David Watkin (1)

I was a pupil of David Watkin and am very sad to hear of his unexpected death, although I knew that he had been extremely ill.

I was taught by him in the Michaelmas Term 1974, four weeks only, in a joint supervision with Malcolm Ramsay, who was at Peterhouse, did his dissertation on prisons, and became a government criminologist.   I think I may have also been supervised for a paper on Approaches to the History of Architecture.   It was the high noon of David’s – and, to an extent, Cambridge’s – conservative reaction to the 1960s and everything it stood for.   He was aggressively conservative and part of a group which included Ed Shils, the Chicago sociologist, Roger Scruton, Edward Norman and John Casey, mostly based at Peterhouse.

I was greatly influenced by him – his deep love and knowledge of classical architecture, his support for his pupils, and his interest in them beyond the requirement of supervisions.   I was later regarded as having gone to the bad, lost to his version of intense, high minded, but doctrinaire scholarship.

But I remain grateful to him.

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5 thoughts on “David Watkin (1)

  1. Mark Fisher says:

    He was an extremely influential, and brilliant scholar – influential on both the Right and the Left.

    Shils was crucial to the development of Michael Young, and Scruton set standards on the Right.

    You will not be alone in missing him.

  2. Mark Stocker says:

    I was doomed. Middle-class, Anglican into agnostic, left-liberal and King’s. Grew up with Scandinavian modernist furniture in a modernist inclined semi-detached bungalow in Radlett. Went to Haberdashers’. But after I stood up to Dr Watkin in a very public way at a seminar on the then recently published ‘Morality’, saying ‘Denouncing modern architecture is all very well but who are the architects to follow and which practising architects should people study as a role model if they agree with you?’, he became a lot nicer to me. I admit, however, I was never 100% at ease in his company or his ne plus ultra St Peter’s Terrace rooms; the problem for me was that in his carefully fashioned self-image there seemed to be an inability to laugh at himself, and there were too many enemies. I don’t think he even liked Art Deco! While David mellowed subsequently, he was still an angry youngish fogey in the late 70s, and on the rise in not very nice but hugely self-regarding company. (Cowling was the worst, rudest lecturer ever, though I liked the droll, dry Dr Norman). The later, mellower, David has been very nicely portrayed by Mary Beard. Jean Michel Massing (really my Cambridge mentor) has said what a good, supportive colleague he was in later years. I was so pleased to exchange friendly words with David at JM’s dinner at King’s a couple of years ago – he reprimanded me one final time for my fealty to ‘The Manchester Guardian’, as he quaintly deemed it. And as for his writing, OMG, bloody fantastic from beginning to end. Very good that he got his Festschrift, but sad that he didn’t get the CBE that he surely deserved. He will be missed and I have swallowed a few times in the last few days.

    • Dear Mark, Yes, King’s was definitely a handicap, but I got over it. Such a nice and generous tribute. I certainly think he was much more generously inclined than people think, and I can remember him being not at all polite about the academic credentials of a scion of one of the greatest country houses in the land. Charles

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