You can also dance with robots, date by slot machine and boil an egg straight from the chicken, thanks to Heath Robinson. Helpful devices to do all these things are now on view in the big new book we publish today, Very Heath Robinson. The author is Adam Hart-Davis, presenter of What the Romans Did for Us, and Philip Pullman has written the Foreword.
Posts Tagged ‘History and Art’
Philip Pullman has written the Foreword to Adam Hart-Davis’s new book Very Heath Robinson, celebrating the work of one of Great Britain’s best-loved artists.
Adam Hart-Davis has delivered the text for our spring book Very Heath Robinson, the pictures have been laid out and the colour proofs approved. In a few days we’ll be ready for press.
The Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen used a Heath Robinson contraption to cut the ribbon when he opened the Heath Robinson Museum in Pinner.
The opening of the Heath Robinson Museum on 15th October was a delightfully parochial event.
On 31st May 2016 Heath Robinson would have been 144. Artist, humorist and Contraptioneer Extraordinary, he satirized the technical advances and social pretensions of three generations, from the 1890s to the 1940s. To celebrate a birthday blow-out, we are proud to announce that the well-known television presenter and author Adam Hart-Davis will write a new book for us called Very Heath Robinson.
We would like to congratulate The William Heath Robinson Trust on passing their fund-raising target of £32,500 on Kickstarter.
We support The William Heath Robinson Trust in their plan to build a Heath Robinson Museum in Pinner, north London. Their fund-raising campaign on Kickstarter is 93 per cent funded. They need help to get to 100%.
Since the age of two, Charles Brooking has been collecting architectural detail. He has amassed 250,000 items of salvage, which have just been moved into temporary storage following the withdrawal of support from the University of Greenwich. The collection urgently needs a new home and funding to preserve it for the future. Can you help? For more on this unique archive, click here.
Network Rail have unveiled their plans for the redevelopment of London Bridge station. The aim of the new design, by the architectural firm Grimshaw, is to make it easier for passengers to enter and exit, but the scheme has drawn controversy due to the proposed demolition of the buildings at 64-84 Tooley Street.
The former South Eastern Railway Offices at 64-84 Tooley Street were built between 1897 and 1900 by the architects Charles Barry and Son. Charles Barry Sr created the Gothic extravaganza of the Houses of Parliament. This is the only surviving commercial building by his son, and it is an important part of the London Bridge conservation area. Do we really want to swap this for Network Rail’s new entrance to London Bridge station (see our Blog)?
The practitioners of the modern architectural establishment are on the march again. Like matron, they are determined to force another dose of utilitarianism down our throats.
Today is the 160th anniversary of the closing of the Great Exhibition. In the five months since it opened, over six million people had visited and viewed the 100,000 objects on display, including exhibits from France, America, Canada, India and Russia. To the surprise of many, the exhibition made a profit of £186,000, most of which was used to create the South Kensington museums. The influence of the Great Exhibition on interior design is examined in The Victorian House Book.
On this day in 1852, the architect Augustus Pugin died at his home in Ramsgate, Kent. His most famous project was his work with Sir Charles Barry on the Palace of Westminster after the old building had been destroyed by fire in 1834. Pugin was responsible for the design of the interior and some of the exterior details. His contribution to architecture and interior design is covered extensively in The Victorian House Book, from which this detail in the Palace of Westminster is taken.
Architectural Propriety · Edward Burne-Jones · Joseph Paxton · Great Exhibition · St Pancras Hotel
The Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones was born 178 years ago today. Inspired by the artists of the Italian Renaissance, his paintings depict graceful figures in meticulously detailed medieval settings and are often on mythological or religious subjects. His interest in medieval art can also be seen in the stained glass and tapestry designs he produced for Morris & Co. This example is taken from The Victorian House Book by Robin Guild.
In our Architectural Mini-Quiz, launched on 23rd August, we asked you to say which of these three buildings you preferred: (from left) A, B or C. We can now report that 71% of respondents chose A, 20% B and 9% C. There is a lesson here.
