Bible of British Taste
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  • April10th

    This is the London dwelling of John Martin Robinson, aesthete, architectural historian and controversialist. He holds the offices of Maltravers Herald Extraordinary, Librarian to the Duke of Norfolk and Vice Chairman of the Georgian Group ( tho he has just resigned on a point of principle). He is also a regular contributor to Country Life and a Lancashire landowner. His friends call him ‘Mentmore,’ after the huge Victorian country house built for the art collector and banker Baron Mayer de Rothschild, and sold up in the 1970s.

    JMR is the author of a lot of outstanding books about country houses and architecture, many of them published by Yale. But in 2006 he produced a memoir of his childhood and early youth, Grass Seed in June, that was very different from anything he had written before. The quotations below are drawn from this interesting work of autobiography.

    As a family we were Tories and Catholics. I still am – in a not entirely straightforward way. …The Robinsons had married into old Catholic families on their return to Lancashire. The Elizabethan martyrs were close to us. I knew the fields at Brindle where St John Arrowsmith had been captured and taken away to be tried and executed. It was all very near and very exciting. One could not have enough of the gory details of barbarous executions. We were proud of these brave Elizabethan friends, neighbours and relations who had died for the Faith…  In general I was useless at anything practical. A farmer told my father: ‘The trouble with that theer lad is he doan’t shape.’ I have never shaped. I don’t drive, I hate all games, I don’t type, I don’t take photographs. I can hardly dial a telephone. … A surprising number of architectural historians do not drive. They are too busy looking at buildings to concentrate at the wheel. I tried to learn but whenever I saw something interesting I tended to turn the car inadvertently towards it across the oncoming traffic…anyway, I loathe cars and the ghastly, selfish, atomised society they represent. Walking, buses and trains are morally better.’ x As a car-hater, it came naturally to him to convert the former stable-cum-garage space in his mews cottage near Lambs Conduit Street into something less horrible. This is what he made, a kitchen and dining room, partitioned with a salvaged Gothic screen that he spotted being thrown out of a Curzon Street shop in the early 80s, when he was the GLC’s historic buildings Inspector for Westminster. Note the cunning use of mirror paneling in the door to maximise light and create a greater illusion of space, and the adorable seersucker tablecloth. The jumble sale plates on the kitchen wall were one of his first childhood purchases, costing him sixpence. x The painting of the four-towered church of St. John, Smiths Square, designed by Thomas Archer, is by the late Julian Barrow. To the right is a corner of a watercolour of Croome D’Abbot Church in Worcestershire, by Capability Brown and Robert Adam, painted by the talented Alan Dodd, who specialises in architecture; above is Brocklesby Mausoleum, painted by Royston Jones. x

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    Here is the other end of the dining room, photographed in the wintry light of December 2013. The jolly nice 1790s mahogany chairs by Gillow came from an antique shop in Kirby Stephen in Cumbria.

    x Some of the pretty plates are made of tin. In the centre of the bottom row is the Wedgwood commemorative plate that I gave to him, not because it was lovely (it isn’t very), but because it is decorated with the devices of the heralds who officiate at the College of Arms. John is rather good at buying nice things and decorating the houses in which he lives. When he was wondering what career to take up, this seemed to represent a distinct possibility. Had he followed this through, he could have had secured a reputation as the shortest-tempered interior decorator in England, for he is red-headed and as he freely admits, ‘Redheads have one layer of skin less than normal people.‘ When JMR went up to Oxford he discovered that, ‘ many of the finest Georgian interiors had been redecorated by John Fowler or under his influence. His sort of approach is now frowned on, but it had much to recommend it, combining historical knowledge wit artistic flair and a good sense of colour and tone, too often lacking in later, over-researched restoration of historic interiors. At the the time Fowler was one of my heroes and I thought of working for him. He was encouraging, but sensibly advised me to stick to academe at least for the time being. He had a reputation for being difficult and overbearing but I found him kindness itself. He invited me to lunch in March 1970 and I spent the day with him at King John’s Hunting Lodge, a small, eighteenth century Gothick folly in north Hampshire which he had restored and used as his country retreat…. the whole place with its garden topiary, painted furniture and understated elegance struck me as the acme of civilised perfection.’ The Hunting Lodge is now the home of Nicholas Haslam, who has preserved the best of Fowler’s arrangements while making it yet more vivid and comfortable. xMy real education came sideways through the three Ls – the liturgy, landscape and libraries. … now I discovered ‘Architecture’ and the Georgians in particular. Apart for Country Life, I can attribute it solely to one book, Ralph Dutton’s pioneering The English Country House (1934), in the Batsford series. The photograph of Wentworth Woodhouse, intriguingly described as ‘the largest of the genus,’ did it. As soon as I was able I was determined to go and see the place.’  How the plaque arrived here from its original setting outside the Kensington front door of the Euthanasia Society’s offices is not clear. JMR”S latest book, Requisitioned, features Wentworth Woodhouse on its cover.

