've scoured old directories for further information but have had no luck in uncovering anything. Note for next time: need to work on my research skills!

I imagine this sign would have been quite striking in its day. The bold white type and heavy black drop shadow would have provided visibility for some distance down Lower Richmond Road. It's left me quite intrigued so hopefully further investigation will turn up some more information. As always, if anyone reading this has any recollection of this or any of the other sites mentioned please do get in touch as I'd love to hear from you.

Right, that's enough fresh Putney air for one day. Bring on summer for another visit and some riverside beers. Cheers!

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