The Frieze in Lothbury


Above: Stone frieze on No 7 Lothbury. (Note: By clicking on the image, a large version of the image will be displayed in a new window).

Lothbury is a short street which runs along the north side of the Bank of England. The northern side contains the very elegant Wren church of St Margaret and a few smaller offices. An interesting building stands at No 7, at the junction with Tokenhouse Yard. It was designed by the noted architect George Somers Clarke (1825-1882) in 1866 as the new head office of the General Credit and Discount Company. The offices were designed in Venetian Gothic style, no doubt inspired by John Ruskin‘s Stones of Venice.

In 1887 the building was sold to brokers and merchants Speyer Brothers and the upper floors were sublet to other companies.

By the turn of the century the arched front door, including the rows of rope and dentil motifs, had been moved from the side (in Tokenhouse Yard) to the front (in Lothbury).

In 1920 it became the new office of the National Bank of Australasia who leased the upper floors to separate tenants including the Sea Insurance Co.

In 1962 stock brokers Laurie Milbank & Co continued to occupy the upper floors while the lower floors are altered to accommodate a private dining club for the Overseas Bankers Club. It soon became a favourite watering hole for senior bankers from the foreign exchange market.

By 2005 the Grade II* listed building was on English Heritage’s buildings at risk register. It was then acquired by new owners and work began to adapt the layout for 11 luxury modern apartments, breathing new life into the building. Externally the white, red and yellow stonework with twisted shafts and columns of black marble and the ornate and intricately carved decoration have been painstakingly repaired and cleaned to restore them to sound condition.

The slim stone building is well worth looking at, if only to see what a Victorian office block looks like. These days Victorian offices in the City are becoming rarer as the years go by. The style of the building is not its finest feature but the splendid stone bas-relief frieze that adorns the wall facing onto Lothbury.

The frieze is almost Art Nouveau in style, a form of design that became popular in 1890 through to about 1910. The eight stone figures tell a story of trade and commerce. The three on the left allude to overseas trade while the two on the right relate to industry and machinery.

Two images

Above: A special typeface, carved in sandstone, presents the address (left) and one of the many other exotic forms of decoration to be seen on the building (right).

As the City of London is invaded by more and more faceless glass buildings, where decoration almost seems to be forbidden, it is rather refreshing to discover such a charming frieze which was clearly made with great skill and loving workmanship.


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