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    John Robinson habitually wears pullovers and tweed jackets or pin striped double-breasted suits, Here he is at ease on his sofa. His sartorial preferences are still markedly similar to those of his circle as a postgradute student at Oriel College, Oxford, where he studied medieval history. His friend Bruce Wannell, aesthete and Persian scholar, hosted a fête champêtre with a real sheep, and a ‘Decadence’ party. ‘It was for that occasion that I emphasised my passing resemblance to the young Swinburne by growing a little red beard and wearing black velvet jacket, both of which I adopted as my permanent uniform for a time. … Bruce himself was once arrested by the police for murder after he sent his port-stained dress shirt to the laundry and was mistaken for the Oxford Ripper. Generally we wore old tweed coats, pullovers, or – a strange sartorial combination – the top half of a pinstripe suit with jeans, and black brogues or Gucci shoes with horse snaffles across the front.’

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    The upstairs sitting room, the still life in the manner of William Nicholson is by the portrait painter Diccon Swan.

    x The upstairs sitting room.
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    To the left of the fireplace is ‘Tea at Faringdon,’ a stunning watercolour by Glynn Boyde Hart painted relatively early on in his career.

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    JMR met the late Glynn Boyde Hart and his wife Carrie for the first time on being asked to supper at their new house in Cloudesley Square, soon after they had met his friend Colin McMordie while staying in Venice. After meeting for drinks in the pub the four set off together, and arrived at an, ‘uninhabitable Georgian wreck where the builders has just started the long slow job of repair. We removed a bit of rusty corrugated iron from a broken window, climbed in and ate a picnic off the floor. The room was to be their drawing room, decorated by Glynn with painted oak graining, a technique he revived using combs, brushes and tins of Mander’s Matzine acquired by the gallon from closing down sales in old fashioned paint shops. Cloudesley Square was the first of three beautiful house which the GBH’s were to revive and inhabit over the years…’ ‘Tea at Faringdon’ represents the occasion when Gerald Hugh Tyrwhitt-Wilson, 14th Baron Berners invited his friend and neighbour Penelope Betjeman to bring her Arab mare Moti into the drawing room at his country house to pose for an indoor equestrian portrait. Lord Berners was a composer, artist, writer and quasi-surrealist, who dyed the pigeons at Faringdon in exotic colours and was depicted as Lord Merlin in Nancy Mitford’s novel, The Pursuit of Love.

