Monday, November 21, 2011

A new Chinese Pagoda for Victoria Park

Construction of the new Chinese Pagoda in Victoria Park
8" x 10", pen and sepia ink and coloured pencils in Moleskine Sketchbook
copyright Katherine Tyrrell
The regeneration of Victoria Park in Tower Hamlets seems to have picked up a bit of pace after a lot of criticism of the way the project is being handled.  People have been very fed up with the loss of its amenity for local residents during the works - particularly those with children who have lost the use of both playspaces.  It seems like it's been going on forever......

The new Chinese Pagoda

The construction of the Chinese Pagoda is currently underway - along with the new Chinese Bridge.  It's a lot smaller than I was expecting (see The Pagoda at Kew Gardens - I go to Kew Gardens a lot!) - but read on and you'll find out why it is designed as it is.

It's been built on the reclamation of one of the original islands in the Lake - and having created a new island, it's also getting two new bridges as well as a Chinese Pagoda.  One is rustic and the other is going to be decorative metal painted in red.

It also seemed like a jolly good time to do a sketch of it!

Below you can see two photographs of the two bridges and the pagoda

Victoria Park: A brand new channel to a new island with rustic bridge and new Chinese Pagoda
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Construction of Pennethorne Bridge to link island to rest of Victoria Park
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

What's a Chinese Pagoda doing in an East End Park?  Well it's certainly not a silly question!

The original Chinese Pagoda in Victoria Park

China opened up to the west during Queen Victoria's reign however there were still some considerable tensions - the first Opium War for example only finishing in 1842.

The following are some comments on the original Chinese Pagoda which was originally built as an entrance to the Chinese Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1842. Below are extracts from documents on the Internet - and it seemed like a good idea to record them alongside the building of the new Pagoda.

They explain why the pagoda is shaped as it is.

This is what the Illustrated London News had to say
Upon the left-hand side of the inclined plane, extending iron Hyde Park Corner to Knightsbridge, and towards the extremity of St. George's Place, a grotesque erection has lately sprung up with all the cupidity which distinguishes the building operations of the present day. As the work proceeded, many were the guesses at the purpose for which it was intended; and, to feed the suspense of the many thousands who daily pass this thoroughfare, the work was covered with canvas until just completed. The structure in question is the entrance to an extensive apartment filled with "curiosities of China." In design this entrance is characteristically Chinese, and is taken from the model of a summer residence now in the collection. It is of two stories, the veranda roof of the lower one being supported by vermilion-coloured columns, with pure white capitals, and over the doorway is inscribed, in Chinese characters, "Ten Thousand Chinese Things." Such summer-houses as the above are usual in the gardens of the wealthy, in the southern provinces of China, often standing in the midst of a sheet of water, and approached by bridges and sometimes they have mother-of- pearl windows. Although the above building in raised from the pathway, whence it is approached by a flight of steps, it is somewhat squatly proportioned. But such is the character of Chinese buildings, so that when the Emperor Kesen-king saw a perspective view of a street in Paris or London, he observed, "that territory must be very small whose inhabitants are obliged to pile their houses to the clouds;" and, in a poem on London, by a Chinese visitor, it is stated,- "The houses are so lofty that you may pluck the stars."
courtesy of Victoria London website
Entrance to the Chinese Collection exhibition hall, St George's Place, c. 1842
This is an extract from British History Online - The Chinese Collection and St George's Gallery (demolished)
The mysterious structure which had attracted such curiosity was a replica of a Chinese summer-house or 'pagoda' at the corner of the way in to Old Barrack Yard (Plate 6a). This arresting object was the entrance to an exhibition of Chinese art and artefacts known as the Chinese Collection, which had opened to the public on 23 June. (ref. 43) The exhibition itself was in a new building back from the main road, and the pagoda, designed after a model in the collection, served both as a ticket-office and way in to the exhibition hall, which was reached up steps and through a vestibule or covered walk at the rear (Plate 11a).

The Chinese Collection had been amassed by an American merchant, Nathan Dunn (1782–1844), during his twelve years in Canton, and exhibited by him from 1838 at the Philadelphia Museum. In 1842—'at the suggestion of many of the most influential, scientific, and learned persons of the British metropolis and kingdom' (ref. 44) — Dunn brought the collection to England and opened it to the public in the specially constructed hall in Knightsbridge, which occupied part of the site of the former foot-guards barracks. With Dunn came William B. Langdon, the London-born curator of the collection and the author of a descriptive catalogue, who had known him in China. (ref. 45)

Both the hall and the pagoda were erected by the publicworks contractors Grissell & Peto, the pagoda at a cost of £800. (ref. 46) The pagoda stood about 19ft square, a 'somewhat squatly proportioned' wooden building with a single room to each of its two storeys. It was decorated in gold and bright colours— green roofs, and vermilion pillars with white capitals—and ornamented with brackets in the form of dragons. Over the doorway was a Chinese inscription signifying 'Ten Thousand Chinese Things'. (ref. 47) The hall, 225ft long and 50ft wide, was a plain affair externally (Plate 6a). Inside, it was largely taken up by a single lofty 'saloon', top lit and lined with pillars: 'a sort of Brighton Pavilion with permanent fittings'. (ref. 48)
I'm now wondering what sort of decorative finishes our new pagoda is going to have.


  1. How fascinating to watch it being built. I love a pagoda, and would certainly have one in my garden if I were rich. Nice sketch. I look forward to your doing it again when it's finished. Trying not to envy you a handy park with water!

  2. I really like this sketch - the composition with all the scaffolding lifts it out of the norm. And also look forward to you next step !

  3. im one of the guys who helped put the roof on the pagoda. It was a very nice job and interesting as it was the first time i atempted to do a curved roof, but with the guidance of the guy i was working with it came out vert well and really enjoyed it.


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