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A guest post by LH Member Martin Thompson.

National Portrait Gallery.

National Portrait Gallery.

Sir Giles Gilbert Scott was an English architect known for his work on such structures as Liverpool Cathedral, Waterloo Bridge, Bankside Power Station, Battersea Power Station and also for the design of the iconic red telephone box. He came from a family of architects. His father was an architect, himself the son of Sir George Gilbert Scott, known for designing the Albert Memorial and the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras Station.

Scott was born at 26 Church Row, Hampstead. He was one of the six children and third son of George Gilbert Scott Jr and his wife, Ellen. He attended Beaumont College preparatory school and in January 1899 he became an articled pupil in the office of Temple Moore, who had studied with Scott’s father. In later years Scott remarked to his friend John Betjeman, “I always think that my father was a genius. … He was a far better architect than my grandfather and yet look at the reputations of the two men”. As a boy Gilbert and his brother Adrian were taken by their mother Ellen on many cycle trips, which he called ‘church crawls’ visiting some of the masterpieces of church architecture on the Kent-Sussex border. It is possibly these field trips that inspired the young Scott to become one of Britain’s greatest modern church architects.

In 1903, when still only 22, he won a competition to design Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral. However, due to the sheer size of the building, which took over 60 years to complete, and which became his lifelong project, he died before the building was completed. While working in Liverpool, Scott met and married Louise Hughes, a receptionist at the Adelphi Hotel. The marriage was a happy one and lasted until Louise Scott’s death in 1949. They had three sons, one of whom sadly died in infancy.

As Liverpool Cathedral arose Scott’s fame grew, and he began to secure commissions for secular buildings. One of the first was for Clare College, Cambridge, Memorial Court, which was in a neo-Georgian style. The style was also used for a house he designed for himself in Clarendon Place, Paddington in 1924. This won the annual medal for London street architecture of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1928. An English Heritage Blue Plaque commemorates his residence here from 1926 until his death in 1960.

He went on to design huge buildings across the UK. Amongst them was Battersea Power Station, which was completed in 1933. It became one of the most admired as well as conspicuous modern buildings in London. After many years of neglect, it is currently being refurbished as the centre piece of a new development at Nine Elms.

Battersea Power Station

Battersea Power Station

Scott also designed London’s new Waterloo Bridge although at the time there was a lot of controversy over the demolition of John Rennie’s Greek Doric Bridge. It is often referred to as the women’s bridge due to the fact that many of the builders were women during the Second World War, although this was never officially acknowledged. The bridge was formally opened in 1945.

Waterloo Bridge

Waterloo Bridge

After the Commons chamber of the Palace of Westminster was destroyed by bombs in 1941, Scott was appointed in 1944 to rebuild a new chamber. He felt that it should be congruent with the old as anything else would have clashed with the Gothic style of Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin.

Inspired by the mausoleum that the Neo-Classical Architect, Sir John Soane had designed for himself in St Pancras Old Church Yard, Scott designed two versions of the telephone box for the General Post Office. These iconic pieces of design, of which there are still some 9,500 around the country, are now being put to other uses thereby giving them a new lease of life. The design of the red telephone box and his work on Liverpool Cathedral, led to him receiving a knighthood in 1924.

Mayfair.

Mayfair.

Phone box sculpture, Kingston upon Thames.

Phone box sculpture, Kingston upon Thames.

 

Possibly his greatest impact on the City of London was Bankside Power Station on the south bank of the Thames opposite St. Paul’s Cathedral. In designing this building, Scott demonstrated that power stations could be fine buildings in their own right. Completed in 1960, the building had a relatively short life as a Power Station closing in 1981 and is now the Tate Gallery of Modern Art.

Scott remained working into his late 70s. He was working on designs for the Roman Catholic Church of Christ the King, Plymouth, when he developed lung cancer. He took the designs into University College Hospital, where he continued to revise them until his death aged 79 on 8 February 1960. Scott was buried outside the west entrance of his masterpiece, Liverpool Cathedral, alongside his wife.


Unless otherwise stated, all images: London Historians.

