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Emily Young's serene stone angels near St Paul's need to be seen

See the angel heads by Britain's "greatest living stone sculptor" on public display next to St Paul's.

Angel Heads by sculptor Emily Young, Juxon House, St Paul's Churchyard, City of London
Angel Head by sculptor Emily Young

Five angel heads by Emily Young, hidden in plain view for 20 years, can be seen outside Juxon House in St Paul's Churchyard near the west end of the cathedral.

 

Walks available for booking

For a schedule of forthcoming London On The Ground guided walks, please click here.

 

Carved in stone and resting on stone columns, the angels' smooth faces are framed by shocks of windswept hair hewn with a rougher finish. Closer inspection reveals blemishes and imperfections in their angelic complexions, created by exposing the untreated, natural rock. The emotions captured by the sculptor have nuanced differences on each.

Angel Heads by sculptor Emily Young, Juxon House, St Paul's Churchyard, City of London
Juxon House, St Paul's Churchyard

Emily Young was born in London in 1951. Her family background includes artists, politicians and writers. Young's mother was the writer, poet and artist Elizabeth Young, who wrote on topics including arms control, international relations and architecture.


Emily's father, Wayland Young, was a Labour and SDP politician, conservationist and writer, who campaigned against female circumcision, on environmental issues and chaired the Council for the Protection of Rural England.


Elizabeth and Wayland Young jointly wrote books on London churches, helping to save Nicholas Hawksmoor's Christ Church Spitalfields and to give his churches the recognition they deserve.


Emily's paternal grandmother was a sculptor, Kathleen Scott, who was a colleague of French sculptor Auguste Rodin and the widow of Antarctic explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott. Her paternal grandfather was the Liberal and Conservative politician, Hilton Young. He was ennobled as Baron Kennet, a title inherited by Emily's father. The family can also trace ancestors in the Baring merchant banking dynasty.


After studying at the Chelsea School of Art and Saint Martin's and travelling in Asia, her early works were mainly in paint. In the 1980s and 1990s she lived with Simon Jeffes, founder of a music collective called Penguin Café Orchestra. In 2007, 10 years after Simon's death, their son Arthur started his own band, Penguin Café, to revive his father's works.


Emily's switch from painter to sculptor has an oblique link with the City of London. To make way for the current Lloyds of London building (designed by Richard Rogers and completed in 1986), the old neo-classical building of 1928 was taken down. The Young/Jeffes home somehow obtained some massive slabs of stone saved from the demolition (by means and for reasons unclear).


As luck would have it, a friend of Emily's had left a stonemason's kit at her house and so she decided to have a go at working the stone. She immediately took to it.


As she says on her website, when she first started carving stone she found it extraordinary and was constantly asking herself what on earth she was doing?


"I seem to know what to do, how to find a form I like, but how, why, what for? What is it that is happening when I carve stone? …the best answer is – I am doing Nature’s bidding. I am a part of Nature, and I am a manifestation in human form of her creativity; me carving stone is one of the infinite ways nature expresses itself. I am compelled by everything that I have ever experienced, or was born from, or know about, to do this, here, now..."

Emily clearly takes inspiration from the concept of the living rock, but she once provided inspiration for another kind of rock.


As a teenager, Emily Young was involved in London's emerging counterculture music scene. She attended venues such as the UFO Club and the Saints Hall, where it is thought that she inspired Pink Floyd's founder Syd Barret to write the band's early hit See Emily Play, released in the Summer of Love in 1967.


It is widely regarded as a psychedelic-era classic, but Emily was not too impressed by the record or Pink Floyd at the time. “I wasn’t that interested in them; they were just the band", she later told the Financial Times in an interview published on 24 May 2013, "I was much more interested in the beat poets who used to come down.”


(Fans of Pink Floyd may also be interested to read of the link between the band and a backstreet in Islington: Wall to wall: Britannia Row, Pink Floyd & the City of London.)


Today, Emily Young divides her time between London and Italy, where she has a home in Tuscany. She has created a wide range of works, but is perhaps best known for her stone heads and faces.


It was the Financial Times that first dubbed her Britain's greatest living stone sculptor, an accolade now often repeated.


In addition to the five angels at Juxon House, examples of her work in London that are on public display outdoors are in the yard of St Pancras New Church and outside NEO Bankside (an apartment development just south of Tate Modern). She also has a piece in the lobby of the hotel One Aldwych.


Juxon House, an office and retail building, was developed in 2003 just to the northwest of St Paul's Cathedral. Built in structural steel, with Portland stone cladding, it is a kind of modernist/neoclassical mish-mash.


Shortly after its opening, The Guardian architecture correspondent Jonathan Glancey called Juxon House a "mockery of the language of classical architecture, this Paternoster office block is kitsch writ gross, a kind of two fingers up to Wren and Hawksmoor".


Its façade is mainly plain and geometric, but look carefully and you can see classically-inspired Corinthian capitals (in a simplified form, designed by Tim Crawley, whose other work in the City of London I looked at in Tim Crawley's City of London stone sculptures).


Emily Young's five stone angel heads are on columns standing free of the building, but they struggle to escape from its shadow.


In fact, it is easy to walk past without noticing them at all.


Most passers-by in this area trace a path parallel to the curved front of the building and miss the artworks, which are hidden between the larger, square columns of the structure. Those walking under the colonnaded area near to the shops will only see the back of the sculptures.

Angel Heads by sculptor Emily Young, Juxon House, St Paul's Churchyard, City of London
The Angel Heads peeping out from the colonnades of Juxon House

You will really only notice them properly if you stand and look directly front on to the building. Even then, your view may be obscured by the trees lining that part of St Paul's Churchyard.


Moreover, the columns on which they rest are around 15 feet tall, raising the faces a little too high to appreciate fully their subtly different expressions. This is a pity, as the emotions portrayed are integral to Emily Young's art.


"I carve the stone into familiar forms, carrying with them an emotional charge; the forms are beautiful, the stone broken. The expressions of sadness, of reflection, are easy to read – I like to think that anyone who ever lived on Earth, anywhere, any-when, would recognise these forms, and the expressions."

Next time you are passing St Paul's Cathedral, I recommend taking a few moments to pause and to look up. You will come to appreciate these dignified and contemplative artworks by a great artist.

 

Walks available for booking

For a schedule of forthcoming London On The Ground guided walks, please click here.

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2 Comments


annemarie.fearnley
Apr 07, 2023

I’ve certainly noticed these before but never really stopped to look at them and consider the different faces. I will do so next time. It is an annoying friend that leaves their stonemason’s kit in one’s house! I’m glad Emily found a use for them!

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London On The Ground
London On The Ground
Apr 07, 2023
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Indeed! Serendipitous

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