We were honoured to host our Patron His Royal Highness The Duke of Gloucester KG, GCVO at the launch of our Northumberland House arch project in Bromley-By-Bow. We were joined by our Proud Places Ambassadors, members of the local community and key individuals involved with the project. A new stone-carved plaque commemorating the restoration was unveiled by The Duke following a speech. We were particularly pleased to host HRH for his first engagement since March 2020.

Thousands walking along Brixton Road pass the rainbow façade of the Reliance Arcade every day, but how many of them realise that if you turn into Electric Avenue, and then right into Electric Lane, you can find a little bit of Egypt in Brixton?

Reliance Arcade runs between the Brixton Road and Electric Lane, on the site of an early nineteenth century house and its gardens. Bizarrely, the remains of the house still exist in the centre of the arcade, which was built 1923-25 for the South Coast Furnishing Company, to the designs of R S Andrews and J Peascod. It’s a building of real character, which has recently been lovingly restored by the Heritage of London Trust and London Borough of Lambeth with the support of law firm Mishcon de Reya, whose original offices were in Brixton.

It’s the small but colourful entrance in Electric Lane which is the real surprise though. Most people seeing it would probably recognise it as looking Egyptian, but what is it that tells us this? What we think of as Ancient Egyptian architecture is mostly its stone built temples. Tombs had some external features, but many of these did not survive as long as the temples, and most other buildings were made of mud bricks. Some key elements that Egyptian style buildings borrow from the temples of Egypt are the very distinctive overhanging border around the tops of walls and over entrance-ways (known as a cavetto cornice), columns imitating papyrus, palms, or lotus plants, and their colourful decoration. All three of these are present in the Reliance Arcade entrance. Its shape even echoes that of temple entrances, or pylons, but without their distinctive sloped sides, which are difficult to include in terraced buildings, but can be suggested by mouldings. The bright colours on the roof cornice, columns, and some of the other decorative terracotta elements, produced by Shaws of Darwen, were painted on after the terracotta casting, perhaps for cost reasons.

Why was this style used? It probably reflects the huge popular interest in the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun, which took place in November 1922, only a few years before the arcade was built, although the Egyptian style has been used for buildings in England since the beginning of the nineteenth century, and for monuments and landscape architecture before that, and the former W H Smith print works on Stamford Street in south-east London, which dates to 1916, has Egyptian elements. However, while the public in general may have succumbed to Tutmania, architects were made of sterner stuff. Only half a dozen buildings in an Egyptian style other than the arcade were built in London between the two World Wars, and of them several have now been lost. In 1928 a six storey office block was built on Shaftesbury Avenue with plain cavetto cornices, Egyptian style columns, winged sun disks, and a Pharaoh’s head over a side doorway. In the same year the magnificent new Arcadia Works was built for the Carreras cigarette company on Hampstead Road, with a coloured cavetto cornice and twelve huge Egyptian style pillars, both coloured with cement mixed with crushed Venetian glass, and a front entrance flanked by giant Egyptian cat statues, a symbol of the goddess Bastet. (Allegedly the building was originally going to be called Bastet House until someone realised that it could be misinterpreted.) Four cinemas with either an Egyptian style exterior or interior were built between the wars, but the only survivor is the former Carlton Cinema on Essex Road. This has, you guessed it, a cavetto cornice and papyrus bud pillars, and other terracotta tilework, all brightly coloured, produced by the Hathern Station Brick and Terra Cotta Company.

The Art Deco style borrowed from a lot of cultures, including Ancient Egypt, and a lot of Deco buildings have ‘Egyptianish’ elements. True Egyptian style buildings, with several of the distinctive elements of Ancient Egyptian architecture, have always been exotic rarities, however, and every one of them should be precious. Brixton is lucky to have one as a hidden gem, now restored to its original elegance.

You can find out more about Reliance Arcade on the Historic England and Brixton Buzz web sites (www.historicengland.org.uk and www.brixtonbuzz.com) and in my book Egypt in England.

HOLT is thrilled to have supported the restoration of the Egyptian façade of Reliance Arcade – and thanks to our supporters Mishcon de Reya for their contribution to this project.

Images by Richard Lea.

Work has just started on restoration of the spectacular historic entrance to the Bromley-by-Bow Centre in east London. Once part of the grand palace of the Dukes of Northumberland in the Strand, the arch was moved to Bromley-by-Bow when the building was demolished in 1874. HOLT is working with London Stone Conservation to remove decades of black sulphation crust and organic matter, replace cement pointing with lime mortar, restore the lead flashing of the balustrade and restore the beautiful Portland stone throughout.

We visited Galleywall School on Monday to meet Simon Adams from Taylor’s of Loughborough. With the closure of the Whitechapel bell foundry, 18th century Taylor’s is the last remaining in the country. HOLT has given a grant to restore the school’s bell – lost during WWII – so that pupils can ring it to start the school day. Our expedition involved climbing over three sets of roof ladders, squeezing into the belfry and careful measurements… the next stage will be the casting of an 18 inch bell at the Loughborough foundry.

Conservation artist Pedro da Costa Felgueiras has been taking paint samples from the original Raine House statues, currently on display at Raine’s Foundation School in Bethnal Green, to inform the restoration of the replicas for the house. The samples will be sent for further microscopic assessment by paint expert, Catherine Hassall, and Pedro will then use traditional pigments and techniques to match them exactly. We look forward to the results…

Another project launch this morning! The restoration of the 120 year old fountain outside Turnham Green station. We’re thrilled to have worked with Hounslow Council, the Drinking Fountain Association and Thames Water to get this one working again… the granite top had been lost, the spouts had broken and it had been out of use for 50 years. All have been restored and fresh tap water now flows again! Celebrating this morning with Leader of the Council Steve Curran, Cllr John Todd, Gareth James, Sharyn Cardozo, HOLT’s Chairman and neighbours and friends of the fountain.

Drop by when you are next in west London for a free refill.

This morning we celebrated the completion of the restored Broomfield Park Memorial in Enfield. We were joined by schoolchildren from Broomfield School and Hazelwood School, Bambos Charalambous MP for Enfield, Cllr Claire Stewart, the Enfield Society and Colin Younger, Chairman of the Broomfield House Trust. A warm reminder – on this freezing day – of the huge public value of London’s green spaces!

Broomfield Park in Enfield, once a Tudor merchant’s estate with grand house, stables, rabbit warren, parterres and lakes, opened to the public in 1903. A large Portland stone plaque in the shape of a shell commemorates those involved, but it had become illegible over the years. HOLT is supporting a project to restore it with the Broomfield House Trust – careful cleaning and repair of the stonework, and recutting the letters so they are readable for all passers-by.

Today we were at Somerset House to see the restoration of the maritime sculptures on the South Wing, designed in the 1780s by Joseph Wilton. Shortly after its completion in 1786, the South Wing became home to the Navy Board and all its ornamentation is sea-themed….  HOLT gave a grant to restore the Portland stone Triton figures in the south-facing niches and the Neptune over the south entrance by Richard Rathbone, using the façade gommage technique.