Farringdon Street, London, EC4. Photo © Roger Dean 2009
This is a photograph of one of the nine hand-painted ceramic panels adorning the facade of Fleet Building, 70, Farringdon Street, EC4. All the panels have a communications theme, as Fleet Building was built for the General Post Office, which eventually morphed into British Telecom. In its time the building was an expression of progressive thinking in design and technology, but the creep of obsolescence has left the building vacant and derelict, another relic of mid-century modernism and the period’s quaint faith in the future. As it is, the building is now in a state of decay and its future is ‘uncertain’ (i.e. it is doomed).
The panels are the work of Dorothy Annan, a largely unknown ceramic artist whose work on Fleet Building constituted her biggest public commission. Little is known about the artist: her work was clearly influenced by Ben Nicolson, she was married to the sculptor Trevor Tennant, with whom she lived in a bus for a while (this last item is the most quoted biographical detail, a cruel twist on the priorities of posterity). She is described as being ‘prolific’ but it is unclear how much of her work has survived.
It would be nice to assume that Annan’s panels would be snapped up by the 20th Century Society or the V&A or some other ‘heritage’ concern – but that’s probably an assumption too far. Mid-20th century furnishings may have acquired considerable cachet in the last few years, but public expressions of the period are as vulnerable to the rapacity of the developer as much as Art Deco architecture was thirty years ago (remember the Firestone Building?). Perhaps the best one can hope for is that the panels will end up in LASSCO’s warehouse, waiting to be snapped up by some rich collector of large-scale post-Festival of Britain ceramics.
It is also worth noting that – as far as I have been able to ascertain – Fleet Building sits on the site of the notorious Farringdon Market, famed for its numerous and desperate watercress sellers. R.D.