Development (1)

In the great tide of London’s redevelopment which seems to have been let rip during COVID, such that central London is now populated only by construction workers (have you tried travelling on the Central line at 6.15 ?), we seem to have given up on any idea of systematic conservation in favour of turning London into Hong Kong. Luckily, I like Hong Kong, but I also liked the low-rise, historically complex, Victorian city that London used to be, now disappearing under huge anonymous blocks of high-rise, with ungovernable planning consents.

The death of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry is only emblematic of the death of the old city, thanks to the new policy of Historic England to encourage and work with developers and accept payment from them for their advice, which used to be called a conflict of interest, but is now just the way to get things done:-



A day trip to Ledbury: such a surprisingly well-preserved market town with new building kept out of the main street, all independent shops apart from a rustic Tesco and an amazing cobbled alleyway leading up to the church:-

Good monuments in the church.

Edward and Elizabeth Skynner who made a fortune in the cloth trade and had 11 children, one killed as a baby by a wolf:-

And the memorial to Robert Middleton Biddulph, who made a fortune in Bengal, by Sir Richard Westmacott, a fine piece of early nineteenth-century sentiment:-


Magdalene College Library

The only photograph I was able to take on a lightning visit to Cambridge today was a distant view of the new Magdalene College Library, which looks like a very sympathetic and ingenious addition to the architecture of the college by Niall McLaughlin. People often feel that any form of historical treatment should be taboo in a modern building, but this doesn’t look nostalgically revivalist, just intelligently cognisant of its surroundings, fitting in harmoniously, which is quite a great achievement:-


Janet Malcolm

I see that Janet Malcolm has died, the great mistress of long-form, analytical writing for the New Yorker. Her obituaries so far focus on the controversies surrounding her books, In the Freud Archives and The Journalist and the Murderer, both of which provoked immense, long-lasting critique, and neglect the fact that her first book, published in 1980, was a brilliant book of her essays about the history of photography, Diana & Nikon: Essays on the Aesthetic of Photography, writing about photography as an art form when this was still unfashionable, studying the subject through studies of the work of individual photographers, who she subjected to subtle semi-psychological probing (it is not surprising to discover that her father was a Czech psychiatrist and her second book on Psychoanalysis). She also had an interest in Bloomsbury, writing a long article about Charleston in 1995 under the title ‘A House of One’s Own’ (, which, like all her writing, was incredibly deeply informed, subtly investigative, beautifully well written and full of her own, well-considered critical judgments of people as well as their writing. I never met her, and now can’t, but I admired her greatly for her writings.


The Art Museum in Modern Times

It’s funny now how reviews do not necessarily appear in the places one wants or expects, but instead they appear mysteriously, including, today, an excellent one – at least, not surprisingly, I thought it was excellent – on the Blue Guides website, which both summarises and engages with my findings in a way which I found helpful. It is about the issue of how far museums should be didactic; how far didacticism is off-putting to the public or a necessary part of deepening public understanding. The author makes the analogy with basic grammar. Teaching grammar has become unfashionable for the same reason as didacticism. A schoolroom or a playground ? A set-menu restaurant or a smorgasbord ? Exactly.


Pevsner Wiltshire

Following a seminar last night organised by the Paul Mellon Centre to introduce the new heavily revised third edition of Pevsner’s Wiltshire, I was so pleased that my copy arrived today, so that I was able to check out some of the entries while it was fresh in my mind. It gives a date, 1881, for the Old Vicarage, Redlynch, the house where I was born. It states more definitively than I had known that the Mound at Marlborough is not simply a Norman motte as had been thought, but has been proved by carbon-dating to be contemporary with Silbury and, in addition, that the lining of the grotto added in its base by Lady Hertford was restored by Diana Reynell, the wife of the classics master, in 1986. It describes the Great Barn in Tisbury as being earlier than previously thought, tree-ring dating giving a date of 1289-1314 (can it really be so precise ?). It gives a date, 1740, for Oare House and a scrupulous description of the Pavilion designed by I.M Pei. The quality of photography is also hugely much improved, with a very atmospheric photograph of the Stone Circle at Avebury and good photography, always difficult, of tombs. It reveals that Henry Dawkins, the owner of Trafalgar House, was a Jamaican plantation owner, but not, so far as I can see, Alderman Beckford. Altogether, it looks like a pretty mighty achievement of radical research and rewriting by Julian Orbach, taking six years, when Pevsner pumped the original volumes out over his summer holidays.


63-81, Pelham Street

Following my recent trip to South Kensington to study the likely impact of the planned development of the underground station, I have been alerted to the plans to develop an adjacent site on Pelham Street by the Wellcome Trust, one of the UK’s biggest charities – I assume not for the benefit of the local community, but for purposes of pure profit, probably through their commercial property arm since the headquarters of the Wellcome Trust are on the Euston Road and the trustees may have been encouraged to think that the development is unproblematic.

The building it will replace is not without interest, originally designed in 1924-5 for the Kensington and Knightsbridge Electric Lighting Company by C. Stanley Peach, who had a successful architectural practice based in Warwick Square (bad photograph, I know, probably taken in 1925):-

There is still the residue of this building in the architectural detailing:-

One might expect the Wellcome Trust to want to restore and reinstate the original building. But, oh no ! They plan to demolish it and put up a pretty hideous and non-descript replacement:-

63-81 Pelham Street - 40 - 63 Pelham Street

Is this really the best that the Wellcome Trust can do ?


John Wonnacott (1)

I went on the train from Limehouse to Chalkwell to see John Wonnacott’s latest work which was all lined up in his back yard:-

I enjoyed seeing it, particularly a small painting inspired by Giovanni Bellini:-

He is good at painting movement. And flowers, which I don’t associate with him:-

Since it is nearly the anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire, I am also posting his fine commemorative painting post-fire:-

And a recent Self-Portrait:-


London’s Best Bakeries

As readers of my blog will know, I am mildly obsessed by good bread and where to buy it, partly a consequence of lockdown, which I think has made everyone focus on quality of food while restaurants have been closed and partly because I have always liked good fresh bread, almost better than anything (we had to fight for a loaf of fresh bread after lunch at school). So, I was pleased to get the latest issue of The Modern House Journal, which clearly shares this obsession (Bread Winner: London’s best bakeries | Journal | The Modern House). But it is not very strong on East London and misses out Breid, which supplies lots of local shops, and has become more and more popular over the last year, and my new favourite, Doh in Hackney Wick. They both deserve to be part of the pantheon.