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    One night at supper in our house, Glynn Boyde Hart dashed off this sketch of JMR on a scrap of paper. ‘It’s too absolutely ghastly’ is a characteristic expostulation, usually delivered after eight o’clock in the evening and the first few drinks of the day in a drawn-out-drawl through the long ‘a’ in ‘ghaaastly’. The quotation which follows is by way of an explaination, describing JMR’s sense of disaffiliation in the modern world.. ‘My memories of school, and indeed my feelings at the time, were that I was witnessing the collapse of not just an institution but a wider culture. My generation was the last. The last to be able to martial a shield of quartered arms, compose a Latin epitaph, read old books for pleasure, value formal manners, or tell the difference between Dec. and Perp. Nobody brought up and educated in this country after the end of the 1960s is the same as us. The unassuming cultural link, which made me feel at home in the 1890s or 1850s as much as in the present, has been broken.’
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    This is JMR”s pretty farmhouse at the foot of a Lancashire fell, with cows in the stone-paved yard at the back and a swift beck running at the bottom of the garden. The painting is by naive artist Caroline Bullock aka Carrie Boyde Hart. Glynn designed the two symmetrical wings which look as if they have always been there. Inside the house has elaborate  eighteenth century joinery by a local craftsman working from one of the pattern books of Batty Langley. John bought the house unseen in 1986, after seeing it (unillustrated) in a local agent’s particulars.

    x The upstairs sitting room in London.
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    Here is a tomato soup-coloured chair (which I sold him) designed by Lord Snowdon and made for the Investiture of the Prince of Wales at Caernarfon Castle in 1969. Propped above it is a painting of the west Sussex town of Arundel with its castle, found for him by the Fitzwilliam Museum’s director Tim Knox at Portabello market. Every week on a Wednesday JMR catches the train to Arundel, where the towers and turrets of the castle hang over the town. Arundel Castle is one of the longest inhabited buildings in England and has been in the possession of the Howard family since 1138. A few years ago Julian and Isabel Bannerman designed a new garden full of curious 17th century conceits, in memory of the ‘Collector-earl’ of Arundel. JMR’s occupations there are essentially peaceable, usually taking place in the muniment room in one of the towers stuffed with documents going back to the 12th century, but his vision of England is of a country where martial tendencies are still latent :
    ‘In the course of the last three centuries of generally advancing tameness, the British deliberately and calculatedly kept alive and nurtured a primeval, male, barbarous streak in all classes as being best suited in the armed services, buccaneering and industrial-imperial life in general. ..This explains why the young British male, even today, is so much more of a violent, medieval, throw-back than his European, homogenized, social-democratic opposite numbers. Whenever I witness rampaging louts, glass-smashing yobs, vomiting football crowds, my heart swells with native British pride. We are not militarist, but we are warlike.’

    x Last year, John Robinson  published the research on which he has been working since he was an Oxford postgraduate, James Wyatt, 1746-1813, Architect to George III, and organised an exhibition ( with the Georgian Group)  on the same theme in the famous  Yellow Room at Colefax and Fowler. The colour on the walls of the Yellow Room was the inspiration of Nancy Lancaster, who bought out Sibyl Colefax when she retired, and John Fowler, paint wizard, who stippled many coats of paint on the walls and then glazed them, giving this electrifying sheen.

    x Also on show was this scale model of Wyatt’s Gothick masterpiece, Fonthill Abbey, made for James Wyatt, now belonging to the Bath Preservation Trust and usually on display in the Lansdowne Tower.
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    x These pistachio green, Wyatt baby blue and sugar pink tea towels have now sold out.

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    English Heritage lent chairs, tripod flower stands, demi-lune tables, a  torchère and looking glasses from Heveningham Hall. They had been in store since the 1970s when the hall and its furniture were acquired from the Vanneck family by the government. Michael Heseltine, the Secretary of State for the Environment at the time, oversaw the transaction. The Department of the Environment failed to find a solution for the house, and it was sold again in 1981.

     

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    Also for sale were these watercolours of the plasterwork ceilings at Heveinngham by Georgian fanatic and artist Royston Jones.

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    Long ago as a junior curator at English Heritage I spent three claustrophobic days immured in the attics at Audley End House, where hundreds of pieces of Hevengham’s furniture had been taken into storage while everyone wondered what to do with it. Royston Jones and his partner Fiona Gray were taking measurement of every spindle, strut, arm, leg and moulding in order to fabricate a series of scale models of them all, and I had been left in charge of them. I don’t know if they ever finished this exacting task.

