It’s not often that I go to Primrose Hill with its exaggeratedly wide, leafy streets, called after Arthur Primrose, 5th. Earl of Rosebery, a brilliant orator, marksman and connoisseur who was briefly Prime Minister from March 1894 to June 1895 before the fall of the Liberal government. I might have been able to do some folk dancing in Cecil Sharp House, but instead walked up Gloucester Avenue:-
After hearing Todd Longstaffe-Gowan talk about the landscaping of Regent’s Park, I have realised how much of the design of St. James’s Park is owing to John Nash, in his role as Surveyor General of Woods, Forests, Parks and Chases, a role he held from 1806. It was he who, in early 1827, on the orders of George IV and following a report which suggested the creation of a pleasure garden, was responsible for converting the canal which had been created in Charles II’s time into a lake and laying out the paths. The superintendent of the Royal Gardens at Kew, William Aiton, is thought to have been responsible for the planting. But, it is Nash who we have largely to thank for its picturesque character:-
I have just been to a talk by the landscape historian, Todd Longstaffe-Gowan, about the layout of the gardens in Regent’s Park. The argument was that Nash, who worked in partnership with the landscape designer, Humphrey Repton for eight years in the 1790s, was so immersed in the literature and ways of looking of the picturesque and the writings of Richard Payne Knight and Uvedale Price, that he always thought about buildings not just on their own, but how they would be viewed from a distance from within the park as part of a visual and scenographic composition. Now, Todd is recommending that the Crown Estate Paving Commission, which has had responsibility for the gardens since it was first established in 1824, should go back as far as possible to the original scheme of planting:-
I went to a memorial service this afternoon for Lisa von Clemm, a grand stalwart of the bookbinding community who we first met in the summer of 1988 on an island off the coast of Maine (her husband, Michael, was responsible for Canary Wharf). The service was held in St. George’s, Campden Hill, a bit of Victorian Torcello in Notting Hill, designed by Enoch Bassett Keeling, a so-called ‘rogue architect, in a style which was known as ‘eclectic gothic’, with good polychromatic brickwork on leafy Aubrey Walk:-
I am a sucker for the Albert Memorial, particularly glimpsed in the distance, surrounded by trees and greenery and unkempt grass, gleaming with grandiose ostentation. My mother would have dismissed it with contempt. In fact, I can hear her whisper ‘absolutely hideous’ in my ear. I don’t care. There’s something magnificent about that moment of Victorian imperial confidence which allowed Prince Albert to be surrounded by statuary representative of the four corners of the globe:-
Before going round Regent’s Park, I was shown a very beautiful, fold-out panoramic view of it, produced by Richard Morris, the Secretary of the Medico-Botanical Society of London, and published by Rudolph Ackermann in 1831, price £1 10s., described on its title page as a Panoramic View Round Regent’s Park. From drawings taken on the spot by Rich. morris, Author of Essays on Landscape Gardening and recently republished by the London Topographical Society. These give much more of a sense of how it was originally intended to be: more theatrical, less private, much less planting and a place of public parade.
This is Hanover Terrace to the west, completed in 1822:-
I didn’t necessarily expect to like the latest Serpentine Pavilion by Bjarke Ingels, but I did: a piece of pure geometry, simultaneously simple and complex in a way that is visually both adventurous and satisfying:-
One of the few benefits of a morning which was so cold and wet is that, when the air cleared, it had a crystal clarity. So, I was not the only person who was impressed by the Henry Cole Wing, designed by Henry Scott as a School of Naval Architects, gleaming in the early evening sun, with its abundance of terracotta ornament, the loggia at the top which allowed the students access to fresh air, and its restrained Victorian pomp:-
I spent yesterday morning learning about the mysteries of Regent’s Park. Of course, one is aware of it as a Londoner, laid out north of the rest of the city in open farmland as a grandiose gesture of urban town planning to rival Paris towards the end of the Napoleonic Wars. But I had not realised the extent to which each of the Terraces is set back from the road and the vegetation has grown up in such a way that the epic scale of the stucco palaces and the way they are supposed to relate to one another is not really evident unless one pokes about behind the scenes.
I started at the back of York Terrace:-
In the distance was the corner pavilion of Cornwall Terrace:-
As I was getting money out of the cash machine, I saw a building I have seen a thousand times lit up in the evening sun. It’s the former Royal Insurance building on the corner of Piccadilly and St. James’s Street, designed by J.J. Joass of Belcher and Joass, a Scot from Dingwall who trained in Glasgow and who seems to have imbibed some of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s adventurous indiscipline. As Pevsner says – or maybe it is Simon Bradley – ‘the indiscipline must be considered a positive quality. The endeavour here was clearly to smash up the classical conventions, but the fragments are left in a restless disquieting pattern’:-