We asked you to say which of these three buildings you preferred: (from left) A, B or C. We can now report that 71% of respondents chose A, 20% B and 9% C. There is a lesson here. To read more, please turn to our Blog.
Here are three buildings in the seaside town of Moneglia in Liguria, northern Italy. Which do you prefer: (from left) A, B or C? We will explain the purpose of the quiz as soon as we have the results at the end of this week. Please express your preference by clicking here.
Walter Crane was born in Liverpool on 15th August 1845. His prolific career reached its zenith with his brightly coloured toy books, created for children but prized by connoisseurs of design. The popularity of these books was hardly surprising, given the care that went into their production and the colours which glowed from every page.
On this day in 1845, the artist and designer Walter Crane was born in Liverpool. A Utopian Socialist, Crane aimed to bring art into the homes of the people with his designs for wallpaper, pottery, fabrics and ceramic tiles. He founded the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society in 1888. He was also one of the leading children’s book illustrators of the 19th century, along with Kate Greenaway and Randolph Caldecott.
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Today is the 210th anniversary of the birth of Sir Joseph Paxton, who designed the Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition of 1851. The building was modelled on a conservatory he had created at Chatsworth to house the giant Victoria amazonica water lily. The plant’s vein structure is said to have been the inspiration for his design. There is a chapter on garden design, including conservatories, in The Victorian House Book. Paxton’s railway work is covered in The Railway Heritage of Britain.
On this day in 1870, the Anglo-French writer Hilaire Belloc was born in La Celle-Saint-Cloud, France. Although he wrote numerous works of history and biography, he is best remembered for his macabre humorous verse, such as ‘Matilda’. To find an equally naughty Matilda, go to When Grandmama Fell Off The Boat.
The great days of railway luxury are returning. Today Top Table have a special offer on the St Pancras Grand, ‘a stylish, romantic destination restaurant’. When was the last time a railway dining room was connected with romance? Brief Encounter? Early next year, the restored King’s Cross station will be unveiled, offering more 19th-century splendour. For a snapshot of the work in progress, see our Blog.
Last Thursday, as a member of the Railway Heritage Trust Advisory Panel, I toured the works at King’s Cross, where Lewis Cubitt’s 1852 terminus is being restored and a new concourse added.
Up on the roof, as we walked along the valley gutter between the twin trainshed arches, we saw new plate-glass and solar-voltaic panels being installed. From the parapet of the station façade we could survey the entire battlefield of 19th-century railway rivalry, the plain engineering style of the Great Northern at King’s Cross facing the Gothic upstart of the Midland’s St Pancras across the road. Further west, now converted into a concrete hulk, lies the terminus of the North Western at Euston, on which the statue of Britannia atop St Pancras turns her back.
The Project Director for King’s Cross, Ian Fry, has all the ebullience of a railway engineer who knows he is creating the future. We have come a long way from the two original Departures and Arrivals platforms at King’s Cross, with sidings in between. Passenger numbers are now higher than they were in the 1920s, and are expected to continue rising, so a large new concourse is essential. It is being built in the space between King’s Cross and the Great Northern Hotel. As the last of the scaffolding is dismantled, the sweep of the honeycomb roof can be appreciated. ‘Jaw-dropping’ is what most visitors tell Fry, and it is. As a new railway building, it’s as good as you get, and Fry is justly proud of his achievement. Maybe his name will rank alongside Cubitt’s a hundred years from now.
As we toured the station, I was ready to embrace the undeniable feats of engineering which have created underground service tunnels, sweeping passenger interchanges and concrete underpinning good enough to last a thousand years. The reglazed trainshed roofs will look stunning when all the gantries and covers have been removed. Part of the western range of buildings which was destroyed by a bomb in the Second World War is finally being rebuilt. The original booking office will be re-opened and the largest railway pub in Britain created further up the platform. Where necessary, panelled sash windows are being reinstated and the original station master’s office will once again become operational.
