Buildings are dull, soulless, unadorned cubes. On occasion developers will stick some mock Tudor cladding onto an otherwise uninspiring new build, but you can tell their heart isn’t really in it.
There are of course some large scale corporate edifices which show a little architectural panache, such as the Gherkin, the Shard or pretty much anything in Dubai, but these structures are still all about plate glass, steel and clean lines. There is no room in our modern world for artistic fripperies and ornamentation.
It wasn’t always this way.
The Victorians loved a bit of artistic frippery. They barely built anything that didn’t have some adornment which served no purpose other than to please the eye and show off the builders’ talents. This is true even in places where hardly anyone will ever see it, such as down in the sewers, or high up in the roof of a railway station.
And so it was in Gloucester Prison.
Prisons are austere places where only the worst elements of society are expected to spend any time (plus those looking after them of course!), but in the eyes of the Victorians that didn’t mean that the architecture should be plain.
Mixing their love of artistic ornamentation with some good solid moral symbolism, all along A wing the upper walkways are supported by brackets adorned with serpents. Above them, at the base of the balustrade, are cast iron lions’ feet. Lions fighting serpents is classic religious symbolism for the fight of good over evil, and here the lions are clearly being given the upper hand. Or paw.
Whether the symbolism registered with the inmates is not clear, but the serpents and lions were still there when the prison closed in March 2013.
Well, most of them were.
At some point some of these lion’s feet became detached and, through a very good friend, one of them found its way into my keeping. Presumably through routine maintenance, it had been removed and discarded. It was found abandoned, unregarded and rusting in a skip.
A bit of time spent with a wire brush and some elbow grease, followed by a squirt of black paint, and the paw is once again rehabilitated to something resembling its former glory.
Good once again triumphs over adversity.
For more Gloucester Prison pictures see my blog A Prison Visit