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The London page of Jolyon’s Review will bring news, comment and features focusing on the capital.


Is London’s architectural heritage in danger?

The History of Ebury Street, London

Jolyon Gumbrell offers promotional reviews to antiques dealers, fine art dealers and estate agents in London

Traditional architecture for social housing in London?

26th July 2011

Londongrad from Russia with cash: The inside story of the oligarchs, by Mark Hollingsworth & Stewart Lansley, published by Fourth Estate, London in 2009, ISBN 978-0-00-727886-2.

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell  26th July 2011

To read this review click on the book Book Reviews page.

Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire, A Confidential Report, by Iain Sinclair, ISBN 978-0-141-01274-2, published by Penguin Books 2010

Review by Jolyon Gumbrell 18th December 2010

Jolyon Gumbrell has written a review of Iain Sinclair’s book Hackney, That Red-Rose Empire, the review can be read on the Book Reviews page of this website.

28th February 2010

Is London’s architectural heritage in danger?

by Jolyon Gumbrell

The Georgians and Victorians as urban planners brought together beauty, practicality, tradition and technology to the design of London’s buildings.  In spite of the destruction caused by German bombing during the Second World War, and subsequent demolition and redevelopment; London still has a rich heritage of 18th and 19th century buildings.  However, are these buildings now at risk because we no longer know how to maintain them, because we no longer build in a traditional style?  Have the building skills of the past been forgotten as a result of the dominance of modern architecture for so many years?

The Lighthouse Building located near King’s Cross Railway Station, at the point where Pentonville Road meets Gray’s Inn Road in London: is an example of a Victorian building which has been left in a state of dereliction after not having been occupied for many years.  There is some mystery concerning the building’s history and the reason why it was called The Lighthouse Building.  The building has a metal lantern structure on its roof which may be the ‘lighthouse’ from which its name is derived.  According to one version of the building’s history, it used to be an oyster restaurant and the lighthouse on the roof was an advertisement for the oysters sold there.  This theory has been disputed with some people believing that the lantern structure was taken from a helter-skelter.  The maritime theme of the building could have its origins in that the building once belonged to a shipping company.

According to an article published in October 2007 on a website called www.urban75.org/london/oyster-bar-kings-cross.html the building was owned by the shipping company Peninsular and Orient (P&O).  P&O was bought by Dubai Ports for almost £4 billion in 2006, which means the ownership of the building would have been transfered as one of the company’s many assets to the Dubai royal family, the owners of Dubai Ports.

According to a planning application to redevelope the building which was approved by Camden Council in April 2009, the property is owned by UK Real Estate.  This company is registered with Companies House under the registration number: 1996553 and its registered office is Lanmor House, 370-386 High Road, Wembley, Middlesex, HA9 6AX.  However Lanmor House is the address and premises of an accountancy partnership called Landau Morley LLP, which could indicate that Landau Morley are managing the affairs of UK Real Estate on behalf of an owner or owners who are living abroad.  Are the owners of Dubai Ports the same as those of UK Real Estate?

Unfortunately one reason why so many listed buildings in London are in danger, is because they have been bought by wealthy individuals living overseas, who allow these buildings to remain empty and neglected for years.  These owners appear to be pursuing a policy of allowing a building to fall into such a state of decay, that for safety reasons the building will have to be demolished.  In this way the owners can get around the preservation order on the building by allowing it to fall down or be burnt down.  Once the building has been destroyed the site can be redeveloped making the owners millions of pounds.

This destruction can be exacerbated by squatters and others entering a building illegally - or perhaps with the tacit approval of the owners - who in the process of their occupation damage the building’s fabric beyond repair.  An example of this type of vandalism was seen at a mansion in Park Lane recently, when around 2000 revellers attended an illegal ‘Facebook party’.  According to newspaper reports police dressed in riot gear who had turned up at the scene, were pelted with stones by the teenagers who had occupied the building.  One of the organizers of the event - Oliver Appleyard, an 18-year-old student from Camden - was quoted in the London Evening Standard on 13th February 2010, as saying: “We are part of a group of young people who find little unused spaces and use them for things like art events.  We’re rebelling against the Government - there are lots of homeless people in this country and houses sitting empty like this”.

