Cotesbach Hall (1)

I have been to Cotesbach Hall before, but every time I go I am moved by the sense of the accretion of history – generation after generation of Marriotts adding to the history of the house in a way which is much more present than in houses which have been modernised.

The Queen Anne front, with later Georgian wings:-

Inside, there are portraits and photographs of Marriott ancestors:-

It feels faintly improper and intrusive to post pictures of the interiors, so will only post details of the shutters and curtains in the drawing room:-

And of the church from the garden:-


V&A/RCA MA Course in the History of Design (3)

My final post in this series is a tableau vivante from the class of 1987. I have only the faintest recollection of this. It was performed in a park in Prague – I think in June 1988, much to the surprise of the locals, who apparently thought our behaviour unorthodox. The former Director of the Sainsbury Centre is lying down, stripped to the waist, bottom right and the President of the Society of Architectural Historians is extremely prominent centre left:-


V&A/RCA MA Course in the History of Design (2)

Sophy Newton – de Falbe as was – who had organised the event to celebrate/commemorate the establishment of the V&A/RCA MA Course in the History of Design, must have been born with the instincts of an archivist because she has kept so much of the paperwork associated with the establishment of the Course, which I am taking the liberty of reproducing for the historical record.

The first brochure advertising it (note the original title):-

The letter about it sent by Chris Frayling to the Bristol Careers Advisory Service:-

The first team’s programme (rather art historical – I would have liked to hear the seminar ‘Panofsky on Cinema’):-

Part of the second team’s programme:-

The requirements for the second essay:-

And a picture from a study trip to Erddig in which I recognised nearly everyone except myself (I still had hair then):-


V&A/RCA MA Course in the History of Design (1)

We held a small, informal, but very moving gathering of the first generation of students who started as students on the V&A/RCA MA Course in the History of Design (or, as it was then called, Design and Decorative Arts: History and Technique) in September 1982 – forty years ago, plus a small number of students from later generations.

Roy Strong came and spoke about his role in establishing the course in the teeth of implacable hostility from his Keepers; it was based on his experience of the interdisciplinarity of the Warburg Institute, crossing boundaries away from the material-based departments so deeply entrenched at the V&A.

Then, Chris Frayling spoke about his experience of establishing the Course at the Royal College of Art, from the time of his interview as Professor of Cultural History. There was a sense of rift between the two institutions: the Royal College totally modernist, hostile to history; the V&A very strongly antiquarian and not much interested in contemporary design.

The two of them met metaphorically half way up Exhibition Road. Gillian Nayor and Penny Sparke were hired as tutors. The Course was approved in early 1982. The first students arrived in September 1982, the month that I was offered a job as Assistant Keeper at the V&A. The rest is history – a complex history because everyone remembers it differently.

I hope their talks have been recorded, because it was invaluable oral history.


Stepney Green as was

I have been sent a fascinating picture of the houses which occupied the site of Stepney City Farm, which (the caption doesn’t say) were presumably demolished as part of post-war slum clearance and reconstruction (the cars, particularly the further one, look to me to be c.1961). Although the reconstruction of Stepney still has a very mixed press – Nairn hated it – Stepney City Farm is a great asset and so is the adjacent park. And so is Cross Rail.

This is the official caption:-

A view of 152-184 Stepney Green, Stepney, taken from the junction with Garden Street. The remains of the Baptist College Chapel, which dates from 1810, and now a historical landmark, can be seen at the corner with Garden Street. Numbers 178-184 are three-story terraced houses with steps leading to the front doors. Numbers 166-176 form College Terrace. Advertising boards can be seen on the side of number 182. There are cars parked and a pedestrian in the background. With the exception of the College Chapel these building have all been demolished. Stepney City Farm, formerly Stepping Stones Farm, and works for the Cross Rail project now occupy the site.

And the image:-


Norman Foster

I very much enjoyed listening to Norman Foster talk about his life on This Cultural Life. Some of it I knew: his time in Yale, travelling round the States with Richard Rogers; the projects beginning with the Sainsbury Centre, which he chooses as one of his two favourites; the influence of Buckminster Fuller. But I don’t think I had appreciated the Samuel Smiles aspects of his upbringing – leaving school after O levels, working in the town hall and then studying at the Manchester School of Architecture for a diploma because he didn’t have A levels. It’s impressive.


Mark Girouard (2)

I have been looking forward to reading Otto’s obituary of Mark Girouard, which has now appeared online (see below) and catches his multi-faceted character, the quality and range of his writing and the way, having been born into the purple of country house life, spending Christmases at Hardwick Hall, he was able to write about them with deep expertise and, also, a certain cerebral detachment. I also particularly like the picture of him, bald and with glasses, staring through the gates, with Colin Amery, bald and with glasses, the gladiators who were responsible for saving Spitalfields:-


John Wonnacott (5)

I always enjoy going to see John Wonnacott in Chalkwell-on-Sea, particularly today having spent much of the early stages of lockdown studying – and writing about – his work based on what I thought was a comprehensive archive of his work online (

But then, I hadn’t registered his powerful Portrait with Three Scars (2011-12), painted after he had been in hospital:-

There was another recent – and very strong – Self-portrait, painted, I presume, during lockdown:-

And here is John himself, painting in the garden:-


The Slab (2)

The Twentieth Century Society has just posted an image of the proposed new development by Make on the South Bank nearly next door to the National Theatre:-

Every time I look at it, I think: how on earth could this possibly be allowed ? It is not one building, but four or five piled on top of one another, a small city which will dwarf the human scale of the river walk and make the Houses of Parliament look insignificant, let alone the poor National Theatre which will look paltry.

Also, am I not right in finding the photograph profoundly dishonest ? It shows it surrounded by a cluster of other tower blocks, but so far as I am aware these do not yet exist. So, it is pretending that the south bank opposite the Houses of Parliament is tower block city, like Wandsworth. But, it’s not. At least not yet, until Lambeth City Council and the architects, Make, have had their way.

I am also reposting my article on the topic:-


The Slab (1)

I’m very sorry to see that Sadiq Khan has decided not to do anything about the planned monster new development on the South Bank nearly next door to the National Theatre which will dominate all views of the River Thames between the Palace of Westminster and St. Paul’s. The local community is very hostile to it – understandably as it will dwarf the housing round Coin Street. The National Theatre is hostile to it because it will make Denys Lasdun’s building look puny. The architectural press has been very hostile to it, led by Simon Jenkins. But the Mayor decides that there is no reason to intervene, presumably because his planning department are in thrall to the big international developers, Mitsubishi and CO-RE. This is at a time when there is a colossal amount of vacant office space, more than at any time for the last 15 years, the equivalent of sixty Gherkins. So, there is a risk that this huge building not find tenants. We will regret it. But by then it will be too late.