Introduction – The Effect of the Great London Fire on the Art

There is one particular phase of the smith’s art in England which deserves more than a passing notice.  The great impetus given to the industrial arts by the universal re-building after the great fir of London exercised a considerable influence on the art of the smith, and there is the peculiarity attaching to the revival that the productions are essentially English and are unlike the contemporary work on the Continent, preserving an individuality perfectly marked and distinct.  One might almost call it a “school” and it lasted for nearly a hundred years.

St. Paul’s Cathedral, which was commenced in 1675 and the choir so far completed that it was opened for service in 1697, possesses some of the finest specimens of this date in the grilles and gates inclosing the choir, and although one is bound to confess that it was to a foreign and not to a native artist that these are due, yet in many particulars they resemble English work.  One has but to compare these gates with others of the same date in France to directly see the immense difference between them, as in the inclosures of the choir of the Abbey church of St. Ouen, at Rouen, and at the cathedral at Amiens.  The artist’s name was Tijau or Tijou, for the orthography is doubtful.  In addition to thse large gates, the original positions of which have been altered since the rearrangement of the cathedral, there are several smaller grilles in some of the openings and escutcheons to some of the internal gates with the arms of the Dean and Chapter very beautifully worked into the design.  The whole of the ironwork at St. Paul’s deserves a close inspection.  The outer railings, which are partly cast are of Sussex iron and were made at Lamberhurst.

Most of the city churches have very good ironwork, especially in the sword rests and communion rails, some of the finest of the former being at Allhallows Barking, St. Andrew Undershaft, and St. Mary at Hill, and the latter at St. Mary, Woolmoth.  The altars of some of these city churches are marble slabs supported on a frame of wrought iron-work.  In the church of St. Michael, Queenhythe, now destroyed, there was a very curious iron bracket, with pulley and chain for the front cover, and some wrought-iron hat rails.  Though the hinges and locks of these churches are not remarkable, many of the vanes are curious.  St. Lawrence Jewry has a gridiron in allusion to the martyrdom of the saint.  St. Mildred, Poultry, and St. Michael, Queenhythe, both destroyed, bore ships in full sail; St. Peter’s, Cornhill, the cross keys; St. Mary-le-Bone has a flying dragon; and St. Antholin, Budge Row, had a very fine vane surmounted by a crown.  The destruction of this church and spire, one of the most beautiful in the city, will ever be a lasting disgrace to those who brought it about.  In the church of St. Dionis Backchurch, at the west end, supporting the organ gallery, stood square columns of open work of wrought iron, and with very nicely wrought caps, but the church has also been destroyed, and the pillars probably sold for old iron.  Some of the brass chandeliers, where they had not been made away with, to be replaced by gas standards or brackets, are suspended by iron-work more or less ornamented and gilded, a good specimen having existed at the church of St. Catherine Cree, and there is still one remaining at St. Saviour’s, Southwark.  At St. Alban’s, Wood street, a curious hour-glass is preserved in a wrought-iron frame, a relic of Puritan times; and though hour-glasses and their stands are not uncommon, it is a comparative rarity when found in a church of the date of St. Alban’s, Wood street.

The smith also found plenty of occupation in making railings and gates for public bodies and for private houses, and wrought-iron handrails to staircases.  On of the most beautiful specimens of the art of the seventeenth century is to be seen in a pair of gates at the end of a passage or hall in the building occupied by the managers and trustees of the Bridewell Hospital, Bridge street, Blackfriars; the wrought leaves and scrolls are very rich, being designed for internal work, and date from very soon after the fire of London.

The honorable and learned societies of Gray’s Inn, and the Inner Temple have fine scroll entrance-gates to their respective gardens, and scattered about in the suburbs at Clapham.  Chelsea, Fulham, Stoke Newington, Stratford-by-Bow and Hampstead are fine entrance gates, whose designs are doubtless very familiar, since there is scarcely an old brick mansion with red-tiled roof and dormer windows and walled garden that does not possess them.  There is considerable beauty about these gates; notably in the way in which the upright standards are alternated with panels of scroll-work, and the upper part enriched with scrolls and leaves and the initials of the owner or his arms worked in, some of this work indeed being very delicate and refined, especially with regard to the foliage.  But the chief glory of the English school of this date is the wonderful work upon the gates, now preserved at Kensington Museum, formerly adorning the gardens at Hampton Court Palace, and the work of Huntingdon Shaw.  These are far superior to the gates in St. Paul’s Cathedral, for the latter are a little too architectural in their treatment, Corinthian pilasters being freely introduced, while these Hampton Court ones are free from any approach to architectural forms in iron and rely for effect solely upon the bold curves and sweeps of the scrolls, the richness of the acanthus-like foliage and the delicacy of the center medallions.  The wreaths, which are suspended from the top, are wonderfully modeled, some of the flowers introduced being almost as delicate as the natural ones they represent, or rather reproduce in iron; one medallion in particular, being truly exquisite.  At the top of each of the gates are some fine masks, in some cases surrounded by foliage, and each gate is different in design, although they resemble one another in general form.  South Kensington Museum possesses six of these gates – one with a rose, another with the rose of England surrounded by small buds and leaves, a thistle; this last one is superbly modeled, the peculiarity and bend of the leaf being accurately rendered.  Another has the harp of Ireland, but with strings rent and broken, emblematic of the present state of that unhappy country; and three have the initials of William of Orange and Mary Stuart.  If William’s name is these days may not be quite so popular as it once was, and if he did but little for the country over which he was called to govern by a dominant party, at least he was the means of calling into existence these exquisite works of art, which hold their own against any foreign production, and place of the blacksmith, Huntington Shaw, foremost among those who, working with stalwart arm, with anvil and hammer, were able to throw life and energy into the dull mass of metal before them.

In the staircase of a house in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, at No. 35, there is a wonderful specimen of a wrought-iron staircase.  At present this wrought work terminates at the first floor, but there is evidence of it having been continued to the second floor, a panel having been once sold at Christy’s for £40 which purported to have come from No. 35 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and had been removed in consequence of extensive alterations in the interior.  The rail is composed of separate standards, with scrolls and leaves, until it reaches the landing, which sweeps round a circular well-hole; round this the standards cease, and are replaced by an extraordinarily fine panel, in which one can recognize the same hand as in Hampton Court gates.  There is the same wonderfully modeled ask with foliage proceeding from it, the same sort of wreath depending in advance of the other work, the rich acanthus foliage partly masking the boldly designed scrolls beneath, betraying the hand of Huntingdon Shaw or his school.  The date would also fit, for this house and the next are traditionally supposed to have been designed by Christopher Wren for the Solicitor and Attorney-Generals about 1695-96, the date of the Hampton Court work.  The center oval medallion of this panel has unfortunately gone and is replaced by some initials in cast iron; but it probably contained some of those beautifully modeled bunches of flowers which appear on the Hampton Court gates.