However, the question remains to be asked, were these naive teenagers unwittingly doing exactly what the owners of the building wanted, which was to bring about the eventual destruction of the mansion through degradation, in order to avoid the planning restrictions of a listed building status?

In many cases owners, architects and developers see the preservation order on an historic building as an obstacle to get around.  Returning to the case of The Lighthouse Building in King’s Cross, UK Real Real Estate used Latitude Architects to draw up plans for the redevelopment of the site.  UK Real Estate also used the London Planning Practice as their agent to present the plans to Camden Council.

The plans drawn up by Latitude Architects are unsympathetic: because the only original features of the building which will be kept, are the external walls and the lantern structure on the roof.  At the time the plans were approved by Camden Council in April 2009, Councillor Brian Woodrow was critical of the design of the building’s roof.  In an article which appeared on the website of Camden New Journal on 9th April 2009, Councillor Brian Woodrow was quoted as saying: “My strong reservation is about the roof.  I think it is like a hunchback armadillo, the way it staggers up.  It is like a French building which might be appropriate in France, but not here.”

On Latitude’s website the plans for the building are described as follows: “The Lighthouse: The change of use and reconstruction behind the existing facade of a Grade II landmark building in London’s Kings Cross providing office and retail use, with a new floor of offices under a stepping vaulted zinc roof.  The building is built directly on two underground train tunnels, creating significant design and construction challenges.”.

Although these plans were approved in April 2009, by February 2010 building work had still not started on the redevelopment of this site.  It appears that UK Real Estate was reluctant to spend the estimated £11 million on this project, at a time when the recession meant that office and retail space was much more difficult to sell or rent out.  However, the abandoned building is in a very poor condition after decades of neglect, and will soon require emergency work to save it.

Previous plans drawn up in 2007, - the plans were made by Richard Griffiths Architects in collaboration with RHWL and Rolfe Judd, for the redevelopment of the building on behalf of P&O Developments - retained more of the original fabric of the building than the Latitude designs.  From a photograph of a drawing on Richard Griffiths’ website, it appears their plans would have retained the chimneys in the building.  Chimneys are important features of historic buildings and can also be useful in providing conduits for allowing smoke and fumes from boilers to escape.  Although coal fires may no longer be appropriate as they were in Victorian times, the old chimneys of Victorian buildings can often be useful for the extraction of smoke from modern biomass boilers.

Rather than redeveloping the building for use as office space, it could be redeveloped into units of affordable housing, which on completion of building and restoration work, would be managed by a housing association to provide much needed residential accommodation.  The units on the ground floor could still be used for shops and restaurants.  A charitable organization such as the Prince’s Regeneration Trust could manage the restoration of The Lighthouse Building.  The restoration of The Lighthouse Building could provide an opportunity for apprentices to gain experience of working on an older building.

UK Real Estate has shirked its responsibility as the owner of The Lighthouse Building, by allowing this building to remain unused and in a perilous state of decay.  It should be remembered that if an owner of a listed building is unwilling or unable to preserve the building, a local authority under existing legislation has the power to take possession of that building in order to save it for future generations.

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2010

10th February 2010

The History of Ebury Street, London

by Jolyon Gumbrell

Ebury Street today lies in the area of Belgravia not far from Victoria Station and Victoria Coach Station.  The street runs south west from Grosvenor Gardens to Pimlico Road.  It contains some fine examples of Georgian and Victorian architecture.

The land Ebury Street is built on, once belonged to Ebury Manor, part of an estate of 500 acres which lay north of the Thames and west of the then boundaries of London.  During the 17th century this estate was inherited by Mary Davies, who in 1677 married Sir Thomas Grosvenor a landowner from Cheshire.  Their marriage was the beginning of the Grosvenor family’s involvement with London lasting to the present day, with their descendant Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor, 6th Duke of Westminster, now head of an international property company called Grosvenor.

During the 18th century much of the modern day Ebury Street was a country lane known as the Five Fields.  In Richard Harwood’s ‘Plan of the Cities of London and Westminster, the Borough of Southward, and Parts Adjoining. Showing Every House’ dated 1792-1799 - the south west end of Ebury Street was known as Five Fields Row and the street today called Pimlico Road was known as Queen Street.  In those days Five Fields Row was on the outskirts of Chelsea, a separate town from London.