What I was uneasy about, when I saw the first drawings, I am still uneasy about. The new honeycomb-roofed concourse is a soaring success in its own right, but it is, as Ian Fry proclaimed, a new railway building, and as such it upstages Cubitt’s original design. Like a flying saucer, it has come to rest between two 19th-century developments, the western range of King’s Cross station and the back of the Great Northern Hotel, to which it is attached. It has nothing in common with either. Its steel girders cascade down in front of Cubitt’s western frontage, partly obscuring it. The mellow brick and sash windows of the original station are now seen through a glass screen. Two different idioms are jammed together, and inevitably they conflict. Cubitt’s idiom is Victorian domestic in brick, stone and wood, allied with engineering prowess in wrought iron and glass. Fry’s idiom is steel and concrete, and at the base of the new flying saucer you can see massive reinforced steel joists and concrete footings. Fine it may be, but it has nothing to do with the listed buildings it is supposed to complement.
The language of today’s engineer is steel and concrete, loads and functions. I do not doubt Fry’s satisfaction in the work he has undertaken to restore and reinstate so much of Cubitt’s station. He is to be congratulated for his enthusiasm and evident commitment. My concern is broader. Steel and concrete bring structural strength, and with strength comes superiority. It is only too easy for today’s engineers to assume that new is better. You can see the march of this belief in cities all over the world. Right here, there is an example of thoughtless modernism in the extension to St Pancras station, a glass box which bears no relation to the Barlow trainshed or the rich polychrome brickwork of the main station. The same is true of the Underground tunnels and concourses which are supposed to be part of the scheme.
Engineers and planners think it’s okay to jam a utilitarian box up against a soaring piece of architecture, but they are wrong. It will take decades more before this mistake is recognized for what it is, and by then our cities will be that much uglier than they have already become since the end of the Second World War. The extension of St Pancras is in everyday use, and I use it. The new concourse of King’s Cross will be opened early next year, and I will use that, too. But I will be hoping that, in a new age of enlightenment still to commence, architects and engineers will once again take a Grand Tour of the styles, master the subtleties of idiom and refrain from cramming unadorned steel and concrete down our throats.
There will be another test of architectural awareness when the 1970s concourse in front of King’s Cross is cleared away and an open plaza created. Two ventilation shafts from the Underground will remain. How should they be clothed and camouflaged? Here is an opportunity. Planners, engineers, architects and designers should ask themselves, what is the prevailing idiom of King’s Cross? What are the prevailing materials?
In designing a sign for the station entrance, they should ask the same questions. A quick look at the entrance to the re-opened St Pancras Hotel might provide a clue.
The views expressed here are my own and do not represent Railway Heritage Trust policy. To see pictures of the King’s Cross Regeneration Project, please visit our Facebook page (below) and click on Photos.
Today is the bicentenary of the birth of Sir George Gilbert Scott, the architect who designed the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens and the soaring hotel at St Pancras station. The hotel re-opened on 5th May, with many of its original features restored.
As publishers of The Victorian House Book and The Railway Heritage of Britain, we are instantly alert to any good-news story about Victorian architecture, still the butt of modernist derision 30 years after the death of Sir John Betjeman, and few stories can have had such a positive slant as the re-opening of the St Pancras Hotel. Formerly called the Midland Grand Hotel, to reflect the aspirations of the Midland Railway, one of the last to reach London, it was the grandest of grand termini. Its architect, Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-78), designed everything, right down to the chandeliers and the door handles. Abandoned by British Rail in 1985, it stood empty for 20 years. On 5th May 2011 it reopened as a luxury hotel. Excitingly, the decorators discovered the original wallpaper in what is now the Sir Gilbert Scott Suite, and it has been faithfully reprinted and reinstated, along with many other original details all over the building. The 1873 restaurant has been brought back to life as The Gilbert Scott. As the hotel historian Royden Stock has said, it is amazing that they have got it this right.
