I have been reading Nicholas Taylor’s The Village in the City, a classic of early 1970s invective against the inhumanity of tower blocks, which made me interested to see how well Luxborough Tower survives behind the University of Westminster, now semi-privatised, but designed in 1965 on the site of a Victorian workhouse in the high noon of tower blocks:-
I found myself in the west end today which I normally try to avoid at the weekend. It gave me time to examine the detailing on some of the houses in Brook Street at the Hanover Square end. This is Nos. 14-16 with what Pevsner describes as ‘undercooked-looking’ terracotta:-
This is Nos.2-4, Jacobethan by C.O. Parnell:-
It’s a long while since I’ve had breakfast at the Ritz where we used to conduct a lot of business when I was at the NPG. We were choosing the winners of this year’s Mayfair Awards. I’m not the best person to choose a jeweller and am sadly unable to distinguish the qualities of the Savile Row tailors, but enjoyed the opportunity to find out about new pop-up coffee shops. Underlying a lot of the discussion was the distinction between new Mayfair – the many new shops which have opened in the last year – and the old Mayfair of grand hotels, auction houses and gun shops. Sad to hear that Dover Street Market may be moving out:-
I was told last night that much the best view of St. Paul’s Cathedral was from the roof of One New Change, the large and not very prepossessing shopping mall which dominates its chancel end. It’s true that, rather amazingly, long before the shops open, it is possible to take the lift up on to the roof and there survey not just the great dome of St. Paul’s, but the whole of London and its changing roofscape beyond:-
The nearest landmark to our new offices is The Black Friar, an astonishing, richly ornamented, still surviving Arts-and-Crafts pub, built in 1873, but magnificently revamped in 1905 with ample lettering and assorted signage outside and again restored in the 1980s by Jamie Troughton of Troughton McAslan:-
I am beginning to get used to working in Blackfriars, not Piccadilly. It’s now mainly a railway station and pub, but it was once a Dominican monastery, founded in Shoe Lane in 1221 and given a bigger site by the river just outside the city walls in 1263. It became extremely important, the seat of parliament and the repository of state records, until dissolved in 1538 when it was given to the Master of the Revels, which led in due course to the monks’ refectory being turned into a playhouse. The theatre, which specialised in performances by boy actors (originally choirboys), was closed down in 1642. Ben Jonson lived here and Van Dyck. Now it’s just somewhere sandwiched between the City and Fleet Street.
We went on a trip to Purfleet to see High House – originally an Elizabethan house – where the Royal Opera House has a large production workshop designed by Nicholas Hare and other accompanying storage facilities, alongside live/work artists’ studios run by Acme and designed by Hat Projects. Purfleet itself is an old garrison town, the original home of the Royal Gunpowder Magazine and the fictional home of one of Count Dracula’s estates.
Today is Day 2 in our new offices in Unilever House. Yesterday was a touch surreal, the moment of displacement when we all decamped from Piccadilly to the banks of the Thames. At least it means that the building project is a reality as the contractors move in to Burlington Gardens. Out of my window I see the Shard, tall and stately, outflanking Tate Modern. I am told that on the ground floor I can buy cheap shampoo and on the top floor there is a garden (but we don’t have access). This morning I explored the neighbourhood, which can be the subject of future blogs.
The last of my posts from rural Norfolk is of a Shell House which we saw last night in a garden looking out over fields, made in the last couple of years with mussels sent in boxes from Cornwall and set in patterns:-
We were bumbling along the byways of north Norfolk when we came across Binham Priory in a field on the edge of the village, built in the time of Prior Richard de Parco between 1226 and 1244, looking much as it does in early nineteenth-century engravings:-