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In Letchworth

Gillian Darley: Pevsner's Hertfordshire

2 January 2020
... The volumes​ of the Buildings of England series initiated by Nikolaus Pevsner unsurprisingly confine themselves to buildings and their settings, but it’s tempting to be distracted by what you already know about a place, about Brocket Hall in Hertfordshire, for instance, the latest county to have its volume revised and expanded by Yale.* The mid-18th-century country house designed by James Paine is described as ‘utilitarian’ but ‘counterbalanced with magnificent and ornate interiors ...

At the Train Station

Gillian Darley

19 October 2016
... Over the years​ , travelling to Birmingham from time to time, I’ve noticed a handsome classical building, a kind of mirage that comes into view briefly as the train approaches New Street Station. Then, like almost everyone else it seems, I forget all about it – not even bothering to find out what it was. Stranded, isolated and distant in a nondescript wasteland of car parks and low-key dereliction, the ghostly, tarnished building with its handsome Ionic columns and boarded-up windows always looked uncannily like a sibling of the much lamented Euston Arch, demolished in 1961 ...

My Cat All My Pleasure

Gillian Darley: Georgian Life

19 August 2010
Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England 
by Amanda Vickery.
Yale, 382 pp., £20, October 2009, 978 0 300 15453 5
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... Cut-paper work from 1707 by the 17-year-old Anna Maria Garthwaite, who later became a designer of patterned silks for dresses In contrast to the still contentment of a Zoffany conversation piece or the energetic racket conjured up by Fielding’s novels, life indoors in Georgian England was frequently a dull, hard and miserable business. For those who did not fit the norms, social or material, the outcome was often exceedingly uncomfortable ...
18 May 2000
Stylistic Cold Wars: Betjeman v. Pevsner 
by Timothy Mowl.
Murray, 182 pp., £14.99, March 2000, 9780719559099
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... John Betjeman was the voice of postwar Englishness: at best, humorous, quirky and enthusiastic about some of the oddest things; at worst, parochial and smug shading into bitter. How ironic, in view of later developments and the argument of Timothy Mowl’s book, that Nikolaus Pevsner’s first visit to England, in 1930, was to research a new topic: Englishness in art ...


Gillian Darley: James Stirling

7 September 2000
Big Jim: The Life and Work of James Stirling 
by Mark Girouard.
Pimlico, 323 pp., £14, March 2000, 9780712664226
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... The recently opened Gilbert Collection at Somerset House includes a vast number of objects made by a meticulous technique of inlay known as micromosaic, in which tiny fragments of glass are assembled to form a picture – not always in the best possible taste. Mark Girouard’s biography of James Stirling is constructed by a similar procedure, an astonishing accumulation of small details, asides and memories building up to a portrait ...
29 November 2001
In Ruins 
by Christopher Woodward.
Chatto, 280 pp., £12.99, September 2001, 9780701168964
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... I read Christopher Woodward’s book in August and then reread it in September: what a difference a month can make. Insistent images of newly ravaged places, like the ghostly fretwork silhouette which looms over Ground Zero, seem to sneer at us, laughing at our fragile optimism. The notion of the ruin as an expression of violence and blind hatred is not Woodward’s subject, however hard it may be to avoid the connection ...

See the Sights!

Gillian Darley: Rediscovering Essex

1 November 2007
The Buildings of England: Essex 
by James Bettley and Nikolaus Pevsner.
Yale, 939 pp., £29.95, May 2007, 978 0 300 11614 4
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... Essex, the most overlooked and undersold of counties, is under siege. In the north, it is menaced by the BAA, with its overweening commercial ambitions for Stansted Airport, starting with a second runway that will scythe through the undemonstrative countryside and lay waste to at least two hamlets of venerable buildings, while ensuring that the idyllic ancient deer park of Hatfield Forest – already harassed almost beyond endurance by air traffic – will be made a no-go area, with intensified noise and pollution ...

My Father’s War

Gillian Darley

5 December 2013
... the officer class, sheltered believers in empire, deference and loyalty. Second Lieutenant Robert Darley, gazetted in the Royal Regiment of Artillery on 10 February 1915, followed in his father’s footsteps. Born in 1859, George saw action in the Boer War. As a teenager I’d occasionally hazarded what the daily familiarity with death and fearful injury ...


