“All empty souls tend to extreme opinion…

Image: portrait (1859) of Queen Victoria by Frank Winterhalter.

…It is only in those who have built up a rich world of memories and habits of thought that extreme opinions affront the sense of probability.” W.B. Yeats: Essays on Art.

Patrick Baty, historical paint consultant, writes on his website:

“…The contract for the building work was taken out with Messrs Hill and Keddell on 7 May 1866, and on 3 June 1867 the foundation stone of the Viaduct was laid. On 6 November 1869 Queen Victoria opened both the new Blackfriars Bridge and Holborn Viaduct, a major civic event, involving a great deal of temporary architecture and sculpture.

When Her Majesty reached the platform and the carriage halted, the Lord Mayor presented Mr. Deputy Fry and Mr. Haywood, the engineer of the viaduct. Mr. Fry then handed to the Queen a volume elaborately bound in cream-coloured morocco, relieved with gold, and ornamented with the Royal arms of England, in mosaic of leather and gold; and Her Majesty declared the viaduct open for public traffic.

The two northern step-buildings of Holborn Viaduct were severely damaged in war-time bombing, and what was left of them was demolished. In 2000 Atlantic House, at the north-western corner of the Viaduct was taken down, and Haywoods step-building on this corner was reconstructed, complete with copies of the original Victorian statuary by The Carving Workshop, Cambridge.

I was commissioned to establish the decorative history of the viaduct.

The bridge appears to have been painted on at least fourteen occasions. Few of the samples displayed an uninterrupted sequence of coatings and a close comparison of all of them was necessary to unravel the history…

Clearly not everyone was impressed by the design of the Viaduct, as W.B Yeats recounted:

“When I had just published my first book, I met William Morris in Holborn Viaduct, and he began to praise it with the words, ‘This is my kind of poetry’, and promised to write about it, and would have said I do not know how much more if he had not suddenly caught sight of one of those decorated lamp posts, and waving his umbrella at the post, raged at the Corporation.” (The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats vol III: The Irish Dramatic Movement. 195-96. Simon and Schuster. 2008). I am most grateful to Gary Kemp for drawing this to my attention.”

From the website of The Victorian Society, published 2017:

“Holborn Circus, meeting point of six highways, was designed by engineer William Haywood in 1867 as a commanding and visually striking junction. The highways all terminate at the same point – a statue of Prince Albert. This device gives the termination of Holborn Viaduct its visual focus.

Dickens’s Dictionary of London (1879) described Holborn Circus as ‘perhaps.. the finest piece of street architecture in the City’.

Alas, following WW2 damage, many buildings lining the Circus were demolished. The building line was set back, resulting in a vast and windy area unfriendly to pedestrians. The City of London now intends to obliterate the Victorian plan by moving the statue off to the side and blocking one of the roads. This will result in a vast area of tarmac without focus.

We call on the City of London to return to the drawing board and think strategically. The statue should remain at the heart of the Circus and future redevelopment should respect the historic lines of this important piece of townscape.”

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