A large sign for the Barbican that even if you have noticed, you’ve probably never given a second thought to – has something quite remarkable on the back.
The front, which thousands upon thousands of people see weekly, looks like a modern piece of Barbican architecture, with a rusticated concrete plinth on top of dark bricks and the classic Barbican logo. So far, so normal.
But walk around the back, and goodness me, that’s unexpected.
It’s a large stone frieze and is in fact, a rare survivor of the WWII bombing that pretty much destroyed this part of London. A few buildings did survive though and this stone frieze was on one of the buildings.
A small bronze plaque underneath reads:
This frieze was removed from numbers 53 and 54 Barbican when it was demolished in 1962 and reerected by the Corporation of London in 1975.
Numbers 53 and 54 Barbican were the premises of W. Bryer & Sons gold refiners and assayers whose trade is depicted in the frieze.
The building was one of the few which survived when the area was largely destroyed by incendiary bombs in December 1940.
There are a few photos of the building with the plaque still in place, such as this one, where you see that it sat above the first-floor windows, so relatively high up.
After the war, when most of the area that was to become the Barbican estate was in ruins, a handful of buildings survived, and you can just about see the building standing pretty much at the 12 o’clock position in this photo. Look for the two white attic window surrounds to identify the correct building.
Although the firm had to move out when the building was demolished, they traded up to 2015 when the firm, then based in Hatton Garden, finally closed down.
The road the building stood on, called Barbican, is today the Beech Street covered road that runs underneath the Barbican estate. The demolished building would have stood on the north side, roughly where Beech Gardens is today in the Barbican estate. The block of flats surrounding the garden is Bryer Court, another reminder of the goldsmiths that used to trade in that location.
It is also at the other end of White Lyon Court, where the plaque stands today.
I’ve not been able to find a definite document detailing why the frieze was saved. Still, I like to think that as it was one of the few things to survive the blitz, when the building it was on had to be demolished eventually, they saved the frieze as a sort of hopeful sign of renewal in the devastation.
Retained and then later put on display, it’s a reminder of what was lost.
That’s my theory, anyway.
And it’s a reminder to always look around the back of things, as you never know what you might find.
You can find it on the corner of Aldersgate Street and Fann Street.