The Line

I half knew about the Line, the sculpture trail which stretches from the Olympic Park to the Millennium Dome or vive versa, but had never walked it until today. It’s an impressive way of connecting bits of East London which I did not previously know connected – partly because there is an obscure path stretching south from Three Mills past the gas holders to Cody Dock.

We started at the Dome:-

There is a remarkable view of Canary Wharf from the east (what used to be called the Valley of the Failure of Capitalism):-

Richard Wilson’s Slice of Reality, which has been there since the Millennium:-

And Antony Gormley’s Quantum Cloud:-

To the north of the river, there is a Richard Rogers’ pumping station, contemporary with John Outram’s on the Isle of Dogs:-

And then a walk up an obscure section of the River Lea:-

And a view of the Balfron Tower and the new developments of Canary Wharf beyond:-

It says it’s only 2.4 miles, but it felt like a good way to explore some of the obscurer bits of East London.


RSAW Welsh Architecture Awards shortlist 2021

Close examination of the attached reveals that our cottage in Wales is on the shortlist for this year’s RSAW Architecture Awards (we were on last year, but they’ve carried us over to this year). It entailed a flying visit today to meet one of the judges in situ in order to commend the virtues of a small-scale rural project making a nineteenth-century cottage disabled accessible in such a way that it retains the character of the original. The sun shone. The grass has grown long and wild:-


Whitechapel Bell Foundry (98)

There is still a surprising amount of activity on Twitter about the Bell Foundry, asking if anything can now be done.

The answer is that the government is clearly not minded to do anything. The ministers in the Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government have between them effectively cocked up – Chris Pincher by making a statement in the House of Lords which put the government at risk of judicial review by appearing to treat the Planning Inquiry as a foregone conclusion and Robert Jenrick by calling the decision in for an Inquiry, but then simply accommodating himself to the advice of the Inspector, in spite of tweeting to the effect that it was bad advice. This government will go to any lengths to keep statues on plinths, but no lengths to keep a Historic Bell foundry in operation. But then, it does seem to find empty symbols more appealing than real action (unless it is illicit).

So, now, I think there are only three possibilities.

The first is market forces. It is just possible that now is not the best moment to go forward with a grand scheme for a new hotel in an area which already has plenty of new hotels (the Inspector was caustic about the business plan for a Foundry, but didn’t look at the business plan for a hotel).

The second is that Bippy Siegal has a change-of-heart and realises – or is encouraged to realise – that he would win international friends and plaudits if he adjusted his plans to give more scope for the reinstatement of a proper full-blown foundry in the space currently proposed as a restaurant, making use of the equipment which he himself bought at auction, not just a little toy one as is currently proposed.

The third would be if new evidence came to light of something having been done wrong in the process of securing planning permission.

Otherwise, it’s stuffed.


John Craxton (1)

If asked for books to read over the summer, I would strongly recommend Ian Collins’s long, deeply informative and ultimately melancholy account of John Craxton’s life and talents, a great period piece as he seems always to have known everyone, high and low, in London, Athens and Crete, always with his supporters, but in the end afflicted with a desire to live life to the full and not necessarily to finish pictures, ‘procraxtonisation’ he called it. The truest comment comes from Nick Moore who lived with him in Chania, ‘Perhaps he was too gifted – like having such a large music collection that you can never decide which piece to play’. Magnificently talented, but feckless.


Summer books of 2021

My morning in the garden with a copy of the Weekend FT has been immensely cheered up by discovering that Jackie Wullschläger has nominated my museums book as her choice for summer holiday reading. Thank you, Jackie ! You have made my day. via @FT


Whitechapel Bell Foundry (97)

Today is the last day in which it might have been possible to launch a judicial review into what went wrong in terms of the decision-making over the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. But the money is not available to do this and no-one has the appetite to prolong the agony. Hope that it could be saved is ebbing away as officials wash their hands of it, suggesting that it is now too late, although the fabric of the building remains 100% intact and it would not be difficult to put the historic parts of the building back into operation again, rather than just turning it, as now looks inevitable, into the posh adjunct of a private members’ club or luxury hotel.

I can’t help but notice that Robert Jenrick, who promised to launch an Inquiry to establish how it was that the Whitechapel Bell Foundry was given planning permission by his own Department and, indeed, in his own name, has not yet done so or, if he has, it has not been reported.

Let me remind him of a couple of the issues he might look into.

  1. It would be useful for him to find out which of his officials ‘expedited’ the permission through the system and the motivation for this. Was it someone in his private office or perhaps one of his Special Advisors ? Is he confident that all aspects of the decision making have been squeaky clean and not susceptible of undue influence ? Why was he himself circumvented from involvement in the final decision when it was known that he was sympathetic to the historic importance of the Bell Foundry and the symbolic significance of not just Big Ben, but the Liberty Bell as well ?
  2. Local Councils are expected to test the market before allowing change-of-use. But Tower Hamlets never did this, nor did the Planning Inspector raise it as an issue. Yet, it should have been obvious that this is a basic first step and common practice. Why was it circumvented ?
  3. Historic England now have a policy of favouring what they describe as ‘constructive conservation’. This involves getting into bed with developers, not quite literally, but at least working alongside and with them and putting them on their Boards, including attendance at the London Advisory Committee. Is this really a sensible policy ? Or does it give developers undue influence on decision making, not allowing Historic England to perform its statutory duties ?
  4. The approval of planning permission was by the casting vote of the chairman of the Tower Hamlets planning committee after a split vote. So, a single casting vote decided the fate of a building which has been in existence since the 1740s. It is now known that the Mayor of Tower Hamlets influenced the decision, encouraging the committee members to vote in favour of the proposals. What, one wonders, influenced him in this way ? Was it a purely disinterested desire to further the interests of the borough ?

Although I now realise the the Bell Foundry itself is probably doomed, I still think it is worth trying to learn the lessons of what went wrong and who and what caused the mistakes.


Thomas à Becket

It starts with a Limoges enamel casket with Becket being decapitated:-

His parents, Gilbert and Matilda, were merchants in Cheapside.   According to John of Salisbury, Becket ‘was tall in stature, handsome in appearance, acute in intellect…’  

His consecration as archbishop:-

A remnant of the Romanesque cathedral:-

Becket shows his feelings towards the King and Louis VII:-

There’s a font from a church in rural Sweden showing the rapid spread of his cult following his murder:-

The cult spreads to a reliquary in Norway:-

In alabaster:-

A wonderful, intellectually coherent, narrative exhibition, so rich in objects and a sense of Becket’s tragedy.


Courtauld Institute Galleries

Deborah Swallow talked last night to the Royal Drawing School about her plans for the Courtauld: so incredibly complex because of the multitude of different levels making disabled access so incredibly complicated, what looks like a piece of ingenious adaptation, and clarification of the layout and gallery spaces by Witherford Watson Mann who have good experience of working with historic buildings at Astley Castle. It’s due to re-open in November with the galleries re-floored in oak and newly designed concealed lighting: a treat in store.


Development (2)

My belief that the odds in terms of development in London are totally stacked in favour of developers, who have deep pockets to pay the best QCs, the best PR firms, and now appear to have the support of Historic England, has taken a minor knock having just heard that the monster development of 8, Albert Embankment by U+I (the Deputy Chief Executive of U+I just happens to be a Commissioner of Historic England) which would have taken much of the available daylight away from local communities, parks and the Garden Museum has not been given planning permission by Robert Jenrick, following a Planning Inquiry and on the basis of the advice of his Planning Inspector. A great victory on the part of those who campaigned so brilliantly against the plans !

Perhaps it will stem the advance of the approaching triffids:-