top of page
  • Writer's pictureLondon On The Ground

Fire, Air, Water and Earth: stone relief for Lloyd's

The carvings, representing the Four Elements (and insurance risks), are in a hidden City of London alleyway.

Four Elements, by James Woodford 1957, on the wall of the Scalpel building, 52 Lime Street, City of London
Four Elements, by James Woodford 1957

The Four Elements were created by sculptor James Woodford in 1957 for the first Lloyd's of London Building on Lime Street, before disappearing from public view when the current Lloyd's Building replaced it in 1986.

 

In 2008 the relief reappeared on the Willis Building, which is opposite Lloyd's on Lime Street. The panels were moved to their current location on the Scalpel building (address 52 Lime Street) in 2019.

 

James Woodford's relief depicts the four classical elements - Fire, Air, Water and Earth - in a muscular, allegorical style with Art Deco touches. The four also represent categories of risk insured by members of Lloyd's.

 

Summer schedule of walks available for booking

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

 

Fire, the first of the four panels, portrays a powerfully built fireman deploying a hose to dowse the flames from which a phoenix is rising.

Fire, Four Elements, by James Woodford 1957, on the wall of the Scalpel building, 52 Lime Street, City of London
Fire, by James Woodford 1957

Air, the most modern depiction of the four, features a near naked angel with birds and aeroplanes soaring above the clouds.

Air, Four Elements, by James Woodford 1957, on the wall of the Scalpel building, 52 Lime Street, City of London
Air, by James Woodford 1957

Water features an androgynous female figure ringing a bell, presumably Lloyd's Lutine Bell, which is rung whenever a ship insured by Lloyd's is lost. Seabirds and fish complete the maritime imagery.

Water, Four Elements, by James Woodford 1957, on the wall of the Scalpel building, 52 Lime Street, City of London
Water, by James Woodford 1957

Earth shows another androgynous female, this time sowing seeds from two baskets strapped across her shoulders. She is walking past a sheep and a goat, while a bird appears to peck at a tree in the background.

Earth, Four Elements, by James Woodford 1957, on the wall of the Scalpel building, 52 Lime Street, City of London
Earth, by James Woodford 1957

James Woodford (1893-1976) was born in Nottingham. His father strongly opposed his ambition to become an artist (hurling some of his early sculptures across the room), hoping that his son would follow him into the lace design trade.


However, Woodford studied at Nottingham School of Art before joining the army in the First World War and continued his studies at the Royal College of Art in London after the war. In World War II he was a camouflage officer with the Air Ministry. He became a full member of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1945 and was appointed OBE in 1953.


In addition to the Four Elements, he also created a coat of arms for the Lloyd's Building in 1954.


His work elsewhere in London includes two monumental doors at the Royal Institute of British Architects at 66 Portland Place, depicting the Thames and a number of London buildings.


At Kew Gardens his Queen's Beasts are replicas of the series of 10 heraldic animals he created for the coronation of Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey (the originals were donated to the Canadian Museum of History).

View South on 'Queen's Beasts' 1956 by James Woodford & Palm House 1848 by Decimus Burton & Richard Turner

Woodford specialised in heraldic sculpture and carved the Royal Coat of Arms for a number of court houses and British Embassies, using his own more modern design.

Outside London, James Woodford's work includes sculpted roundels for the bronze doors of Norwich City Hall, a sculpture of the Roman goddess Ceres at the Corn Exchange in Brighton and statues of Robin Hood and his Merry Men outside Nottingham Castle.


The Four Elements relief is tucked away on the south facing wall of the Scalpel, just across an alley with no name from the Willis Building that runs from Lime Street to Billiter Street.


When they were placed on the old Lloyd's building, Woodford's Four Elements were too high up to be seen clearly.

Today, provided that you can find them in the unnamed alley between the Scalpel and the Willis Building, they can be enjoyed in all their mid-20th century splendour.

Four Elements, by James Woodford 1957, on the wall of the Scalpel building, 52 Lime Street, City of London
The Four Elements relief is in an unnamed alley in the City of London
 

Summer schedule of walks available for booking

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

1 Comment


annemarie.fearnley
May 27

These are wonderful! I imagined they were quite small until I saw the last photo!!

Like
bottom of page