Ocean Bells café in Watford was a bit of a lifeline during the pandemic, and though I’d sat in its snug, renovated Victorian interior countless times, I’d never taken time to look at the building from across the road until this spring. The handsome but much altered building (at 133-135 High Street) has a rusticated ground floor, with shallow, giant ionic pilasters stretching to the cornice and a pair of small first floor balconies . It’s currently shared between two units, Ocean Bells and Shakeaway, a milkshake/ice-cream bar. Ocean Bells is a single café room downstairs, with a flat (I think) above. There’s also a basement it would be interesting to peek into sometime. For now, here are some more pics …
One of the requirements of our course is to try and spot architectural references to the period we are studying each week when out-and-about and apply some of what we’ve learned. With that in mind I snapped 73 High Street in Watford, a branch of HSBC, as I passed last week. It’s sandwiched between the new Las Iguanas restaurant on the left and another bank building on the right, and just about manages to stick its head out amongst a mish-mash of modern buildings on the main shopping drag.
The building is obviously neo-classical, but its age was hard to ascertain. The ionic pillars immediately jumped out, with their tightly-scrolled volutes and connecting festoons. There’s also a recessed pediment behind the balustrade with a central dome poking out above that’s easier to see from across the street. My first guess was early Victorian Neoclassical revival, but up-close it doesn’t appear that old. I didn’t manage to go inside, which might have yielded more clues.
Walking around to the left gave a better view of the smooth-faced rusticated ashlar. It also emerged that the forebuilding only reaches back twenty feet or so, with a brick wall containing a decorated former sash window stretching back towards the shopping centre, however the stone gable with niche and pediment above suggested the stone and brick parts were built at the same time. The brickwork led me to think that the building might be more recent, possibly late-19th century.
A web searched revealed all: 73 High Street, built in 1905, is grade II-listed and surprisingly has always been owned by the same bank (or at least its previous incarnation as the Midland). Style-wise, its listing description has it as:
A sophisticated Baroque revival design achieving a monumental scale despite the actual size of the building and the narrowness of the site.
The interior is built to a Greek cross plan, with the dome described as a ‘bulbous-based, lead clad, shallow saucer dome with vase finial’ (must go inside next time!) The designer was Thomas Bostock Whinney (1860-1926), who become chief architect of the Midland Bank, and was responsible for many of its offices in the early past of the 20th century. Interestingly, Bostock Whinney was married one of Charles Dickens’s granddaughters.
I also came across the postcard image (above) of Edward VII driving down the High Street a few years after number 73 was built. There appears to have been space to the left of the building even than (an alleyway?), and with the adjoining building to the right possibly still extant with a later facade.