Robert Elms

I was interviewed today at great and surprising length by Robert Elms on his eponymous morning radio show. I would provide the link, but don’t know how to, so if by any chance you are interested in listening you will need to google the Robert Elms show and click on the relevant page on BBC iPlayer. He starts with a wide-ranging discussion of aspects of East London and then goes on to ask a series of prescripted questions – what’s my favourite building, what’s my most hated one, what’s my favourite fictional London character (that’s not so straightforward) and what moment in history I would most like to be transported to (1768, of course). I was impressed by how incredibly knowledgeable he is about all aspects of London, but then he’s been asking the same questions for twenty three years. He told me at the end that at any moment in the programme, about 250,000 people might be listening, so I hope one in a thousand might go out and buy my book.

PS It’s on


We went to see Tatlin’s Tower today, a version of which was designed by Jeremy Dixon for the Royal Academy’s exhibition, Building The Revolution, in 2011, based on the original drawings (he had previously made one nearly forty years previously for an exhibition Art and Revolution at the Hayward Gallery).   After the exhibition, it needed a home and has now been re-erected next door to Norman Foster’s Sainsbury Wing, but just out of sight of it, and looks suitably magnificent, particularly when lit pink in the night:-

Tatlin’s Tower


Pevsner does not mention the formal walled garden at Houghton which it surely should as an extraordinarily ambitious example of a recent formal garden, designed by Julian and Isabel Bannerman, complete with a monumental wooden fruit cage:-

Much clipped topiary:-

The Rustic Temple with antlers in the pediment:-

And good formal planting with golden hornet crab apples:-

The Houghton Garden


I found it very hard not to be distracted by the visual pleasure of Robert Walpole’s great mansion, whose interiors are so surprisingly well preserved.

We went upstairs in the old 1920s service lift:-

Robert Walpole himself presides over the Stone Hall in a bust by Rysbrack:-

Through the Saloon is the White Drawing Room with a chimneypiece of Aurora, flanked by Caryatids:-

Beyond is the Green Velvet Bedchamber, with one of the best state beds I have ever seen, still opulently baroque and apparently designed by William Kent:-

Good tapestry too:-

In the north-east corner is the Cabinet Room, originally hung with pictures, but now with a dressing table looking out to the park:-

And a carved bird which I was told was a Ho Ho bird:-

Both up and down the lift, I admired the log basket:-



We drove up to Houghton to see their exhibition EARTH SKY of work by Richard Long in the house and gardens.

First, a large work, North South East West, dominating the palatial Palladianism of the central Stone Hall:-

Outside, immediately in front of the house on the long lawn stretching out to a distant ha-ha is A Line in Norfolk:-

Beyond, at the end of the formal garden in front of the house with the ride beyond, is Full Moon Circle:-

In the two service ranges flanking the house were White Water Falls:-

Remote in a corner of the formal garden was Houghton Cross :-

And in the parkland White Deer Circle:-

Richard Long


I have been reading Mark Girouard’s Friendships, soon to be published, which records his very extensive circle of friends, all now dead, from the 1950s onwards.   Some of them are already well known, like John Betjeman with whom he collaborated on the establishment of the Victorian Society (‘dear little Mark, so good, and never says a word’) and Denys Lasdun, whose National Theatre both Betjeman and Girouard admired.   But some of them are much less well known, like Gervase Mathew, the grubby Byzantinist and author of Byzantine Aesthetics and Dominic de Grunne, a Belgian Catholic who taught Indian art at the Royal College of Art.   He has an obvious penchant for scatty upper class girls, but there is not much love interest apart from an unexpected confession that in the 1990s his marriage was in trouble, when he went on long walks with a Belgian ex-hippy who he had met in Ethiopia.   It shows that there was much more to his life than writing about Victorian country houses and saving Spitalfields.

Mark Girouard



My last post from Paris is of the side façade of Saint-Sulpice.   I had misremembered the history of the church.   The bulk of it is seventeenth-century, designed by Daniel Gittard, who completed the north portal between 1670 and 1678.   It was in 1732 that a competition was held for the design of the west façade, won by Giovanni Servandoni and based on the façade of St. Paul’s:-