The other small exhibition at Pallant House was a small display of photographs by Helen Muspratt, one half of the studio of Ramsey and Muspratt who ran a photographic studio above a row of shops in Cambridge and who took a rather sultry photograph of my mother in the 1930s which I own, but can’t find, as well as of my grandfather. They later moved to Post Office Terrace where they bought an existing photographic studio and used Wittgenstein to advise on the decoration. Her photographs were brilliant, as well as of brilliant people (she was helped in her choice of sitters by the fact that Lettice had married Frank Ramsey and was the lover of Julian Bell). One of the most amazing portraits was of Oliver Zangwill, who I knew as a whisky drinking Fellow of King’s, but had obviously been startlingly good looking as a young neuropsychologist.
A visit to Chichester gave me a chance to call in very briefly at Pallant House to see their exhibition about John Piper’s work as a textile designer, an aspect of his work with which I was nearly totally unfamiliar, but which is an appropriate subject for Chichester where he designed a cope for Walter Hussey when he was first appointed Dean in 1955 and a set of seven tapestries for the Cathedral fifty years ago.
Piper’s first work as a textile designer was for Zika and Lida Ascher who had set up a silk-printing business in London after emigrating from Czechoslovakia. In 1947, they organised an exhibition of printed textiles at the ICA. In the 1950s, he also worked for David Whitehead Ltd., a textile company in Lancashire for whom he did beautiful textile designs of, for example, Grinling Gibbons’s spectacular monument to Baptist Noel, third Viscount Campden in Exton church in Rutland:-
Ages ago, I took some photographs of the bar in Wilton’s Music Hall. But they didn’t really come out. It was dark. I was only half concentrating. We were there for a performance. So, I went back early this evening to have a better look at its shabby chic, recently restored exterior which was created in 1859 by John Wilton out of four houses facing on to Grace’s Alley. It’s recently been ‘restored’ by Tim Ronalds, but so tactfully and diplomatically that the extent of the restoration is invisible and the character and patina of the original has been left wholly intact.
I liked it so much that I went back for a homage to Edith Piaf:-
I have been trying to find to find out a bit about Giambattista Nolli, who was responsible for the greatest street maps of Rome, which he began work on in 1736 and published in 1748 as the Pianta Grande di Roma, at almost exactly the same time that John Roque was working on the equivalent street map of London, published in 1747. Nolli is a minor cult figure amongst architects in clearly showing the relationship between streets, public spaces and public buildings (indeed, the reason I have been trying to find out about him is that one of our architectural advisers did a Nolli of Mayfair). Not much seems to be known about him. He was born in 1701, moved to Rome, published the map at the request of Pope Benedict XIV and with the help of Piranesi, and died in 1751, not long after the map was published, his life work. The point of the map is that the city is an organism, in which each individual part contributes to the while; and that the city is experienced through walking through the streets, rather than through looking at individual buildings. You can see why I am interested in him.
St. Giles-in-the-Fields was designed, as is prominently revealed on its blackened west façade, by Henry Flitcroft, who I had thought of as one of those rather dull, first generation Palladians, who made architecture less interesting than it was when Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor were at the Office of Works. But I now discover that he was more interesting than I had thought. His father, Jeffery, was Lancashire born and worked as a gardener at Hampton Court. Young Henry, later known as Harry, was trained as a joiner, apprenticed to Thomas Morris in 1711. Whilst working as a carpenter at Burlington House in 1719, he fell off the scaffolding (there is an entry in Burlington’s accounts for the medical care of an injured workman). While he was recuperating, Lord Burlington realised his talents as a draughtsman and he began to work as Burlington’s factotum, superintending work at Tottenham House in Savernake, as well as Westminster Dormitory. St. Giles was one of his early works, won in competition with James Gibbs. The prominent inscription H. FLITCROFT ARCHITECTUS shows consciousness of his own talent. The design is much less pure pattern book than much contemporary Palladianism.
By chance, I found myself in the same neighbourhood tonight as last night because I went to see Eileen Cooper’s exhibition at Rook & Raven in Rathbone Place. It was closed. So, I took the opportunity of checking out how Denmark Street was faring under the strain of redevelopment. I thought remarkably well:-
Whilst walking down Oxford Street earlier this evening, I spotted a hollow façade, propped up with nothing behind it, which struck me as an emblem of the volume and scale of the current reconstruction of London. There is a lot of discussion of the huge number of new tower blocks (see the vigorous and sarcastic denunciation of Boris Johnson’s planning policy by Rowan Moore in the Observer last Sunday), but much less commentary that I am aware of about the amount of rebuilding which is going on at the moment. Is it a boom ? Are we about to have a crash ? Aren’t these things cyclical ?
One of the consequences of taking photographs for this blog and paying more attention to the detail of urban fabric is that I have become aware how much fine, but neglected, late nineteenth-century terracotta decoration there is in London. Tonight I walked down from Simon Lewty’s exhibition in Eastcastle Street and was confronted by a building on Oxford Street which was neglected, but with interesting detailing. As ever, I checked in Pevsner to find out about its history and discovered it is described somewhat dismissively as nothing more than ‘a Jacobean phantasmagoria’. I have discovered a little bit more about it from its listing. Designed by Gordon, Lowther and Gunton, it was constructed in 1897 for a firm of chemists called John Robbins. They vacated it the following year and it was taken over by the Wholesale Co-operative Wine Association. At least, English Heritage aporeciates its Jacobethan strapwork decoration:-
I like seeing London from unexpected angles. Today I was at a lunchtime meeting in an anonymous office block on Cavendish Square T.P. Bennett 1957) and looked out of the window to see Regent Street (originally called New Street) from above – John Nash’s noble intervention into the complex streetscape of the West End, connecting Regent’s Park to Carlton House and separating the sinks and stews of Soho from the rich residents of Mayfair:-