FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Two Temple Place and Columbus’ Caravel

Posted in England, London by folkestonejack on February 4, 2014

One of the less well known pleasures of London is the stunning Two Temple Place, a building of remarkable craftmanship which was constructed in 1895 as the residence and estate office of William Waldorf Astor. The building is now owned by the Bulldog Trust and has been opened to the public for occasional exhibitions, the third of which opened on Friday.

Discoveries: Art, Science & Exploration from the University of Cambridge Museums runs from 31st January to 27th April 2014, offering up a rather wonderful and quite eclectic range of objects which range from a Dodo skeleton to an egg collected by Darwin whilst on HMS Beagle. I think my favourite was a beautiful early nineteenth century Sufi Islamic snakes and ladders board which was acquired by a British soldier shortly after the Indian Rebellion of 1857. The opening is also a wonderful opportunity to see the craftmanship on display in the interior, which I never tire of seeing.

Two Temple Place

Two Temple Place, headquarters of the Bulldog Trust

The building, originally referred to as Astor House, has had an interesting history. After William Waldorf Astor’s death in 1919 the building was acquired by the Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada and then sold on to the Society of Incorporated Accountants and Auditors in 1928. The Society called the building Incorporated Accountants’ Hall and intended it to become the ‘spiritual home’ of incorporated accountants. It was formally opened by H.R.H. the Duke of York (later King George VI) on 19th February 1929.

The building was adapted to the needs of the Society, including the creation of a library for members in the ground floor reception room and a council chamber in what was William Waldorf Astor’s library, but perhaps the least likely addition was the creation of a roof garden during the Second World War. Reports in the accountancy press state that the garden generated an impressive crop of tomatoes and marrows (a photograph of this unlikely garden appeared in the September 1942 edition of Accountancy magazine, showing a carefully arranged row of plant boxes and pots on the rooftop).

The caravel

The caravel

One feature that always draws my eye whenever I approach Two Temple Place is the stunning weather vane that crowns the building – a representation of the Santa Maria, the caravel that took Columbus to America. It was especially difficult to ignore on a windy day like today when it was spinning furiously. The caravel was executed by J. Starkie Gardner in beaten copper and was supposed to represent Viscount Astor’s connections with the two continents (rather than a fur trading vessel reflecting the source of the Astor family’s wealth as some had suggested at the time). It is not the only image of a ship to be seen on the exterior, as the lamp posts at the entrance have been topped with ships.

The promise of the exterior is matched by the artistic delights of the interior, particularly in the Great Hall and in the oak panelled Staircase Hall which features carvings of characters from The Three Musketeers on the newel posts. As a precaution, interior decorations such as these were removed for safekeeping during the Second World War along with the stained glass windows. This proved to be a wise move as the building was severely damaged by a V1 bomb that detonated on a neighbouring site in the early hours of 24th July 1944.

Observers on the rooftop of Electra Hall, adjacent to Two Temple Place, had spotted the flying bomb approaching from the south east and been relieved when they saw it change course when it was 10 miles off, only for it to revert to its original path. They feared the worst when its engine cut out over Electra House and Incorporated Accountants’ Hall. The resulting blast almost completely destroyed the exposed side of the building, moved walls from their alignment and seriously damaged the internal decoration.

Two Temple Place

Windows at Two Temple Place

The Society of Incorporated Accountants and Auditors paid for the building’s restoration after the war but their time in the splendid interior was coming to an end. In 1955 the Society of Incorporated Accountants and the ICAEW agreed to merge and the Society was wound down in 1957. The premises were far too small for staff use following the merger but the idea of using the building as a Chartered Accountants’ Club held some sway for a while, until that too was considered impracticable. In 1959 the ICAEW sold the building, with regret, for £168,000.

The caravel itself did not return to the building until August 1950 (there is a wonderful picture of a workman putting the caravel back into place in the October 1950 edition of Accountancy under the caption ‘Our ship comes home: A symbol of restoration’).

Thank you to the staff of the ICAEW Library & Information Service for retrieving the articles on Incorporated Accountants’ Hall (as well as providing the index to illustrations which I used to identify the pictures of the building in their collection).

Sources

Accountancy, September 1942 (article and photograph of the vegetable roof garden)
Accountancy, October 1944 (report on bomb damage to Incorporated Accountants’ Hall)
Accountancy, February 1945 (report on resumption of library services at Incorporated Accountants’ Hall)
Accountancy, June 1945 (a short report on the library, which could be accessed via an emergency staircase at the south-east corner of the building, and some photographs showing the extent of the damage, the temporary repairs made to patch up the hall after the bombing and the building under reconstruction on VE+1 day 1945).
Accountancy, October 1950 (photograph of the restoration of the weather vane)
Incorporated Accountants’ Hall (Supplement to the Incorporated Accountants’ Journal, July 1928)
The Accountant, 7th July 1928.
The Accountant, 5th September 1959 (report on the sale of Incorporated Accountants’ Hall)
The Journal of the Royal Institute of British Architects, October 1952 (article on the reconstruction of Incorporated Accountants’ Hall)

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