Mary Beard: What’s left of John Soane

17 February 2000
John Soane: An Accidental Romantic 
by Gillian Darley.
Yale, 358 pp., £25, September 1999, 0 300 08165 0
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John Soane, Architect: Master of Space and Light 
by Margaret Richardson and Mary-Anne Stevens.
Royal Academy, 302 pp., £45, September 1999, 0 300 08195 2
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Sir John Soane and the Country Estate 
by Ptolemy Dean.
Ashgate, 204 pp., £37.50, October 1999, 1 84014 293 6
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... an influential member of the Royal Academy and, from 1806, its Professor of Architecture. Yet, as Gillian Darley charts in her meticulous new biography, John Soane: An Accidental Romantic, he was also repeatedly mocked for his arriviste pretensions (a bricklayer’s son, born John Soan, he added the more dignified final ‘e’ when he was setting up ...

The Undesired Result

Gillian Darley: Betjeman’s bêtes noires

31 March 2005
Betjeman: The Bonus of Laughter 
by Bevis Hillier.
Murray, 744 pp., £25, October 2004, 0 7195 6495 6
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... The dust jacket of the final volume of Bevis Hillier’s epic life of John Betjeman shows the poet laureate seized by giggles. In this lengthy coda to Hillier’s authorised biography Betjeman appears in many lights, but he’s rarely carefree. ‘Nothing frightens me more than the thought of dying,’ he told a friend in 1958. He was 52, had a well-tried Christian faith and would live another 25 years ...


Gillian Darley: Lutyens

17 April 2003
The Architect and His Wife: A Life of Edwin Lutyens 
by Jane Ridley.
Chatto, 524 pp., £25, June 2002, 0 7011 7201 0
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Edwin Lutyens, Country Houses: From the Archives of ‘Country Life’ 
by Gavin Stamp.
Aurum, 192 pp., £35, May 2001, 1 85410 763 1
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Lutyens Abroad 
edited by Andrew Hopkins and Gavin Stamp.
British School at Rome, 260 pp., £34.95, March 2002, 0 904152 37 5
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... Sir Edwin (Ned) Landseer Lutyens, architect of genius, was a master of the false trail and the misleading, if jocular, aside. Born and educated in London, he preferred to dwell on his formative years in rural Surrey. Although trained in the architectural office of Ernest George and Harold Peto, the older of whom was an able vernacular revivalist and the younger a skilled landscape architect, he portrayed himself as a self-taught artist who learned what he needed by haunting the yards of traditional craftsmen builders ...


Gillian Darley: John Evelyn and his gardens

8 June 2006
... Surrey is the Country of my Birth and my delight,’ John Evelyn told John Aubrey; and like Surrey, Evelyn has had more than his fair share of bad press over the years. Yet to picture him as simply the pious sermoniser the Victorians eulogised is as misleading as to write off Surrey as wall-to-wall Weybridge. The gouged-out lanes which thread through and over the thickly wooded Surrey hills around his birthplace, Wotton, are really just tarmac versions of the tracks on which generation after generation of Evelyns travelled around their land, from Wotton itself to Abinger, Friday Street and on ...

Man on a Bicycle

Gillian Darley: Le Corbusier

9 April 2009
Le Corbusier: A Life 
by Nicholas Fox Weber.
Knopf, 823 pp., $45, November 2008, 978 0 375 41043 7
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... At the age of 70, we learn from the intimate and largely unpublished letters that are the raw material of Nicholas Fox Weber’s biography, Le Corbusier was still justifying his work, his name and his fame to his mother, by then in her late nineties. As always, he was trying to gain her favour over his (only just) older brother, the gentle but troubled Albert, a musician ...

Don’t teach me

Gillian Darley: Ernö Goldfinger

1 April 2004
Ernö Goldfinger: The Life of an Architect 
by Nigel Warburton.
Routledge, 197 pp., £30, November 2003, 0 415 25853 7
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... Architects don’t come much angrier than Ernö Goldfinger. Even among his own disillusioned generation, he seemed perpetually crosser than most. Towering, handsome, self-assured (‘Everyone always seems to have known me’), this Hungarian emigrant was quite unlike the pallid, fish-eyed Professor Otto Silenus, Evelyn Waugh’s caricature Modernist ...

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