Gales Gardens

It’s terrible how one can live in area and not know it.   In looking at the back of the LEB Building in the Cambridge Heath Road, I discovered not just one local brewery called Boxcar with a tin of Xylophone Island to be sampled tonight (bottles of Mills beer for £17 can only be consumed on the premises) :-

But another called the Old Street Brewery and Taproom behind the railway track:-

And a Winery:-


LEB Building (1)

I remember being told about the London Electricity Board building on Cambridge Heath Road and paid no attention to it, but on my way to buy some sushi I walked past it. For those of you who know about Tower Hamlets and its general attitude to buildings of any character, it has just been sold by the Council to be demolished in spite of being admired by Pevsner. Well, I am not going to pretend it is in the same league as the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, but it is not without a certain 1950s, Stalinist anti-charm, described by Pevsner as ‘a striking effort at reintroducing large public buildings at the heart of the borough’. Not any more. Why can’t they suggest refurbishment rather than demolition ? No doubt the Mayor has once again told the planning committee to oppose conservation:-


Britain’s Country Houses

I was pleased to read Sam Knight’s long, thoughtful and well-informed account of the travails of the National Trust and how it interprets the history of the country houses in its care. It is well balanced, helped by the staff of the National Trust and by conversations with its critics, including Charles Moore.

I would make a couple of additional comments. It is often assumed that the narrative surrounding country houses used to be purely celebratory. But there has long been a more exploratory, sometimes critical and historically informed counter-narrative, inaugurated by Mark Girouard in his Slade lectures of 1974 which resulted in Life in the English Country House, published in 1978. No reader of Girouard would be surprised that they involved power, prestige and possible plunder. In the 1980s, there was not only the deeply informed critique of the romanticisation of British history by the heritage industry, On Living in an Old Country by Patrick Wright, but also critical articles on the excessively celebratory tone of the 1985 Washington exhibition by both David Cannadine and Linda Colley. Attitudes to the country house were not quite as innocent, or historically ignorant, as is sometimes suggested.

The second thing which was perhaps glossed over in the article was that what aroused the ire of the National Trust’s critics was not so much Corinne Fowler’s report on the history of its properties as the report prepared by Tony Berry, the Trust’s Director of Visitor Experience, which suggested a deep antipathy to the Trust’s historic and statutory responsibilities to look after for the houses in its care, together with a plan for large numbers of redundancies from its specialist staff. It’s good that this has been, to some extent, abandoned.


Grinling Gibbons

I wasn’t convinced that I would make it to the Grinling Gibbons exhibition before it transfers to Compton Verney, but was pleased I did – small, but choice, starting with a display of carving tools from the studio of the late David Esterly, who was such an advocate for Gibbons:-

It’s very nice to be able to study Gibbons’s carvings – and carving technique up close:-

He’s pretty amazing (these two photographs are from Northbrook House in Kirtlington):-

I don’t think I have ever seen the font cover from All-Hallows-by-the-Tower:-

It’s quite an achievement to have put the exhibition together for Gibbons’s tercentenary.


Michael M. Thomas

Michael Thomas, a New York writer and bon viveur, has died, to my great sadness. He introduced me to New York high society at a cocktail party in 1977 – higher than I’ve ever experienced since as it included Lincoln Kirstein, who invited us to visit the inner sanctum of the Pierpont Morgan to see its manuscripts, and John Pope-Hennessy, who eyed me glassily and talked in his curious antiquated falsetto. Michael was interesting in that his father had worked for Lehman Bros., he himself worked as a curator of paintings at the Met. before himself joining Lehmans in 1961 and becoming a writer and columnist ten years later. He was quite a character.


The New City (2)

Just in case people thought I was too despondent about the glories of the new metropolis which has been constructed in order to replace the old Victorian and post-war city – a city which is now of totally bland and characterless internationalism, scarcely recognisable from what it was before – I am posting a few more photographs from the east: it’s absolutely ghastly, anonymous, chaotic. Perhaps it’s no wonder that no-one wants to return to work:-


The New City (1)

Looking north across the river Thames towards the heart of the City as it has now become, I thought this curious mash-up of architectural ideas (see below) gives some sense of what a total mess it has now become. To the right is the church tower of St. Margaret Pattens in Eastcheap, designed by Wren and which survived the Second World War. In front, you have one of the corner towers of Old Billingsgate market, proudly civic, designed by Horace Jones, architect to the City and designer of Tower Bridge. Behind it, you have Lloyd’s, designed by Richard Rogers in an idiom which was a deliberate contrast to everything around it, exciting at the time, but in retrospect, introducing an idea that anything goes. Then everything is dominated, indeed totally overwhelmed, by the bulk of the Walkie-Talkie, designed by Rafael Viñoly.

The question I ask myself is: are we expected to feel pleased and proud that our generation have so destroyed the City and produced a form of urban pandemonium. And whose idea was it ? Was it intended or just a result of market forces ? Was the City’s planning department asleep at the wheel or did they want this to happen ? Answers and suggestions would be much appreciated:-


Travelling to France (5)

I hope this is the last of my posts about the current complications of travel. We have just done our Day 2 test.

It is, like everything involved with testing, excessively complicated, although essentially no different from the standard test which is self-administered. But there is, of course, a big difference in that it is very expensive and boosts the personal fortune of Dr. Peter Fitzgerald, a polo-playing multi-millionaire who employs Owen Paterson, a prominent Brexiteer, to lobby on his behalf for £100,000 a year and the contract was awarded without competitive tendering.

Why I am not surprised ?

It is obvious that the whole of COVID testing has been a monumental scam to enrich the Prime Minister’s party supporters and Brexiteer friends, who are now laughing all the way to the bank, having looted and impoverished the country.


Meditations on the Museum (2)

Some time ago – actually, on June 1st. – I was interviewed for a podcast put out by The Browser, a daily news and current affairs digest, by Beatrice Wilford. It is the equivalent of a Long Read – long and sometimes, I realise, a touch rambling – discussion of issues raised by my book about museums and by the pandemic. The sound quality isn’t brilliant – the fault of not having proper recording equipment – but the questions are astute and very well informed, even if I never wholly answer them, and the broadcast covers the issues of the increasing politicization of museums and trustee appointments, the good things as well as the bad which have resulted from the pandemic, the move from the objective to the subjective, from didacticism to exploration. It’s a long bath.


Raymond Erith

I missed this account of Raymond Erith in the May issue of Apollo. It’s good to read a reappraisal of Erith’s work, so thoughtful in its stripped-back and austere interpretation of classicism, as Holland rightly recognises, particularly in Great House, Dedham, but also, which Holland doesn’t mention, his ingenious design of the Provost’s Lodging for Queen’s College, Oxford in the late 1950s.

The only thing I am not persuaded by is Holland’s characterisation of him as a complete outsider. He was, after all, commissioned to redesign 10, Downing Street. Although a committed classicist, he was elected an RA and was a long-standing member of the Royal Fine Arts Commission. His entry in DNB was written by John Summerson, who clearly greatly admired his work. I’m not convinced that architecture in the 1960s was quite as completely dominated by the modernists as Holland implies.