Soft spots – 1 : E.B. Lamb

Pevsner prized his principles; he also enjoyed violating them on occasion. Some of his best descriptions are of architecture he obviously relished against his better judgement, where there is guilty pleasure in his voice whatever harsh words he may be using. This is the first in a series of ‘soft spots’, buildings Pevsner didn’t mean to like.  

St Martin, Vicars Road, St Pancras. E.B. Lamb, 1866. Photo: George P. Landow

‘ST MARTIN, Vicars Road (B), 1866 by E.B. Lamb, one of Mr Goodhart-Rendel’s ‘rogues’, and indeed the craziest of London’s Victorian churches, inconfutable proof, if proof were needed, that the Victorians were not mere imitators in their ecclesiastical architecture. For here, although individual elements can easily be traced back to period precedent, their mixture with completely original ones results in an unprecedented whole which is both striking and harrowing.   

The attitude has rightly been compared with that of the innovators of Art Nouveau about 1900. The exterior is comparatively harmless, of Kentish rag, low, but with an uncommonly tall N tower close to the W end. The tower has a yet taller stair turret (total height 130 ft). The church itself has tall Tudor windows, many gables, and a polygonal apse, narrower than the shallow also slightly polygonal S transept. (But the N transept is straight-ended).  

A sight never before seen

The inside is a mixture of the longitudinal and the central …. Hammerbeam roof running right through, with the fussiest, busiest details, and resting on shafts which do not go down to the ground, but start from Cistercian-looking brackets.    

The square piers between nave and aisles have four such bracketed shafts attached to their four sides (a sight never before seen).’

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