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On Jews Walk

Andrew Saint: Eleanor Marx’s Blue Plaque, 9 October 2008

... A sodden afternoon in Sydenham. A trickle of sober pensioners converges on Jews Walk, overhung with wet branches. They turn into a deep, unkempt front garden, dip their umbrellas diffidently at the gate, divide into huddles, converse in undertones and wait. There is the air of an impending religious service. A hallowing, almost an expiation, is about to take place: the unveiling of a blue plaque to Eleanor Marx, ablest and bravest of Marx’s daughters, on the suburban villa where she had lived for just over two years when, quite without warning, she took her own life ...

In Le Havre

Andrew Saint: The rebuilding of France, 6 February 2003

... evening, as the shore approaches, the town lays itself out beneath an electric halo, the Church of Saint-Joseph lifting its lighthouse-like campanile majestically behind. The ferry barges across the seafront for its dock with categoric straightness, welcome after the shambles and indirection of Portsmouth. Night-time is right for exploring central Le ...


Andrew Saint: Goodbye to the Routemaster, 26 January 2006

... It’s the noise I miss the most. The Kennington Road is a barren speedtrack. Buses can get up a good lick there, if passengers at request stops don’t flag them down. Even if your head was in the newspaper, you could tell a 159 was coming from the gurgling roar of the Routemaster’s engine, stick out a hand just in time and hear the machine change register, grind to a halt and turn over in moody reverberation, till the bell rang and it was time for the off ...

When Chicago Went Classical

Andrew Saint: A serial killer and the World’s Fair, 1 April 2004

Devil in the White City 
by Erik Larson.
Bantam, 496 pp., £7.99, April 2004, 0 553 81353 6
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... Just two of the fabled world exhibitions of the 19th century are still remembered. They are the two with the best claim to have reshaped the culture of their times. London 1851 was a paean to industry and progress sheltered within a structure to match; its theme has been invoked in world’s fairs ever since. The other contender is Chicago 1893. After more than a century, the gleaming White City on the fairway at Jackson Park lingers in the American mind ...


Andrew Saint: Foscolo’s Grave, 20 September 2007

... was extended to the Napoleonic puppet Kingdom of Italy, in a decree handed down to Milan from Saint-Cloud, Foscolo was outraged. In his eyes the law symbolised creeping despotism and the imposition of a chilly, impious bureaucracy on Italian custom and affections. Not that Foscolo was any kind of Christian. The famous opening of the Sepolcri turns a stock ...

Walls, Fences, Grilles and Intercoms

Andrew Saint: Security and the City, 19 November 2009

Ground Control: Fear and Happiness in the 21st-Century City 
by Anna Minton.
Penguin, 240 pp., £9.99, June 2009, 978 0 14 103391 4
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... In the perpetual struggle between security and liberty, the city stands in the front line. From time immemorial people have found freedom in cities, yet urban coexistence can’t go on without countless checks and regulations. Lately these have been getting out of hand. All over the transport system disembodied voices boom out their futile admonitions; cameras track our every turning as we walk; city drivers are subject to ever stricter controls ...

What architects said before they said ‘space’

Andrew Saint: The vocabulary of modern architecture, 30 November 2000

Words and Buildings: A Vocabulary of Modern Architecture 
by Adrian Forty.
Thames and Hudson, 335 pp., £28, April 2000, 0 500 34172 9
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... All this talk brings the ears so far forward that they make blinkers for the eyes’: thus Edwin Lutyens on architectural discourse. In Lutyens’s day it was still possible, just, to believe that the good architects got on with designing and building while only the second-raters taught and wrote. Books were chiefly for reference – for illustrations, rules and technicalities ...

For the Good of Our Health

Andrew Saint: The Spread of Suburbia, 6 April 2006

Sprawl: A Compact History 
by Robert Bruegmann.
Chicago, 301 pp., £17.50, January 2006, 0 226 07690 3
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... Just beyond Croydon – I will not share its exact whereabouts – there is a lane I take whenever I drive to visit my father in his retirement. For six precious minutes, it unfolds up and down hill through unspoilt Surrey countryside. There are just three houses along its length, one a farm. I seldom meet another car, but often see pheasants and once encountered a badger ...