On Harwood’s map we can see that each house in Five Fields Row is clearly numbered.  We know that these dwellings had been standing for at least 30 years when Harwood was making the survey for his map, because the 8 year old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart stayed at number 5 Five Fields Row in 1764.  This house is still standing but now has the address of 180 Ebury Street.  According to a plaque on the wall of the house, Mozart composed his first symphony there.

According to an advertisement which appeared in The Times on Saturday, May 13th 1815 - placed in the newspaper just a few weeks before the Battle of Waterloo - the name Ebury Street was already in use then.  The advertisement reads:

Servant of ALL-WORK WANTED: She must be cleanly, steady and industrious, and have the recommendations of a good character from her last place.  Application to be made, after twelve o'clock in the day, at 4 Ebury-street near Eccleston-street, Pimlico.

This advertisement is interesting because it tells us that the leaseholders who lived in Ebury Street at that time, were wealthy enough to employ domestic servants.

The urbanization of the area is clearly visible on a map by Christopher and John Greenwood published on August 21st 1827.  To the north of Ebury Street the fields have disappeared and the new urban street plan of Belgravia including Chester Square, Eaton Square, and Belgrave Square can be seen.  In this map Five Fields Row and The Five Fields are now called Upper Ebury Street and Ebury Street respectively.

The building development of Belgavia was taking place at the same time as the architect, John Nash was turning the nearby Buckingham House into Buckingham Palace for George IV.  Buckingham Palace did not become the main royal residence in London until the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign in 1837, however in the 1820s the second Earl Grosvenor would have seen a business opportunity in developing land in close proximity to the Palace for housing for the wealthy and powerful.  The master builder and developer Thomas Cubitt was involved with organizing the development, and architects whose names have been associated with the project were George Basevi; Thomas Cundy, father and son; and William Wilkins.

Number 22 Ebury Street, which comprises of four flats is an unusual building with a colourful history.  It was built in 1830 as Pimlico Grammar School, a private academy for boys.  The building was designed by J.P. Gandy-Deering who as an architect was greatly influenced by ancient Greece.  From 1811 to 1813 he travelled around Greece with Sir William Gell as an architectural draughtsman on behalf of the Society of Dilettanti.

Samual Lewis writing in 1848 in ‘A Topographical Dictionary of England’ described the Pimlico Grammar School building as being “a handsome structure, with well-executed portico of two Doric columns between pilasters, supporting a pediment decorated with triglyphs and dentils”.

The building is also of interest due to some of the charaters who lived there during the 20th century, long after it ceased to be an eductional establishment.  The blue plaque on the wall informs us that Ian Fleming (1908-1964), the creator of James Bond lived there.  However, English Heritage would probably be reluctant to put up a plaque to remember the person who lived there before Fleming.  That person was Sir Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists.

Ian Fleming lived at 22 Ebury Street from 1934 until 1939.  Fleming’s knowledge of the secret services - which gave him experience and inspiration to write his James Bond novels - came from the time he was a Naval Intelligence Division officer during the Second World War.  Just before the war when Fleming lived at Ebury Street, he probably did not spend all that much time in his flat, but may have hosted a few parties there.

Fleming is portrayed as being a rather sleazy individual in S.J. Taylor’s biography of Esmond Rothermere: ‘The Reluctant Press Lord Esmond Rothermere and the Daily Mail’.  He is mentioned in this book because he began an affair with Ann O’Neill nee Charteris in 1938 - while she was also having an affair with Esmond Rothermere, the Chairman of Daily Mail & General Trust - while cheating on her husband.  According to Taylor’s account, the sexual relationship between Fleming and O’Neill had a sado-masochistic element.  Thus Taylor describes it in the following paragraph:

The raw brutality and ruthlessness with which she was treated by Fleming had rather an unsettling effect upon Ann, though she was candid in her estimation of Esmond’s love-making skills.  There could be no doubt, she was fond of saying, Esmond was quite the most accomplished lover she had ever met.  But Ian’s cruelty created its own sensation.  It would develope into something rather more interesting to Ann than simple love-making.

Some years after the Second World War, Fleming’s old flat in Ebury Street was occupied by Harry McLaughlin, who at one time worked as a journalist for the Daily Mirror before becoming a psychologist.  Harry McLaughlin moved to Toronto in Canada in 1967 where he was Assistant Professor of Psycholinguistics at York University.  Professor McLaughlin gives an interesting account of Fleming’s old flat at 22 Ebury Street in an article entitled: ‘Some of Harry’s Theatrical Friends’, which can be seen on Professor McLaughlin’s website at http://harrymclaughlin.com/TheatreFriends.htm .