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    The photograph of Wyatt’s hall at Heveningham was taken by by Alfred E. Henson for Country Life in 1926. His clever trick was to throw a bucket of water over the marble floor, bringing its colours and patterns into gleaming high relief.   All images : copyright bibleofbritishtaste

     

  • December28th

    From  a temporary gallery arranged in the downstairs rooms of her house in Stepney, Romilly Saumarez Smith has just sold her latest jewellery collection. ‘That collection is done now, we’ll make up the orders but then we’ll go on to the next one, and I’ve got another idea for after that – my thinking is onto the next thing, now,’ she said when I saw her there a couple of weeks ago.

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    This house is another of her works of art. The calm order of the rooms here belies the fact that in the year 2000, it was a no more than a brick carcass. Joinery, staircase, windows, chimneys and even the attic storey were gone.

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    ‘When we first got here you could drive through the middle of the house to the space where they fitted the exhaust pipes, and there were shops on the front,’ she says. The exhaust and tyre-fitting garage inside was accessed through hoardings advertised with this Michelin-man made out of old tyres. Both her house and its neighbour had been bought by the Spitalfields Trust to save them from demolition, from whom my friends Todd Longstaffe Gowan and Tim Knox had already acquired the slightly more intact house to the right in this photograph. At the party which they gave to celebrate we kicked old exhaust pipes and carburetters about the wide expanses of concrete inside. Todd took this photograph in 1998. Two years later Romilly took on the house on the left, where she lives with her husband Charles Saumarez-Smith and their two sons, now grown up.

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    The dining room at the front of the house, with reinstated fire surround and new joinery, but the chimney breast paneling left as found.

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    Paint colours were chosen from Emerie and Cie in Brussels. One of a series of John Goto’s photographs of carved saints and angels from East Anglian rood screens hangs on the walls.

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    At her last house in Limehouse, Romilly’s workspace was a bindery. ‘I got to the end of the line with bookbinding. I’d  started using metal on the books – I just loved it – I remember the first time I soldered anything – its this amazing orgasmic moment when everything heats up and starts flowing – and I really enjoyed that, so I started making jewellery, and by the time we moved in here I no longer needed a big bindery, I just needed a small room at the back,’ she says.

    ‘I suppose I worked for about another four years, but by the end I was struggling to make my own work and then I couldn’t do it any more, so then I had another four or five years without making, which was hellish,’ she says, alluding briefly to the illness which paralysed her. ‘But then I was given a wonderful retrospective binding exhibition at the Yale Centre for British Art, and they showed the house, and they showed some of the jewellery, and it really helped me. Being brought up as a crafts person, I was always thinking that you must make it yourself, but I understand now, that the idea is the absolute crux of the whole piece.

    I started looking for someone who would help me make the work, my assistants. What has been extraordinary is that their own work is very different, but when they make for me they are being my hands, with great generosity,  and I have no absolutely difficulty that these are my pieces. The difficulty is for me to try and explain what I want, but when you work with people over a couple of years you develop a language so that I can shortcut through a lot of stuff.’

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    Front garden from the dining room.

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    ‘My collection hasn’t got a name, but it is all based on things to do with the sea.’ The earrings here are inspired by drawings of seaweeds and sea wrack in a nineteenth century German compendium of natural history.

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    The relevant page with the earring design-prototype  illustrated in the bottom right corner. The pod-like specimen above it became the necklace seen on the chimney piece in the photograph below.

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    ‘Anna, who makes for me, draws each hole with a burr on the end of the drill – they are not cast,’ Romilly says, describing how it has been carefully hand made. Of the nacreous pendant, ‘ I wanted the feeling of a shell with water pouring out of it. Because I wasn’t trained as a jeweller, I am much freer with what I can do.’

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    ‘These earrings fitted very well with my theme of being by  by the beach. I wanted them to feel like, you know, you have a rock with mussels on it. The top bit is like mussel shells, they re very crushed together on the rock and underneath the garnets became like sea anemones, exactly that consistency of dark rather thick jelly.’

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    The staircase is carpeted with lead fixed with copper nails.