Successive Applications of Sticking-Plaster

Andrew Saint: The urban history of Britain, 1 November 2001

The Cambridge Urban History of Britain. Vol. III: 1840-1950 
edited by Martin Daunton.
Cambridge, 944 pp., £90, January 2001, 0 521 41707 4
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... Do the authors of this volume of the Cambridge Urban History know how gloomy a book they have written? Pessimism suffuses these pages from start almost to finish. ‘Why have so many of Britain’s great cities fared so badly in the 20th century?’ Peter Clark, the general editor of the series, asks in his preface. Turn the page, and Martin Daunton’s introduction descends with unconcealed relish into the ‘decay, corruption, stench and stickiness’ of the early Victorian city – a hell from which the best escape reformers can imagine is the extirpation of stagnancy, and the setting of traffic, sewage and people alike moving on a joyless treadmill of ‘continuous circulation ...

Talking to the Radiator

Andrew Saint, 2 October 1997

Corbusier’s Formative Years 
by H. Allen Brooks.
Chicago, 506 pp., £51.95, June 1997, 0 226 07579 6
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... Did the fact that he came from Switzerland’s drabbest town have something to do with it? La Chaux-de-Fonds has little excuse. Lifted high in a bowl of the Jura, it is fringed by mountains and pines, in which Emeritus Professor Allen Brooks, musing from the tranquillity of retirement, revels at leisure. ‘Allow time to climb the road,’ he admonishes readers eager to tick off the Villa Fallet, Charles-Edouard Jeanneret’s first house, on the out-skirts of the community ...

How to Save the City-Dweller

Andrew Saint: Cities, 21 May 1998

Cities for a Small Planet 
by Richard Rogers.
Faber, 180 pp., £9.99, December 1997, 0 571 17993 2
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... Cities that are beautiful, safe and equitable are within our grasp.’ So says Richard Rogers at the end of this reworking of his Reith Lectures of 1995, and we must do our best to believe him. Suppose, however, that the lecturer had pronounced instead on another of the basic building-blocks of society – the family, for instance. We might admit that he was right to exhort us, but we should know at once that he was a moralist and a preacher ...

I had to refrain

Andrew Saint: Pre-Raphaelite Houses, 1 December 2005

Philip Webb: Pioneer of Arts and Crafts Architecture 
by Sheila Kirk.
Wiley-Academy, 336 pp., £29.99, February 2005, 0 470 86808 2
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... It was Ruskin who flung down the challenge in the last of his ‘seven lamps’. The style of architecture a nation picks to build in does not matter, he says. It can be Classic, Romanesque, Gothic, anything you like, so long as it fits the climate and the temper of the people. But once a style has been chosen, it must be stuck to. So the last of the lamps is the ‘lamp of obedience ...


Andrew Saint: The Jubilee Line Extension, 20 January 2000

... In a late story by J.B. Priestley, ‘Underground’, an adulterer bent on escape to voluptuous Brazil boards the Northern Line. At Hampstead everyone else exits; but at the next station, a Golders Green of the imagination, dead souls crowd in and the train trundles him away to the underworld. In A Word Child, surely the best of Iris Murdoch’s non-magical novels, a civil servant racked with remorse cruises for solace round and round the Circle Line, stopping only for refreshment at the platform bars of Sloane Square and Liverpool Street – both, alas, now no more ...

Aldermanic Depression

Andrew Saint: London is good for you, 4 February 1999

London: A History 
by Francis Sheppard.
Oxford, 442 pp., £25, November 1998, 0 19 822922 4
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London: More by Fortune than Design 
by Michael Hebbert.
Wiley, 50 pp., £17.99, April 1998, 0 471 97399 8
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... A hundred years ago, when London ruled half the world and the snarl-up in front of the Bank of England passed for ‘the hub of the Empire’, only dedicated puffers and slummers plus a smattering of tourists had much good to say about Britain’s capital. Literary folk like James and Conrad slipped into the illusionary language of the dark sublime ...

The Danger of Giving In

Andrew Saint: George Gilbert Scott Jr, 17 October 2002

An Architect of Promise: George Gilbert Scott Jr (1839-97) and the Late Gothic Revival 
by Gavin Stamp.
Shaun Tyas, 427 pp., £49.50, July 2002, 1 900289 51 2
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... windows in Yarmouth and cutting his toenails in a bank. He was taken now to the excellent St Andrew’s Hospital, Northampton, where he enjoyed many amenities but contrived to destroy a piano. After nine months he was again discharged, but his wife had had enough and soon left Hampstead with the children. A third bout of lunacy landed Scott back in ...

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