In that article Professor McLaughlin describes his landlady as having been Lady Poulett, who lived in the downstairs flat at 22 Ebury Street.  She had been married to Earl George Amias Fitzwarrine Poulett from 1935 to 1941, but was famous in her own right as the actress of stage and screen, Oriel Ross.

Number 22 Ebury Street is just one building in that street, but it has a rich history which has only just been touched upon in this article.  There are many layers of history concerning the whole of Ebury Street, and each of the more than 200 properties in the street could provide a chapter in a very large book.

When it comes to selling any period property in London, estate agents often overlook the significance of a building’s history as its selling point.  The description of a house or flat - on an estate agents website or in an advertisement - is often rather sterile, only providing the basic information concerning the building’s accommodation.  Admittedly, the sales professionals working in a busy estate agents, do not have the time to research and write an interesting article about a building’s history.

This problem can be overcome with the help of an enthusiastic researcher, who will for a fee delve into a buildings past and write a promotional feature which will create positive interest.  His written historical review of an old property, will help the estate agent take advantage of the building’s past.  It will enlighten all those who want to buy into the history of a Georgian or Victorian building, so they will know more about those who were born, lived and died behind its facade.

If you would like to contact Jolyon Gumbrell to discuss the possibility of him writing a promotional feature for your business, please email him at inquiry@jolyonsreview.co.uk .

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2010

19th January 2010

Jolyon Gumbrell offers promotional reviews to antiques dealers, fine art dealers and estate agents in London

by Jolyon Gumbrell

The editor and creator of Jolyon’s Review is now offering an exclusive publicity service to antiques and fine art dealers as well as estate agents in London.  For a negotiated fee Jolyon Gumbrell will write a bespoke feature on an exhibition, work of art or property; which the client is then free to publish in any media outlet.  The client may decide to publish the feature on their own website, or purchase some advertising space from an on-line or newspaper publisher to display the exclusive promotional feature.  Once Jolyon Gumbrell has written and delivered the completed feature to the client, it is the clients own decision which magazine or newspaper to use.

Jolyon Gumbrell is offering something different from an advertising copywriting service.  As a writer who is independent of any media organization or advertising agency - he is offering a detailed and well researched promotional feature, which will create a genuine interest in the clients product or service.

Examples of sympathetic reviews and features by Jolyon Gumbrell can be seen on the Art Reviews and Features pages of this website.  They give historical information concerning individuals associated with a painting or piece of jewellery, which is of general interest to the curious reader.  At the same time the feature draws attention to the business that is selling a work of art or antique jewellery.

Likewise an estate agent could have an interesting historical property to sell.  A general description of the property might describe it as being a Grade I listed building, but perhaps a more detailed written feature on the building’s history would attract a greater number of potential buyers, and go some way to answer the following questions:  When was it built?  Who built it?  Why was it built?  Who lived there?  Who visited it?  What interesting events happened there?

The feature could then be published in a newspaper or magazine as a separate article, which would appear more as part of the journals editorial content than an advertisement.  The article would be educational and informative as well as promotional for the business concerned.  The article would therefore be barely distinguishable from a general interest news report or feature, but it would still perform the task of an advertisement as it would work on a subliminal level.

If you would like to contact Jolyon Gumbrell to discuss the possibility of him writing a promotional feature for your business, please email him at inquiry@jolyonsreview.co.uk .

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2010

24th November 2009

Traditional architecture for social housing in London?

by Jolyon Gumbrell

In 2009 the style of architecture to be used for a housing development on the site of Chelsea Barracks became a contentious issue.  This was an argument about how London should look; whether the style of architecture should be traditional or modern.  Much of the architectural establishment - in the membership of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) - is dismissive of traditional architecture.  However, traditional styles have much to offer London, both in the provision of the capital’s social housing and in the conservation of London’s heritage.

