Former insurance offices, with row of shops and residential accommodation above, 1908, by Paul Waterhouse for the Prudential Assurance Company. Minor later alterations.
Reason for Listing
The Prudential Building of 1908 by Paul Waterhouse is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* architectural quality: a formal composition on an almost palatial scale, which combines good detailing, materials and craftsmanship to create an impression of dependable dignity eminently suited to its original purpose;
* interiors: good state of preservation of the insurance company offices, where there survives a grand faience fireplace, a glazed timber screen, plasterwork ceilings, cupboards and parquet floors
* architect: designed by Paul Waterhouse, an architect of some renown who continued the practice of his famous father, Alfred Waterhouse
* group association: the Prudential is a rare instance of a Victorian company with the commercial prowess and national reach to develop a distinctive and impressive house style for its offices throughout the United Kingdom, and this is a late and impressive example of the type
The building dates to 1908 and was built at the offices of the Prudential Assurance Company to designs by Paul Waterhouse.
Paul Waterhouse (1861-1924) was the son of the prominent Victorian architect, Alfred Waterhouse. He entered into practice with his father in 1891 and completed several of the firm’s major commissions including University College Hospital, London (listed Grade II) and the headquarters of the Prudential Assurance Company on Holborn, London (Grade II). He was the lead designer of, amongst other buildings, the hospital’s new Medical School and Nurses Home in 1905 (Grade II), Lloyds Bank in Birmingham in 1905 (Grade II), the Dyson Perris Chemistry Laboratory in Oxford in 1913 (Grade II) and Prudential Assurance Company offices in Aberdeen and Lewisham in 1908 and Grimsby in 1913 (the latter Grade II). An elevational drawing of the Lewisham offices was published in The Builder in May 1908. Waterhouse was a member of the Art Workers’ Guild and President of the RIBA from 1921-3.
By employing the same architectural practice to design its offices across the United Kingdom, the Prudential Assurance Company developed a recognisable ‘house style’ of architecture in the C19. Alfred Waterhouse established the template in the 1880s and offices in a red brick and terracotta Gothic style followed at Liverpool, Bolton, Leeds, Bradford, Huddersfield, Bristol, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Oldham, Portsmouth and Sheffield and elsewhere followed in the 1880s and 1890s, all in a similar idiom (all these buildings are now listed). In all these buildings great attention was paid, in addition to practical and structural matters, to the picturesque massing and the skyline. Waterhouse's eclectic approach to style allowed him to create degrees of richness that could accurately reflect status or meet a variety of cost constraints. His general preference for Gothic forms was combined with a structural logic that matched richly articulated façades with straightforward steel skeletons. Although he used a variety of stones, particularly early in his career, he was concerned at the problems of supplying large quantities of evenly coloured stone, and also at the problems of pollution. He was an early member of the Smoke Abatement Society, and this was a major factor in his adoption of the supposedly self-washing terracotta for which he is so famous. This moulded material also had the advantage of allowing rich ornament at an economical price. From the 1880s his terracotta exteriors were matched by similar material inside in the form of moulded and glazed faience. His work therefore had a consistency in its use of high-quality materials, attention to practical details, and its general solidity. By the Edwardian period, Gothic had given way to Baroque in architectural taste, and the buildings for Prudential built by Paul Waterhouse followed the new trend; the palate of materials established by Waterhouse Senior was continued, however, and the new offices were built in the mixture of pink granite or stone, red brick and terracotta that was by now strongly identified with the Prudential firm.
The former Prudential Assurance Building in Lewisham has a stone plinth, red brick walls, terracotta dressings, timber sash windows, slate mansard roofs, and red brick chimneys. It is L-shaped on plan with its long, seven-bay frontage to Lewisham High Street and a four-bay return to Limes Grove, with a canted bay on the corner. This contains the principal entrance, framed by radiating stone voussoirs and flanked by oeil-de-boeuf windows with elongated keystones; the original panelled front door and metal-paned fanlight survive. Above, a rusticated niche decorated with festoons is topped with a balustrade and holds a statue of a female figure holding a ledger and a serpent, the latter symbolising Prudence. The parapet supports a plaque which reads ‘Prudential Buildings’ in Arts-and-Crafts-style lettering.
The two principal elevations are symmetrical with advancing end bays (and the central bay in the long elevation) under a broken triangular or segmental pediment, with a Diocletian window in its tympanum. Horizontal rustication to the stone plinth and large terracotta quoins to the projecting bays create an impression of solidity, a vital part of any insurance company’s public image. A row of six shops runs along the frontage to Lewisham High Street, these with a terracotta balustrade along the parapet and the upper storeys set back behind; the timber shop fronts (part of the original design and probably included as a commercial investment by the Prudential Company) have been replaced and no original features are visible in the shop interiors. The ground floor fenestration to Limes Grove (and the end bay of the Lewisham High Street elevation) comprises large segmental-arched windows with the original timber glazing bars. A secondary entrance here gives access directly to the building’s upper storeys. This has a recessed stone porch with a chequered tiled floor, decorative iron gates and railings, a boot scrape, and a panelled hardwood door. The windows to the upper storeys are dressed with terracotta aprons and keystones and have gauged brick flat arches. The dormer windows are casements with small triangular pediments. To the rear, which faces onto a back alley, the elevations are constructed of stock brick with red brick dressings and timber sash windows.
The former insurance office, accessed via the corner entrance, originally comprised a row of four individual offices accessed via a corridor, but this has been opened up to form a large open-plan space with a short section of corridor and a single individual office to the rear. Nonetheless, some of the original fittings survive inside. These include: panelled double doors to the vestibule with glazed upper portions and a fanlight; parquet flooring; terracotta cladding to the piers decorated with the arms of the Prudential Assurance Company (three crowns, six birds and a laurel wreath); a coffered ceiling (to the rear of the open-plan office); cornices and picture rails; a large terracotta chimneypiece with Ionic pilasters and a tiled fireplace with metal grate; a glazed screen with round-headed panels; and, in the corridor, door architraves with lugged surrounds. The remaining individual office has a curvilinear plasterwork ceiling, but its fireplace has been removed. The original open-well staircase, which gives separate access to the upper floors, survives; it has a decorative iron balustrade and timber handrail. Original glazed double doors to the upper floor corridors are also in situ, but beyond these the upper storeys were not inspected. The original use of the upper storeys is not known, but it is now residential apartments.
Source: English Heritage
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.