On Wednesday met up with Susan Jenkins, curator of Apsley House, that remarkable home of the Duke of Wellington, also known as No 1 London: it is a wonderful rich confection, curiously masculine and full of wonderful paintings. It is probably the best Regency interior you can visit in London. The family still have apartments there.
As we prepare to move our offices I find myself glancing at old volumes before they are packed away; there is so much to distract anyone with any curiosity.
I used to dream of being a book dealer, but I would have spent all my time reading and not sold much I expect. I am saddened by how many of the cranky old bookshops I loved as a boy have disappeared. What do people do on wet afternoons in town these days: get wet and spend too much money I expect. Thank goodness for our man on the Cambridge market stall. I got a great H.E.Bates last week, read it all by midnight!
On Monday to Barrington Court in Somerset, a little known National Trust house, but a real gem of an Elizabethan manor house, which was restored as a rich man’s dwelling in the 1920s after it had been used partly as a cider barn.
It has the most charming garden setting and the interiors are part furnished by the Stuart Interiors who do many historic reconstructions such at that we have featured on Edward I’s bedchamber at the Tower.
It was a long journey but I had the company of the expert Nicholas Cooper, and on the way back also fell into conversation with a charming young German lady architect who works in Cambridge and was designing a new church of all things.
I note with sadness the death of one of my heroes,
Sir John Smith, founder of the Landmark Trust, who I was once lucky enough to travel around Palermo with. He was a very inspiring and rather original talker.
Also on Friday evening I visited my old school for the first time in 20 years responding to a request to give a 20 minutes careers talk; I am not sure I was top billing against the army (two men in uniform) and the city (two men in suits), but the boys were very polite and attentive and even asked some questions. It was interesting to see the old school again, looking very handsome in the spring sunshine. I was kindly shown some of the historic rooms by the Fellows Librarian, Geoff Day, including the new donation of a near complete run of Trollope novels, all autographed for his own son, being formally received on Friday. Trollope was a boy at Winchester College for three years, I doubt he had to suffer any ‘careers talks’.
On Monday evening went to a very enjoyable and special party organised by Simon Jenkins to see the illumination of All Saints, Margaret Street; it’s a great Victorian church by Butterfield, tucked into a street off Regent Street, with a soaring spire.
Inside it is splendidly sepulchral. I used to visit this church a bit when I was a student in London and was amazed by how many of Simon’s friends admitted to never have been inside it before. Had a long conversation with Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London who thinks that church officials are much more positive about the historic churches in their hands than they used to be. He also explains how much money is made available for church repairs in Germany and Sweden. It is rather amusing seeing how dark the nave is, where drinks are being held, means that guests circulate before pouncing on a familiar shadow.
It is interesting how important the issue of “place” and “place-making” is becoming at the moment. This week I have been to two discussion lunches where this is the main topic; it is a response of course to the volume of new building which we notice going up on all sides. I hear a new phrase at one lunch: “markitecture” which I think refers to buildings designed by grand names of the profession to get permission, and then sold on to others execute, often in diluted form. Another phrase used to describe an imbalance in London’s development, particularly in the region of tall buildings, is “starkitecture”. I am starting a glossary, do send in any you hear.
A week ago I enjoyed a day’s conference on the arts hosted by Lord Salisbury. A healthy gathering of heritage fanatics like myself, and some interested parliamentarians, such as Ed Vaizey the smiling but sparky Tory MP for Wantage, presumably the son of the distinguished writer Marina Vaizey. I note on his weblog that Blair is to make a major speech on the arts next week, on March 6 at the Tate Gallery, perhaps trying to leave some other legacy before he expires politically? It was an interesting event held in an inspiring piece historic house that must have seen so many important political conversations in its time. There is no doubt the future of our towns and cities and the historic buildings within them is a pressing issue today.
Next was a visit to our gifted illustrator-friend Matthew Rice to discuss his next features for the magazine. As you would imagine, his house is a charming old rectory, filled with china and paintings, and children and dogs. After a long discussion in his office, back to the house for supper with Emma, his wife, and discover Matthew is also a rather good cook. He is off to India with his father, a theatre designer, to see if they can find the house in which his father was born in Simla. Stop the night with them before heading off early to Lowestoft to do my research into Somerleyton Hall for our East Anglia issue, although am nearly a nervous wreck after driving through Norwich and round the one way system in Lowestoft in the rain! After gathering wits, carry on out to see the model village built by Peto, still as picturesque as ever.
On Thursday to the launch for Inigo Jones, the book Giles Worsley finished just before his death in 2006. It was held in the Portico Room of Somerset House where he had been a trustee, and speeches by Brian Allen of the Mellon Centre, Sir Marcus Worlsey, Bt, Giles’s father, and Michael Hall, Editor of Apollo, and formerly Country Life’s Architectural Editor. Giles was, and is, such a loss, and I still feel very much in his shadow. It takes some courage to tackle the architecture of the great Jones.