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Wheel Chasers: Historical Paris Street Furniture of the 19th Century.

historical chasse-roues, cast iron ball Paris street furniture and other designs.

Wandering through neighborhoods in Paris, you’ll notice that doorways are often flanked by low structures made either of stone or metal. These guard stones are called chasse-roues (French lit. “wheel chaser“) or bouteroue (“to push the wheel out of the way“). These projecting metal, concrete, or stone exterior architectural elements are usually located at the corner and/or foot of gates, portes-cochères, garage entries, and walls. They function to prevent damage from vehicle tires and wheels. During the period of horse-drawn vehicles, the wheels, including the hub, would protrude beyond the vehicle’s body, and were thus prone to collide with and damage a corner of a building or gate. Chasse-roues were developed as a warning signs: ‘keep back‘, ‘keep your distance’, ‘don’t brush up against me’, and as traffic bollards––or, in the common parlance, ‘traffic cones’ ⚠️😄.  They are a historical item of street furniture and some are still in use today. 1 2 3

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photos: Sylvaine Lang, Moments Parfait blog, Chasse-roues. February 26, 2019

Stone was the favored material for chasse-roues during medieval and Renaissance times but many different cast iron designs were installed during the Haussmannian transformation of Paris. 4 Of the surviving chasse-roues in Paris, many are from that age of economical iron and steel. Cast iron was often preferred because it’s affordablity and versatility. Initially, a pattern or mould of the design––the most expensive part of the process––would be made. Then the molten cast iron would be poured or ‘cast’ into the mould and could take many decorative forms with each subsequent casting being relatively inexpensive to produce. Many ornamental cast-iron pieces from the late 19th and early 20th centuries survive today. These decorative artifacts represent a perfect union of form and function projecting a sense of strength, durabilty and good design.

When automobiles replaced fiacres 5, chasse-roues no longer served their purpose being replaced by objects meant for automobile traffic, such as curbs and guard rails. They were, in fact, undesirable but because they were unusually difficult to remove, most of them were just left in place. Those that remain stand as silent sentinals to earlier traffic on those historic roads. 6

Today these architectural artifacts are treasured for historic reasons and are often protected as part of a city’s cultural heritage.

On one of our recent excursions into Paris, we found a lovely patinaed pair of iron ball, “boule”, chasse-roues which we had electrified and museum-mounted as an impressive pair of table lamps.7 ^jh

Pair Of Iron Ball, "boule", chasse-roues mounted as table lamps, French, circa 1870.
Pair Of Iron Ball, “boule”, chasse-roues mounted as table lamps, French, circa 1870.

Further readings and sources:

Show 7 Footnotes

  1. Moments Parfait, https://www.momentsparfaits.com/blog
  2. The Parisian Fields, Noman Ball, June 2011, https://parisianfields.com/2011/06/26/the-art-of-the-chasse-roue/
  3. Un jour de plus à Parishttps://www.unjourdeplusaparis.com/en/paris-balades/balade-belleville-menilmontant
  4. Haussmann’s renovation of Paris, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haussmann%27s_renovation_of_Paris
  5. A fiacre is a form of hackney coach, a horse-drawn four-wheeled carriage for hire. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiacre_(carriage)
  6. Revolvy : https://www.revolvy.com/page/Guard-stone
  7. Pair of cast iron ball chasse-roues mounted as table lamps, French, Circa 1870 at Garden Court Antiques, https://www.gardencourtantiques.com/shop/pair-of-iron-ball-finials-now-mounted-as-table-lamps-french-circa-1870/
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The Historic British Embassy in Tehran.

Images via Smithsonian: Handwritten information on slip of paper (from a 1943-1944 cash book, produced by the Bathni Brothers, Tehran) reads, “27) Interior of British Embassy.” [Myron Bement Smith Collection, Subseries 2.1: Islamic Archives History, Collection Information
– Myron Bement Smith handwritten caption in English reads, “47.P; Box 41.6: Tehran. British Embassy. Interior. (# 27).” [Myron Bement Smith Collection, Subseries 2.1: Islamic Archives History, Collection Information; Box 60; Folder 44: 47 P: Antoine Sevruguin, glass negatives, Iran

The British embassy in Iran was reopened this weekend by UK foreign secretary, Philip Hammond. The embassy building itself has a rich & storied past.

The British embassy in Tehran was constructed by British Architect. James Wild (March 9, 1814 – November7, 1892) on a piece of land acquired by the British government in 1860. The construction of the building lasted for almost sixteen years, the bulk of which was constructed from 1871 to 1876. Construction was complicated by Wild’s decision to transport the roof and other materials, such as glass, from the UK. Part of the roof was lost at sea in 1871, and two caravans of 367 camels transporting other materials were variously robbed by bandits and held to ransom by excise official and a ship carrying glass and joinery caught fire at the port city of Bushehr.

The British Embassy to Iran was designed from the South Kensington Museum (today the Victoria and Albert Museum) in London, in 1869. James Wild had a strong reputation as a specialist in Middle Eastern architectural design, which he had studied and extensively drawn while living in Egypt between 1842 and 1848. He was sympathetic to the general principles laid out in Jones’ Grammar of Ornament. His Tehran embassy buildings are representative of the “controlled eclecticism” typical of the Design Reform movement broadcast from South Kensington.

Design Reform at the British Embassy: James Wild’s Arabesque Hall in Qajar Tehran. from Orientalist Museum on Vimeo.

Wild’s first proposal for the State Rooms was rejected, apparently because he had selected a “Persian” style: this was not considered workable for Britain’s official profile in Iran, where Britain and Russia struggled for political influence and status at the Qajar court. After a long hiatus, Wild’s second (more conservative) scheme for the State Rooms was approved: this also offered a British assimilation of a “foreign” style, echoing the eighteenth-century British assimilation of Greek and Roman architecture exemplified by neo-classical practitioners such as Robert Adam.

In 1906, the embassy played a key role in the uprising which led to the establishment of a parliament in Iran, when well over 10,000 Tehran people took refuge in the compound.

Tehran Conference 1943
Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill at the Tehran Conference 1943

Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt met at the British embassy in Tehran for the first time to discuss the progress of the war and the future of Europe, even though the bulk of the meetings were at the Soviet embassy. Ambassador, Geoffrey Adam, and his wife, Mary Emma, had restored the interiors the British embassy in Tehran to their former historic glory. Tables and chairs had been repositioned exactly as they were in 1943 when Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt and their aides met at the Tehran Conference that failed to end the second world war. (Churchill and Stalin reportedly drank whisky and got on famously; Roosevelt looked on disapprovingly.) ^jh

The British Embassy in Tehran
198 Ferdowsi Avenue
Tehran
11316-91144
Iran
Telephone:
+44 20 7008 1500

Further reading and sources: