A Great Architectural Historian Lost to Us

We’d been at school together when, as he reminded me in an email two years ago, I’d collaborated with him in his campaign to save the Victorian  railway bridge over the South Circular road at West Dulwich station.  Here is the old bridge, wantonly demolished in the 1960s with its fine ironwork and its two pedestrian arches.

Here is the standard ,  boring bridge replacing it:

I also remember him, as a schoolboy, protesting against the filling in of the school’s north and south cloisters with plate glass, ruining the terracotta details of the arches and making nonsense of the whole idea of a cloister.

Before (my photos):

After:

On another occasion he explained to me the cut-off corners of the bases of the columns in the Lower Hall by showing an old photograph of the embellishments these corners once supported.

I met him as an undergraduate in his tower room at Cambridge. He was wearing a Victorian three-quarter coat which he had had specially tailored. ‘Would you like to hear some music?’ he asked and wound up a horn gramophone. I think he played something by Sullivan. On his desk was his impressive design for the facade of a new Cambridge College: neo-gothic at its finest.

It was a time when the university was divided between the ‘greys’, who wore ties, tweed jackets and short hair and the ‘new age’ who wore their hair long and dressed in jeans and caftans. I wasn’t sure what to make of my school-friend but sensed that he was rebelling against both the ‘greys’ and the ‘new-agers’. I remarked to him whether, with his architectural sensibilities, he liked living in a Victorian gothic tower which jarred potently with the classical symmetry of the adjacent senate house. He jokingly replied: ‘actually it’s the senate house which is jarring with the tower.”

Recalling his school and college days he bemoaned the fact that our generation was brought up in the full flowering of the welfare state where state grants enabled merit rather than money to gain places at the country’s best academic institutions. ‘We were so lucky then. Quite different from the difficulties of today’s youth,’ he added with reference to his own children.

Years later, when I was living and working in Greenwich, I wrote to him to ask for his support against the demolition of St Andrew and St Michael, a church designed by Basil Champneys (1842 – 5 April 1935) and Grade 2 listed.

Despite the facts that the building was listed and that its architect was a supreme practitioner in the arts and crafts style and designer of some very notable buildings like Manchester’s Rylands library, Oxford’s Rhodes building and Cambridge’s former Classical archaeology museum my friend was, again, unsuccessful.

However, it is thanks to his tireless campaigning against architectural vandalism that the traditional red telephone box designed by one of his heroes, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, still survives in many parts of the United Kingdom.

 

I hesitate to think how often his heart must have been broken through the wanton destruction by modernist philistines of so many of his beloved buildings from an age when Britain brimmed with confidence, courage and a sense of continuity. With regard to good architecture I wrote this post on local power station in our Lucca area with, in mind, his book on ‘Cathedrals of Power’.

https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/10/01/thinking-twice-about-your-enel-bill/

The shadow of the valley of death inevitably tinges us all. 2017 was a year where I lost several friends and acquaintances both of the two footed and of the four footed variety and those losses took place relentlessly even up to the year’s final days. In Gavin Stamp so many people have lost a true friend, scholar, artist and ceaseless campaigner for all that’s worthy to stand as good and often great architecture in the world.

(On the Orient Express in the TV series of 2007)

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