 

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pitzhanger manor

 

The architect John Soane purchased Pitzhanger Manor from his own mentor George Dance the Younger as a country house for his family. He bashed down most of it and built a new one more to his liking. It’s a wonderful building which I love visiting. It has recently closed for major Lottery Grant refurbishment and will remain so until 2018. Except for tomorrow, when it will open to the public for the last time and when we will be allowed to access areas where we’re not normally allowed. So don’t miss the opportunity.

Soane was known to enjoy walking from his town house in Lincoln’s Inn Fields (today’s Sir John Soane Museum) to Pitzhanger, some 8 miles, I reckon. Tomorrow I plan to re-enact that, starting at about 10am. If you fancy joining me, please send me an email asap. We’ll stop at the Churchill Arms in Kensington Church Street and go to the Red Lion, Ealing afterwards.

My previous “long walk”.

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Nairn's LondonMost London Historians Members will have read Simon Fowler’s article in last month’s newsletter about Ian Nairn. The acerbic, witty, erudite and frequently waspish architecture critic’s celebrated book, Nairn’s London (1966), has very recently been reissued by Penguin.

I first ever heard him mentioned just over a year ago when chatting to someone about City churches. This man mentioned Nairn in that way people sometimes do, assuming you simply must know the fellow. Rather than let it pass I plucked up some courage and enquired weakly: “Who is Ian Nairn?”.  Having been enlightened, I promised myself to find out more… and then did nothing.

Eventually came Simon’s article and finally I bought my copy about a month ago. I am now a Nairn disciple. It’s quite a small book and thus far from comprehensive; but it is eclectic and quite thorough in its own way. All parts of London are covered and all types of buildings or structures are addressed, even the Hammersmith flyover, which Nairn admired without irony: these highways in the air were still new and quite exciting at that time. The content is arranged by area. There is a very large section of black and white photos in the middle of the book. 

Hammersmith Flyover.

Hammersmith Flyover.

My copy already is defaced by pencil and by biro and by highlighting pen, something I don’t lightly do; some pages are a bit damaged from rapid flipping; when I go out, it is in my bag at all times. I reach for it constantly now, to ask myself: “I wonder what Nairn has to say about this?”

Last weekend we visited the strange-looking St Mary’s in Ealing. Nairn: “The architect [S.S. Teulon] on the razzmatazz, out for a day in the suburbs… … Who? What? How? A rag-bag with enough ideas for a dozen churches: and a splendid place for a boggle.” The weekend before, we passed St Mary Woolnoth. “…it transcends originality. It is the mind, afterwards, which asks what on earth two small towers are doing on top of an oblong, columned temple on top of a prodigious rustication”

St Mary's Ealing

St Mary’s Ealing

St Mary Woolnoth

St Mary Woolnoth

On the Albert Memorial:
“…the elephant on one of the corners has a backside just like a businessman scrambling under a restaurant table for his cheque-book.”

On the magnificent Tooting Grenada:
“Miss the Tower of London if you have to, but don’t miss this.”

On William Kent’s Horseguards:
“… this is a blatant tourist-trap, neither better nor worse than a Soho strip-tease club.”

Nairn so admires Abbey Mills pumping station, he dubs it “God’s bowels”.

And so on. His writing is highly opinionated, yet hugely engaging; it is often deliciously withering and pithy; it is always interesting. I quickly discovered why the man has such a dedicated fan-base. As Jonathan Meades has noted: “Nairn’s London belongs to no genre save its own. It is a school of one.”

Like all of us, Nairn has his heroes and villains. He adores Hawksmoor, “that old wizard”. But he workships Nash to whom the book is actually dedicated. Others are less lucky. He’s not a fan of Richard Norman Shaw, for example, talking of his “beefy heartlessness.”

Above all, though, Nairn enemies were modern: he detested the increasing ugliness of England’s post-war streetscapes and railed against them and their progenitors: town planners and architects.

nairnsquares

Ian Nairn’s first job was as a fighter pilot flying Gloucester Meteors. He resigned his commission and became a self-taught and self-styled architecture critic for the traditional Architectural Review. Immediately controversial and polemical, he soon made a name for himself and built a career as a journalist, critic and TV presenter, working with Pevsner and others. Towards the end of his life Nairn gambled and drank heavily. In 1983 he died from liver failure in the Cromwell Hospital, aged 52 . He was buried in the Westminster Cemetery in Hanwell. It’s not far from me, so the other day I paid him a visit. His grave is modest indeed.

