Ship finial from St. Nicholas Flats, Somers Town
This is a relatively modern copy in reinforced resin of a 1930’s Gilbert Bayes ornamental finial, which once topped a washing line post in the St. Nicholas flats courtyard. The originals were made in salt glaze stoneware at the Royal Doulton Lambeth Works, a revolutionary process at the time with advantages of weather proofing, strong detailing and heightened colour. The designs were based on folklore, nursery rhymes and the lives of the saints. They included devils, fish, doves, galleons, tailors, ships, blackbirds, a snail, a knight in armour, a saint, Jenny Wren on a pie, Joseph’s woodworking tools and a Christmas tree.
All this beauty and adornment was brought to us by the sculptor Gilbert William Bayes (1872 –1953). Commissioned by the architect Ian Hamilton, for the St Pancras Home Improvement Society, Bayes added colour and intrigue to the communal spaces of the Somers Town St Pancras Housing Estates, between 1931 and 1938.
There are no finial originals in Somers Town in situ. All have been removed, stolen and lost from a total of 168 post finials plus 8 central finials. Some remain as copies of the originals. Luckily, Bayes’ fairy tale lunettes and the Four Seasons Clock can still be seen today.
Steve McCarthy 2022