The Front Door

We had Ged Palmer of The Luminor Sign Company in the Roman Road round to paint numbers on our front door. I thought that this would be perfectly simple, but hadn’t realised what strong views can be held round type faces. Should it be Caslon – right in date, but the numerals a bit too chunky ? Or Baskerville ? Or Garamond, which is more elegant ? Or the signwriter’s own freehand, which is the basis of the signwriter’s craft ? That was only be beginning of the problem. I thought they should be white, so they would be legible. But, no, dark black brown was the preferred option. We have lived without numbers on the front door for eighteen and a half years. No wonder. Now we have them – I think very successfully:-


Old Flo (2)

I was tipped off in my Comments column that Canary Wharf had produced a very informative educational pamphlet about Old Flo. It has and I have now been sent one. It gives a very clear and well illustrated account of the gestation of the piece in drawings, first in his Shelter Drawings and then (unusually for him) in sketches in the early 1950s, and then in the maquette and working model. It was the LCC which, in 1956, launched its Patronage of the Arts scheme and, in 1961, invited Henry Moore to contribute a work. He was paid £7,000. On 8 June 1962, she was installed in the Stifford Estate, where, according to Joan Keating, my informant, she was known as ‘The Fat Lady’. The Queen opened the Estate in 1962, but it was demolished in 1997 and is now Stepney Green Park, an unsafe location for a sculpture now worth £18 million.

The Stifford Estate:-

Old Flo herself where she used to be:-



I went to an event at Central St. Martin’sthis evening which was meant to be about beauty, but was actually about housing. First up was Sir Roger Scruton, the chairman of the government’s Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission. I am unusual in that I don’t think this Commission is a stupid idea (the government needs to encourage public housing and badly needs some level of public consensus as to how best to do this), nor that Scruton as a philosopher who has written about architecture is necessarily a bad person to chair it. But I wasn’t reassured by the fact that he said baldly that people hate living in Los Angeles when it has a population of 4 million who have chosen to live there and do so very happily. Next was Liza Fior of Muf. Her practice has done good work in Barking and elsewhere (as it happens, on the Mile End Road) which is sensibly informed by public consultation. Andrew Whittaker, the Planning Director of the Home Builders Federation, made clear that the big volume builders give the public as far as possible what the public wants, which is very conventional, traditional housing. Deborah Garvie, the Planning Director of Shelter argued, which is obvious, that for the homeless basic housing is far better than none. And Neil Pinder, a very impressive secondary school teacher, advocated much greater diversity in young architects.

Was there any consensus about what makes for good housing ? Almost none. What form should new housing take ? I suspect that Peter Barber’s 100 Mile City at the Design Museum provides a better answer.


Blog pics

For those of you who see a photograph of me above my blog posts, you will notice they have changed. For a long while, I have enjoyed being able to show a series of informal photographs taken by Maryam Eisler for her book Voices: East London, published in 2017. But they were very summery and informal, taken in Stepney. They have been replaced for the New Year (and the new job) by three very formal photographs taken by Clare Hewitt for Apollo and three marginally less formal ones taken in the home of José Olympio da Veiga Pereira in São Paulo by Greg Salibian for an article in the Folha de S. Paulo.


Wallace Collection

I had lunch yesterday at the Wallace Collection. Whenever possible, I check that the display of armour in the Wallace Collection has not yet been modernised, as it is one of the last places where one can enjoy a wholly traditional museum display, nearly exactly as it was when first laid out in 1908, dense with objects and minimal labelling.

Of course, one day it may have to change, but I hope that some of its atmosphere can be preserved.

The backside of the horse armour of Otto Heinrich, Count Palatine made by Hans Ringler of Nuremberg:-

The armour made by Anton Peffenhauser in 1580:-


Viola Michelangelo

The exhibition at the Royal Academy which pairs the work of Bill Viola, the best known contemporary video artist, with the drawings of Michelangelo has had a pretty good drubbing in the national press, as if it is illegitimate to think that there might be some connection in the approach of two artists across time and from completely different visual cultures and that it is necessarily hubristic to compare them. It is true that in the second of the galleries the Michelangelo tondo together with some of his great presentation drawings are confronted on the wall opposite by big screen images of birth, childhood and death in Viola’s Nantes Triptych (1992). This is a (deliberately) radical and unexpected way of looking at – and thinking about – the work of Michelangelo. But the great majority of the exhibition consists of large-scale and immersive work by Bill Viola.

I still greatly admire the first work in the exhibition The Messenger, which I first encountered in the nave of Durham Cathedral at dusk in late August 1996. I had never seen Five Angels for the Millennium (2001), an incredibly impressive work, particularly as seen in Gallery III. And the final work in the exhibition is Fire Woman (2005), a film of resurrection, fire and brimstone. Yes, maybe it has a touch of Hollywood in it. But I don’t object to technical magnificence. And nor did Michelangelo.


Ethel Paine Moors

Out of the blue, I got an email from the curator of Stonehurst, a historic property designed by H.H. Richardson in Waltham outside Boston. She was enquiring whether I had any family papers relating to my step-grandmother, Ethel Paine Moors, who was brought up in Stonehurst and died ten days after marrying my grandfather in the year that I was born (she was dead by the time my parents went to meet her off the boat from Southampton). I could supply no information, but have discovered in return that she was a fiery liberal who devoted her life to teaching in African American schools, including Penn School in St. Helena, South Carolina. It was her family trust, not Rockefeller or the Ford Foundation, which funded one of the early civil rights conferences in 1957 at which Martin Luther King gave an historic speech later published ‘At the Threshold of Integration’.


Soho to the Strand

I walked from my new place of work in Hanover Square down to a meeting in the Strand, cutting through Soho and observing details in the architecture which I have not spotted before.

The eccentric capitals in one of the shop fronts on Regent Street:-

The lettering on the entrance to the old primary school in Ingestre Place:-

And the surviving old warehouses beyond:-

The clock on the Bar Italia:-

And the Scales of Justice on the old Bow Street police station:-

St. Mary-le-Strand:-

The brutalism of the façade of King’s:-

And the lettering on the old Strand underground station, later called Aldwych, a branch on the Piccadilly line:-


Anne Olivier Bell

I sadly missed the memorial event at the British Library last week devoted to the life of Anne Olivier Bell, the last of the so-called Monuments Men, editor of Virginia Woolf’s diary, and co-founder of Charleston Farmhouse. I thought I knew her well, but learned a lot that I had not known by listening to the recording: about the trickiness of her childhood split between her mother in Dorset and her father, who was Keeper of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum; that she was a motorbike despatch rider in the war, before she worked for the Monuments Commission, which she always downplayed (this I knew) and only did for a year and a half; about her sitting at her desk at the Arts Council with her pencil poised to pounce on any error in the catalogues; about her dressmaking in the late 1960s at Cobbe Place; and how little she wrote herself and how much she hated public speaking. What comes across is how loved she was, and admired, by the people who were asked to speak about the different aspects of her life up until her death last year aged 102.