"A Man Without a Mask".

“A Man Without a Mask”.

Do invest some time to watch this excellent documentary on Ian Nairn: The Man who Fought the Planners The Story of Ian Nairn. He had a great love for Northern industrial towns.

Nairn’s London (1966) is re-published by Penguin and available for a tenner or less.

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I was taking a stroll down to Brentford High Road yesterday and noticed that the old cop shop is for sale: it’s been closed for years. A typically charmless 60s commercial building, purpose-built for the boys in blue, it replaced the rather fetching Vestry Hall of 1900. The hall was designed by local architect Nowell Parr, many of whose pretty buildings (mainly Fullers pubs!) still decorate Brentford, Ealing and Chiswick. The old hall could host meetings and talks of over 600 attendees and also housed Brentford County Court. But in 1963, the bulldozers and wrecking-ball moved in. Progress!

I hope to do more on Nowell Parr in the near future. Meantime, enquiries regarding the lovely police station should be directed to Messrs Frank Knight.

 

nowell parr, vestry hall

Weep.

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played in london

Review: Played in London: Charting the heritage of a city at play by Simon Inglis.

NOTE: Simon Inglis is speaking at London Historians’ event History in the Pub: Sport in London. 3 March 2015. Info and booking here.

I’ve met the author of this book once or twice, the last occasion at an event just over a year ago. He told me about his book and why it was taking a bit of a while, essentially to do with the sheer amount of research required. And sure enough, the research that has gone into this book is staggering*. It is a massive topic, for sure, but with a copy in my hands, now I really understand. Played in London is the size and weight of a medium telephone directory (remember those?), is beautifully laid out in four column format and illustrated with nearly 1000 photos, illustrations and maps. In short, it’s a quality object.

The obvious place to start is with the sports themselves. There are fourteen chapters devoted to individual sports, with appropriate space allocated depending on popularity, so 34 pages for football down to around eight or ten for some of the others. And it’s those others which fascinate and tell us much about the public taste. The final two chapters cover greyhound racing (three tracks remaining today out of 30+) and speedway (including cycle speedway) – now disappeared. Both of these were massive in their time, that is to say mid-20C. The oldest sport, as one might expect, is probably archery. There is a wonderful 1594 map of the archery ranges in Finsbury fields – over 180 of them. Throughout, the author’s meticulous research throws up wonderful detail and trivia. If you wished to play every hole of golf in London, expect to walk 301 miles (or in my case, twice that). We are introduced to heroes of each sport, not just the players, but legendary managers, administrators and visionaries. There are many pictures of their blue plaques. Most pleasing for the historian, I think, are the illustrations – so evocative. Old team photos, of course, but advertisements, old tickets, match programmes, maps, mementoes, paraphernalia plus an abundance of museum pieces which leave you wondering: how on earth did they manage to strike that with that?

Spread from chapter on cricket.

Spread from chapter on cricket.

The book dedicates nine chapters to sporting organisations and buildings. So membership clubs, gymnasiums, swimming pools, billiard halls and most interesting for me, company sports and social clubs, which seem today to be from another age. Which of course they are. Unlike today, where organisations simply subsidise staff membership to some ghastly chain of gyms, in the late 19th and most of the 20th Centuries they were more likely to have their own in-house clubs with playing fields and facilities, or at the very least, shared ones: the civil service and various branches thereof, the Prudential, Debenhams, the Southern Suburban Gas Company, famously the Thames Iron Works which transmogrified into West Ham United. And many others. There is a map on page 132 showing 51 separate facilities in an area of South East London alone. Many of their clubhouses and pavilions were gorgeous.

Spread from chapter on company sports clubs

Spread from chapter on company sports clubs

Finally, my favourite thing about the book and one senses the topic which is the author’s also: architecture. It’s something that either we take for granted or that those with little interest in sport hardly notice. I for one shall henceforth pay more attention. Stadia and their grandstands; clubhouses and their pavilions; purpose built snooker halls, indoor baths and lidos. There is a complete chapter dedicated to grandstands. Stay with me on this, it’s an eye-opener and deeply interesting. I always thought cantilevered grandstands were a modern thing. We have a photo of a pair of beautiful structures from Northolt Park Racecourse from 1929, now long swept away with the racecourse itself. I can’t help thinking that because sport is such a social thing that these buildings were designed with more love than most, and indeed many a pavilion was done free of charge by a sports-loving architect who happened to be a club member.

