Saturday, August 20, 2011
Sailing to Byzantium
Bristol, an important port for centuries, enjoyed a great expansion in the 19th century, with the arrival of the Great Western Railway and the building of many warehouses, shops, offices, and factories of various kinds. One of the most outstanding buildings from this period is the Welsh Back Granary, built in 1869 to the designs of locally based architects Ponton and Gough. The architects chose a Byzantine revival style, though the multicoloured brickwork (courtesy of the Cattybrook brick pit at Almondsbury) owes a lot to the influence of Venetian architecture too. This is a style, sometimes known as Bristol Byzantine, that may have developed after Ponton and Gough got to know John Addington Symonds, literary critic and historian of the Renaissance, who was born in Bristol. The use of a mix of Venetian and Byzantine elements, though, which recalls the architecture of some other Bristol buildings I’ve posted in the past, also suggests tbat the Bristolians were trying to associate their city with two of the world’s most famous maritime cities, Venice and Istanbul.
Built to store grain, the Welsh Back building was highly functional – all those pierced openings were to ventilate the grain as it was dried by the heat from fires on the lower floors; the round holes close to the ground-floor arches contained chutes through which grain could be released to waiting carts. But what high-octane decoration – polychrome bricks, pointed Venetian battlements, natty pointed arches, restless patterning – cloaks this functionality. Part palace, part silo, this building is designed to dazzle. In the late 1960s and 1970s, there was a jazz club here, which metamorphosed into a rock venue in the 1980s, all of all seems rather appropriate for this loud and colourful structure. There’s a more sedate restaurant in the base of the building now; the dazzling brickwork remains.