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    The master bedroom, with Grayson Perry’s Map of an Englishman over the bed.

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    The bedroom

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    Dressing room.

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    The polychrome Victorian encaustic  tiles in the bathroom.

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    Study

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    Books are escaping and creeping up and down the stairs

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    On the front landing a little closet that would have served as a wig-powdering room in the eighteenth century now houses a jeweller’s workbench.

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    The precious stones that she used in her latest collection were bought on ebay, they came from a manor house in the Midlands. ‘They date from about 1750 and the cuts are quite eccentric, they’re cut by hand. The seller  said that they were found in a little leather bag, hidden away at the back of a cupboard.’ Only a few garnets remain unset.

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    Drawing room, ceramics by Andrew Wicks and Edmund de Waal with a plate by Hylton Nel above.

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    Arts and Crafts chairs designed by Romilly’s cabinetmaker grandfather.

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    ‘The little diamonds I’ve used in the Reef rings and cut quite randomly, I wanted that feeling that they were growing,’ says Romilly. ‘For the big ring, you need to look through a magnifying glass, those are pearls and rough diamonds. I think it would be a nice ring for a boring dinner, you could sit and look at it and think of all those lovely tropical fish floating about. They’re not so much to do with English seas, they’re more like something you’d see with David Attenborough, with a coral reef.’

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    ‘I bought quite a lot of garnets and then I got three or four rubies. I set them upside down, not all of them -  the garnets are the right way up.’

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    This is an octagon cut ruby. That one, it was a dark blue sapphire and ‘tho I ‘ve worked with stones before, I was unaware of how the settings affect the stones so much, it is blue but since I set it with the other diamonds it almost becomes a dark green.’

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    The pinkish gold setting around this ruby ring was achieved by heating  – ‘normally you would always clean up to take all that oxydisation off, but I just saw it and liked it.’

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    Romilly Saumarez Smith

    Romilly Saumarez Smith by kind permission of Lucinda Douglas-Menzies, copyright www.douglas-menzies.com/

    Romilly and her work partner and friend, Lucie Gledhill  have a diffusion line of jewellery using their maiden names, Savage and Chong

    Savage-&-Chong - Tattoo Ring

    Savage-&-Chong – Tattoo Ring

    All other photographs copyright bibleofbritishtaste.com

  • November6th

    The architectural historian and writer Gavin Stamp is one of the  ‘new Georgians,’  pioneers of gentrification who brought up their families in the unloved and unlovely bits of London, where boarded up and multi-occupied old housing stock survived and could be had cheap in the 1970s and 80s. While Dan Cruickshank squatted in Hugenot houses threatened with demolition in Spitalfields and Glynn and Carrie Boyd Harte went to Islington, the Stamps came to rest in Chad Street, within a few hundred yards of St. Pancras Station. The two atmospheric pictures below were taken there, by that non-pareil Derry Moore for Alvilde Lees-Milne’s rather brilliant book, The Englishman’s Room.

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    Three years ago we bought this standard Late Georgian Forth Rate terraced London house, (Gavin Stamp wrote in 1980 in The Englishman’s Room, ) built the year Beethoven died…. once a sleazy lodging house, or worse, for this area used to be better known for red lights than for elegant facades. This was fortunate and not only because the house was cheap. In smart parts of London, houses have been modernised and restored over and over again, so that practically nothing original is left. Here, the chimneypieces had gone but everything else  – doors, staircases, cornices, etc, – albeit punctuated by tiresome holes for Yale locks or for the water and waste pipes which served the basins which once graced every single roomThe back drawing room now has a fine reeded marble chimmneypiece of authentic date which was a wedding present from the Fitzalan Puirsuivant Extraordinary, that is, the architectural historian John Martin Robinson ( two chimneypieces from Dan Cruickshank are elsewhere in the house). …The principal chimneypiece in the front drawing room we actually bought.