This is a wonderful book. Yes, it relates the history of sport as it should. But it really succeeds in nailing the heritage in its title: it invokes nostalgia really powerfully. London sports fans will love this book, of that there is no doubt. Sports loving architects will adore it. And I would go so far to say that even historians without any interest in sports at all will enjoy Played in London. It’s that good.

Played in London (360pp) by Simon Inglis is published on 28 August 2014 by English Heritage with a cover price of £25, but available for less.

* Additional research by Jackie Spreckley

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 A guest post by London Historians Member, Roger Williams

The City of London’s premier guild is the Mercers’, and their Hall lies off Cheapside where it was established in 1517 and rebuilt after the Great Fire of London. The Hall that was destroyed in wartime bombing had been upgraded in 1874, but the Wren-era building is not entirely lost. You still can still see its rich 1676 facade by visiting the seaside resort of Swanage in Dorset’s Isle of Purbeck. This was incorporated into the Town Hall where, beside the balcony on the upper storey, a tablet reads: ‘Old front of Mercers’ Hall designed by Sir Christopher Wren’, though others prefer to believe it was actually the work of Edward Jarman and John Oliver.

swanage town hall

 Swanage Town Hall

This handsome slice of London was brought here by George Burt, a Swanage mason and nephew of John Mowlem, whose local construction business Burt helped develop. Their trade began in local Purbeck stone, shipped to their London quays in Pimlico and Little Venice. Homeward-bound vessels would make ballast of plunder from their construction sites, which Burt used to make the village of quarriers and fishermen a sought-after resort.

The clock tower that once stood at the end of the Westminster Bridge, for instance, now looks down on boats bobbing in Swanage harbour near two 16ft Ionic columns in Prince Albert Gardens from an unknown provenance in London. Mowlem also developed Queen Victoria Street and Billingsgate Fish Market, and was involved in the rebuilding of the Royal Exchange and the Houses of Parliament.

clock tower

 Clock tower

Choice pieces were saved by Burt for Purbeck House, the residence he built for himself, now a hotel, which the Hutchins family have been running since 1997. Here on the croquet lawn are pillars from Billingsgate Market and statues from the Royal Exchange, one rumoured to be of Sir Thomas Gresham. A ‘temple’ at the back of the lawn has Doric columns from a toll-house that stood on Westminster Bridge and floor tiles from the lobby of the Houses of Parliament. An arch that stood in Hyde Park Corner, with the head of Neptune carved by Burt and his brother F.A. Burt, is another trophy in the hotel grounds where ceramic medallions dot outer walls.

billingsgate pillar

 Billingsgate Market column

tennis court

 ‘Temple’

medallions

 Medallions

A bastion on the southeast corner of the hotel has door furniture from Montague House in Bloomsbury, booty from the expanded British Museum. A copy of a chunk of the Parthenon frieze is embedded in the wall above a fancy ticket booth in the stable yard entrance where there are bollards from Millbank prison. Indoors are some fine Arts and Craft touches, and a copy of the Roman tessellated pavement uncovered during Mowlem’s work in Queen Victoria Street, which Italian craftsmen took three years to re-create.

bollards

 Parthenon frieze copy

Around this sunny seaside town several items stand out: a stone market arcade, bollards from St Martins, lamp stands from Hanover Square, which have all given the resort a grand, if curious, air. Burt’s business made him a wealthy patron of the town, and he was elected a Sherriff in the City of London. When the Dorset writer Thomas Hardy visited the “King of Swanage”, he found “he had a good profile but was rougher in speech than expected after all these years in London”.
The Mowlem company prospered throughout the 20th century and was involved in major projects, such as Bush House, Battersea Power Station, The NatWest Tower and London City Airport. It was bought out by Carillon in 2006.

arcade

 Stone market arcade

__________________________________________________________

Roger Williams is the author of Temples of London (2014).

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George I, by Kneller, c1714.

George I, by Kneller, c1714.

Review: Georgians Revealed: Life, Style and the Making of Modern Britain.
The British Library

The Georgian period (patron saint: D Cruickshank) has overtaken the Tudor (patron saint: D Starkey) in recent times and if you’re still not with the programme, as they say, then this is the show that’ll help you catch up toot sweet.

