Laura Ager, former Creative Engagement Officer at the Hyde Park Picture House, has written a guest blog about her lockdown research into the remarkable history of the iron lamppost that stands outside The Picture House, and has become one of several iconic images of the cinema.
Written by Laura Ager.
I have always liked to gaze out of the cinema doors at this red painted cast iron lamppost. Since 1996 the lamppost has been protected with a Grade 2 listing (listing No 1255796) which means it is inscribed on the National Heritage List for England, these are all buildings and structures that are considered nationally important, being of ‘special architectural or historic interest’.
In August 2019, Peter Meehan, a specialist from the Historic Metalwork Conservation Company Ltd, visited the cinema to assess our lamppost and he wrote a report about it that contained a lot more detail. In his report he said that the lamppost likely dates from after 1904 and it was certainly manufactured at the Saracen Foundry in Glasgow. The side of the lamppost that faces the cinema doors quite clearly bears their company mark: Macfarlane & Co, Glasgow.
Our lamppost is part of the story of Walter Macfarlane, who was a prolific Scottish ironworks manufacturer in the 19th century. His company flourished for over one hundred years, like our cinema. From there we are able trace a much deeper set of connections that link our much-loved and perhaps slightly eccentric Victorian lamppost with the combined global histories of the British Empire, urban development, technical innovation, public aesthetics, public health, and 19th Century free trade.
Structure and ornament
Walter Macfarlane built the world’s largest architectural iron foundry in Glasgow. The 6th edition of the Macfarlane & Company’s Saracen Foundry catalogue, published in around 1890, contains over 100 examples of lamp post pillars, although there is no illustration that exactly matches the lamp post in Hyde Park.
Ironworks specialist Peter Meehan concluded that our lamppost likely dates from after 1890. We know that the cinema in Hyde Park was built and opened in 1914, and that before that there was briefly another building on the site from 1908, according to the Kellys directories held in the Leeds Local and Family History Library. The Hyde Park lamppost probably dates from after 1904, but we sadly have no details of who ordered it or when it was installed in Leeds.
The production of ironware bearing the name Macfarlane & Company began in November 1850. Initially, the foundry specialised in rainwater goods and sanitary wares, but out of these humble beginnings grew an incredible company who became “the world’s most prolific architectural ironfounder” (Mitchell 2007). They exported their trademarked goods into every part of the British Empire, becoming famous for the intricacy of their designs and the range and quality of their products.
Preserving the past and planning for the future
As work continues on The Picture House Project – from vital repair and restoration work on the cinema’s heritage features, to the creation of new accessible facilities – Peter Meehan has outlined a very detailed guide to restoration of our lamppost in his report.
With the support of the National Heritage Lottery Fund, which distributes a share of the funds generated from the National Lottery to organisations around the UK, along with the other supporting partners of our renovation project, we hope to be able to protect this heritage building, along with the lamppost from Walter Macfarlane’s foundry, for at least another 100 years to come.
Click here to read more of Laura’s research. And if you’re inspired by this article to look for other ironworks by Water Macfarlane & Company, then a good place to start is the Scottish Ironworks Foundation website.