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    Although fitted up with chandeliers and furnished with Indian rugs, the two drawing rooms remain undecorated. On moving in, the first thing we did after throwing out piles of slug-ridden mattresses , was to hire a ‘steam-stripper’ and get layers of paper off the walls. This had a curious side effect. The steam fug condensed on the ceiling and mixed with the rich deposit of cigarette smoke to drip on our bare shoulders as liquid nicotine. [This room remained undecorated as long as they lived there.] I suppose I can imagine the buff cracked plaster looking rather Palladian and chic,  Stamp wrote. Indeed, to get a clever stainer and grainer to achieve this decaying palazzo effect would be very expensive. As it is, it is very economical, as is the treatment of the joinery. The Bloomsbury mottled finish is achieved by the inept use of a blow-lamp.

    Along with Charles Moore and A.N. Wilson, Gavin Stamp was one of the original triumvirate of ‘Young Fogeys,’ mentioned in despatches in The Young Fogey Handbook (1985) by Suzanne Lowry. ‘Being a fogey in those days was, in fact, a form of rebellion against the boring conformity of pop culture — against the unthinking Left-wingery of the university common rooms and the bigwigs in the art world, who were obsessed only with being modern and ‘progressive,’’ A. N. Wilson wrote in 2010. Afficiandos dressed in tweed à la Brideshead, and tended towards erudite, conservative cultural pursuits. Gavin Stamp was married to Alexandra Artley, the author, with John Martin Robinson, of an even more esoteric publication, The Young Georgian Handbook, published by Harpers and Queen in 1985. They had already set out their stall in The Spectator on 22 December 1984, in an article entitled ‘Kentucky Fried Georgian’ :

    Conservation fogeys love expressing opinions. They bang on about COUNTY BOUNDARIES (‘they can call Yorkshire what they like. I come from the NORTH RIDING and PROUD of it’); ABOLITION OF TELEGRAMS (‘I shall write to the Post-Master General’); OPEN-PLAN TRAINS (‘the crack of ring-pull cans was DEAFENING!’); CENTRAL HEATING (‘don’t be so FEEBLE. It will split your mahogany’); FITTED CARPETS IN CHURCHES (`absolutely OUTRAGEOUS’); BUILDINGS BY AGEING MODERNISTS (‘meretricious TAT’)…NOUVELLE CUISINE (‘had to eat a CHEESE SANDWICH on the way home’); MICROWAVE OVENS (laughter in the house); Then, plop, the Spectator falls through the letterbox and Mr Fogey sits in COMPLETE SILENCE and reads it.

     The most time-consuming thing in Mr Fogey’s life, apart from campaigning, is a house, or when he is a poor Very Young Fogey, a basement or garret flat in the right sort of house. Fogeys differ from young Sloanes in the way they look at London property. Sloanes choose the area they want to live in and then find a house. Fogeys find the perfect house to restore and don’t give a damn about the area. They go where the architecture is and this is usually the rotting Georgian centres of big cities. Fogeys like Places to be socially crunchy …Mr and Mrs Fogey like to live in decaying splendour with wonderful, slightly broken things. They love costly tatters, the aristocratic aesthetic of pleasing decay. Their walls of patchy bare plaster give the Crumbling Palazzo Look. It is like hanging pictures on the inside of a Stilton. To go with that they like old china repaired with brass rivets.

    To repair their houses properly, fogeys invented architectural salvage. Miles away when philistines are gutting an old house, fogeys pick up high-frequency distress signals. Suddenly, they are there, saving the bits if they can’t actually stop the destruction. Cracked marble fireplaces, panelled doors masked by crude hardboard flushing, sash windows, shutters, Carron grates and strangely brilliant old glass are mourned over and carried home. Another good building RIP. When a demolition pickaxe shatters the work of the human hand, fogeys feel it is a blow against humanity. If an old house is modernised with a new crudely-panelled front door, fogeys call the style Kentucky Fried Georgian… Like playing with Leggo they swop building bits (one small Georgian reeded marble fireplace broken in three places equals a big cast- iron bath on claw feet).