The trigger for the show is the tricentenary next year of the birth of the Georgian dynasty, in 1714. The settlement of 1701 meant that the Elector of Hanover leapfrogged over 50 Catholic pretenders to become King George I on the death of Queen Anne, the last Protestant Stuart.

But the four Georges – whose portraits appear right at the start of this show – are simple date markers who take no further part in proceedings. This exhibition, characterising the period,  is all about the emerging middle classes, increasing in in both wealth and in numbers, who become firmly established for the first time. And for the first time we have a new set of people outside the nobility who have a lot of leisure time as well as the financial means to fill it.

In the service of this came a massive explosion of printed matter, some genres emerging for the first time: newspapers, periodicals, novels, satire, children’s literature, self-help books, fashion magazines, travel guides, maps, treatises. Increasingly, trade was done on credit, honour and promise (often with disastrous consequences), so instead of bullion, there emerged cheques, promisary notes, shares, bonds, chits, and so forth. There are some rather nice examples from Hoare & Co, posh bankers.

Cute. One of a selection of tiny children's books. They are matchbox sized.

Cute. One of a selection of tiny children’s books. They are matchbox sized.

The British Library has items such as these in abundance and this being their show, these objects are the mainstay. Even the ones that contemporaries may have thought mundane are beautiful in their own right. Although the Georgian period embraced simplicity in, say, architecture, in print they were very showy. Most of the items on show feature elaborate and beautifully executed engravings accompanied by highly elaborate text. This is most typified by frontispieces which are a riot of typefaces, often a dozen and more.

The Georgians were interested – obsessed even – in taste, manners, deportment, fashion. They talked about it, read about it, wrote about it. They were consumers of new kinds of food, decor, luxury goods. They pursued hobbies and sport. They were interested botany and gardening and travel. They liked to visit gardens and country houses and towns in the provinces. All of this had to be written down, codified and published, to make sure it was done right. I particularly liked a section featuring the Compleat Tutor… series of self improvement books, very much the …For Dummies of the Georgian period.

The big guns of the period are represented and in general no big surprises. In architecture, for example, it’s Adam, Soane and Nash. The Soane section is particularly nicely done with a very large hand drawn representation in ink of Adam’s Alelphi, so a two for one there. Our favourite Georgian piss-takers – Hogarth, Gillray, Cruikshank – are judiciously and sparingly used. The choice of Hogarth’s “Country Dancing” from the Analysis of Beauty is inspired, I really did giggle.

Country Dancing from the Analysis of Beauty, by William Hogarth, 1753. Trustees of the British Museum.

Country Dancing from the Analysis of Beauty, by William Hogarth, 1753. Trustees of the British Museum.

Country Dancing from the Analysis of Beauty, by William Hogarth, 1753. Trustees of the British Museum.

Detail. Country Dancing from the Analysis of Beauty, by William Hogarth, 1753. Trustees of the British Museum.

Gilray sneers at lower born tourists. 1800. So funny, though.

Gillray sneers at lower born tourists. 1800. So funny, though.

There are dozens else. Pugilism, the Turf. Cock throwing. Heard of that? At fairs, punters threw sticks and stones at a tethered chicken. The winning shot won the dead chicken. A beautiful series of four large scale maps of Kensington turnpike featuring all the shops and fancy houses from Knightsbridge through Kensington High Street. Beautiful. Pleasure gardens, theatres and opera. Dancing. Picnics, philanthropy. One of the heroes of this blog: Philip Astley, the circus guy.

I have written mainly about the print: it dominates. But there is a strong supporting cast comprising household items, clothes, shoes, accessories and ephemera. Most pleasing for me: Jeremy Bentham‘s violin. He’s another son of London we admire.

Jeremy Bentham's violin, c1969. Museum of London.

Jeremy Bentham’s violin, c1769. Museum of London.

Overall, the show is inevitably very London-centric. Therefore the big London room at the end with the entire floor being a large Georgian map of London is somewhat superfluous, but fun nonetheless and great for us London Historians.

Georgians Revealed: Life, Style and the Making of Modern Britain runs from 8 November until 11 March 2014 at the British Library. Tickets £9, usual concessions apply. All information here.

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