John Summerson

Hearing John Summerson criticised from the pulpit of the Paul Mellon Centre more than twenty five years after his death made me feel tenderly towards his memory. Not that I knew him. But I was brought up to admire him from afar and remember seeing him in a Breton cap in the streets of Cambridge and walking at speed round the book stacks of the London Library when he was in his eighties: an Olympian figure, ‘Coolmore’ as John Betjeman always called him, the pseudonym that he used in his 1930s architectural journalism and which stuck to him because it conveyed his character of intellectual detachment. Nor do I think that bringing qualities of critical evaluation and judgment to the writing of architectural history is necessarily a bad thing, even if some of his judgments read quaintly after nearly seventy years.

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4 thoughts on “John Summerson

  1. Edward Jones says:

    I did know him and am touched by your defence of his memory against the inevitability of revisionist criticism ‘from the pulpit’. He lectured us at the AA on Georgian London (a continuing enthusiasm) in the late 50s and on the first Saturday of the month we visited him at the Soane Museum where he appeared as Director to greet us as though Sir John might have substituted his surname to Soane. His criticism of the façade to the National Gallery gave confidence to our later project for the steps, which were sadly not built.

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