    Fogey families believe in conservation heroics. They live with no roof, then no floors, then only a few walls, but lots of dry rot, Greek builders drinking Coca-Cola, collapsing ceilings, cold water, layers of filth, cellars full of old tights and tea- leaves, re-wiring by day, re-plumbing by fly-by-night and donating the drawing room as an emergency campaign office. Fogeys learned to rough it in the early Seventies. They trained as conservation commandos in squats and Direct Action against London’s rapacious property developers.

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    Stamp’s first bachelor flat, recorded for posterity in a watercolour by the talented designer, critic and art historian Alan Powers.

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    After a restoring  a much larger house by the nineteenth century architect Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson in the 1990s while teaching at the Glasgow School of Art’s Mackintosh School of Architecture, Gavin Stamp returned to London and  a mansion flat on the south side of the river. The watercolour perspective of St. Pancras New Church hangs here, over another handsome white marble chimneypiece. The rich red and yellow colour scheme is neo-Victorian, a Peter Blake Pop Art take on a nineteenth century palette.

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    I cannot abide walls without pictures and, ideally, I would like them from floor to ceiling.there cannot be too many. I have absolutely no sympathy for that austere, puritanical, joyless approach which demands no clutter and just a few choice objects in a room of awful, boring, whiteness. Such rooms are not for real, clumsy human beings. I would rather have lots of moderately good things than one exceptional object, Stamp wrote in 1980.

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    As regards the pictures, I like anything, providing it is of a building. [G.S. 1980].

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    The piece which gives this anthology its name is the story of  'Anti-Ugly Action,' initiated by a group of students  from the Stained Glass Department of the Royal College of Art, who demonstrated outside new buildings which they found offensive in the late 1950s. They printed cards on which members of the public could recommend buildings for the 'Anti-Ugly Seal of disapproval.' Many of the buildings which they condemned were essays in modern Classicism by progressives such as Sir Albert Richardson, for the anti-uglies were actually crusaders for Modernism. Stamp tells their story in order to explore the complicated  history of  architectural taste and changing perceptions of ugliness, then and now. His views are heterodox, questioning Sir John Soane's current status as a superstar while insisting on the brilliance of the self-taught  Neo-Classical sculptor Alexander Stoddart, a 'Canova for today.'

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     As for the furniture … the important thing is that tables should be able to bear the weight of piles of books  and that chairs should perform as filing cabinets.

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    HIs latest book, Anti-Ugly, Excursions in English Architecture and Design, is published by Aurum Press on November 7th. It’s an anthology of the best of his monthly columns written for Apollo magazine.

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    The piece from which it takes its name is the story of ‘Anti-Ugly Action,’ initiated by a group of students from the Stained Glass Department of the Royal College of Art, who demonstrated outside new buildings which they found offensive in the late 1950s.

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    They printed cards on which members of the public could recommend buildings for the ‘Anti-Ugly Seal of disapproval.’ Many of the buildings which they condemned were essays in modern Classicism by progressives such as Sir Albert Richardson, for the anti-uglies were actually crusaders for Modernism. Stamp tells their story in order to explore the complicated history of architectural taste and changing perceptions of ugliness, then and now.

    His views are often heterodox, he questions Sir John Soane’s current status as a superstar while insisting on the brilliance of the self-taught Neo-Classical sculptor Alexander Stoddart, a ‘Canova for today.’

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    The writer at home, 2013. Gavin Stamp was a friend of the poet and lover of architecture John Betjeman. Inspired, perhaps, by his example, he chose the life of an architectural historian-at-large, unattached to any academy or institution, although he teaches at several. He is a crusader for some of the causes that Betjeman espoused, and some more of his own. He writes the ‘Piloti’ column for Private Eye, which Betjeman originally founded and then passed on to him.

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    Anti-Ugly by Gavin Stamp, is about the Englishness of English architecture, its preservation, restoration, demolition and neglect, a trenchant, opinionated excursion around the architectural legacy which we have inherited, and to which we are so frequently dangerously indifferent.  [All images copyright Derry Moore/ bibleofbritishtaste]