Just after the Second World War modernist architecture became a powerful force in Britain, when ugly souless housing estates were built in and around London, to house those who had lost their homes during the war.  The architects who designed these estates disregarded local environments: obliterating old street and field plans, which had grown up over centuries.  High rise flats in places such as Roehampton and Newham, disconnected people from the communities in which they lived.  The prefabricated boxes and blocks of modern social housing - which lacked character and decorative features - alienated the people who were forced to live in them.

The debate over modern architecture has been ongoing for over 40 years.  Doubts about the practicality of modern architecture for social housing became apparent after the Ronan Point disaster.  On 16th May 1968, a gas explosion in a flat on the 18th floor of a tower block called Ronan Point in Newham east London, caused the collapse of the whole corner of the tower block, killing four people.  The incident brought to the public’s attention, the sub-standard nature of some of the modern housing stock.

In 1984 Prince Charles voiced his concerns over modern architecture in a speech he gave to RIBA.  The Prince recognised that many modern buildings were oversized and out of keeping with their environment.  He referred to a proposed extension for the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square as, “a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much loved friend.”

This speech was hated by members of the architectural establishment such as Norman Foster and Richard Rogers, but was appreciated by members of the public who were getting sick of the hideous buildings imposed on them by modern architects and developers.

In 2009 Prince Charles was invited again to speak to the architects of RIBA to mark RIBA’s 175th anniversary.  However, this time his speech was boycotted by many of the modernist architects such as Piers Gough of CZWG.  The modernist architects were unhappy that the Prince had asked the Qatari royal family - the owners of Qatari Diar, the company which was developing the Chelsea Barracks site - to use traditionalist architects to design the development.

In a letter to The Guardian of 9th May 2009, a group of modernists architects wrote of the Prince’s request: “This intervention must now be resisted by the profession; not because of the question of architectural style, but because his actions again threaten an important element of our democratic process. To all architects who value these democratic procedures, we advocate a boycott of the Prince’s lecture at RIBA on the 12 May.”

The letter was signed by Peter Ahrends; Will Alsop; Ted Cullinan; Paul Finch; Tony Fretton; Piers Gough; MJ Long; Ian Ritchie; and Chris Wilkinson.  They were rather hypercritical to use the words “democratic procedures” in their letter, as the decision making process for planning can often be far from democratic.  Modern architecture has often been forced upon local communities without popular consent.

A YouGov survey which was taken in October 2009, showed that 77% of respondents prefer traditional architecture over contemporary styles.  Traditional architecture is democratic in the 21st century, and Prince Charles’s opinions are more in tune with the public mood, than those of the architectural establishment.

Many of the modernists architects who are so hostile to traditional styles, would lack the skills to design a classical building if one of their clients demanded it.  This is why they are so fearful of anyone who advocates incorporating the best styles of the past - used by real architects such as Inigo Jones, or Sir Christopher Wren, the Adam brothers, Sir John Soane or John Nash - into modern buildings.

Today there are still some architects such as Quinlan Terry and Robert Adam who design beautiful buildings in a tradtional style.  In a recent interview with Jolyon’s Review; Robert Adam, of Robert Adam Architects was asked why classical architecture - which has been incorporated into building designes for centuries - has been so successful.  He said that classical architecture: “is a tradition so has historical continuity, and at the same time is almost infinitly adaptable so people can connect with their identity and tradition.”

Robert Adam went on to explain that the philosophy behind classical architecture is evolutionary, whereas the philosophy behind modern architecture is revolutionary.

The evolutionary nature of classical architecture means it can adapt itself to modern day circumstances.  This is very important when it comes to important issues affecting us today, such as climate change and the need to save energy.  Many of the surviving Georgian and Victorian buildings of brick and stone are much more energy efficient, than some of the glass, steel and concrete structures put up more recently.

In an article published in The Architects Journal on 24th September 2009, Robert Adam architects was named as one of the practices of ten teams, vying for the project to redevelope the Chelsea Barracks site.  At the time of the interview with Jolyon’s Review on 19th November, Robert Adam still did not know whether or not his practice would be chosen to work on the project.

Robert Adam’s answer was “no”, when asked whether any local authorities or housing associations in London, had shown an interest in the work of his practice for the provision of social housing.  Also, he did not think that any traditional architecture would be used for the massive redevelopment in the East End of London, in preparation for the 2012 Olympics.  He said: “it will be done by the architectural establishment, and the architectural establishment does not believe that people should build traditional architecture.”

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2009