My own connection to the St Pancras Hotel goes back to 1983 when we published The Railway Heritage of Britain in association with the British Railways Board. The project was the brainchild of Bernard Kaukas, Director – Environment at British Rail; he was the only contributor permitted to comment on the embarrassingly poor state of Britain’s railway architecture. In his piece on The Splendours and Miseries of British Rail’s Architectural Heritage, we showed a picture of the western tower of the St Pancras Hotel, freshly washed on his orders. The rest of the façade was left dirty. As the caption explained, it would cost at least another £1 million to finish cleaning the brickwork, and at the time it seemed a faint hope that even the exterior would be done, let alone the interior. As we prepared the book for publication, we spread out scores of 8 x 10 in. black and white prints from the hotel’s 19th-century heyday and gawped at the magnificence of Scott’s reception rooms, with antimacassars on the armchairs and chandeliers ablaze. We never imagined we would see this lavish magnificence faithfully recreated.
Shortly after the publication of the book, the Railway Heritage Trust was founded with financial support from British Rail, under the chairmanship of Sir William McAlpine. Luminaries from the worlds of railways and architecture became members of the Advisory Panel, and I was honoured to be invited to join them. In 1995 the annual meeting of the Advisory Panel was held in the dilapidated grandeur of the St Pancras Hotel, interrupted by a prolonged power cut. In the gloom of an October afternoon, we toured miles of silent corridors, peering into empty bedrooms where the soot spilled out of abandoned fireplaces. Encouragingly, we were shown that beneath each floor there was a cavernous crawl space through which, in principle, modern wiring and plumbing could be routed. The question was, could any investors be found to take on such a daunting and extravagant project?
Now we have the answer. The hotel is once again open, and next week, following a hard-hat inspection of the engineering works in progress at King’s Cross, I will once again ascend the grand staircase and tour the St Pancras Hotel, this time occupied by guests and refulgent in all its Gothic splendour. I doff my hat to Sir John Betjeman, who sounded the call to honour and preserve our Victorian heritage. Thanks to him, we can still celebrate and enjoy some of our greatest 19th-century architectural achievements, including this one on the bicentenary of Sir George Gilbert Scott’s birth.
There is a very good BBC news report, including a clip of Sir John Betjeman touring the St Pancras Hotel, and you can see it by clicking here. It is also well worth watching Tim Hayward’s review of Marcus Wareing’s new restaurant at St Pancras, The Gilbert Scott. If you are up for some bureaucrat bashing, read Simon Jenkins in The Guardian.
Scott of St Pancras
Today is the bicentenary of the birth of Sir George Gilbert Scott, architect of the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras, re-opened this year and featured today as a Google Doodle.
Sir George Gilbert Scott is perhaps best known as the architect of the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens and the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras station. The hotel re-opened on 5th May 2011, with many of its original features restored. This is an achievement we could only dream of when we featured the hotel in The Railway Heritage of Britain in 1983. If anyone is still unconvinced of Scott’s standing as an architect, may we suggest a walk up his grand staircase at St Pancras. There is more on this subject in our Blog, and you can see an album of 21 photographs on our Facebook page.
The humorous verse of Harry Graham was an early hit with several 20th-century literary figures, including W. H. Auden, George Orwell and Agatha Christie. The hilarious rhymes they adored as children remained with them, popping up unexpectedly in their heads during their writing careers.
W. H. Auden
When asked by The Paris Review whether reading poetry had influenced his decision to write, Auden responded that as a child the only poetry he had been interested in was the ‘sick’ kind, including Harry Graham’s Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes. Here is his favourite:
Into the drinking well
The plumber built her
Aunt Maria fell;
We must buy a filter.
Orwell was struck by an anecdote in Salvador Dali’s autobiography which described how Dali had kicked his sister in the head as a child. This reminded him of something: ‘What was it?’ he asked himself. ‘Of course! Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes, by Harry Graham.’
Poor little Willy is crying so sore,
A sad little boy is he,
For he’s broken his little sister’s neck
And he’ll have no jam for tea.
A reader of murder mysteries asked Agatha Christie about the origin of four lines of poetry quoted by one of her characters. Had Christie written these herself? Christie admitted she had not, nor could she remember where she had heard them. The reader then started to investigate. She wrote to everyone she could think of to try to find out the source of the mystery rhyme but no one recognized it. Except, that is, for the crime writer Ruth Rendell. Yet she too struggled to recollect who had written the troublesome fragment.
The days passed slowly, one by one;
I fed the ducks, reproved my wife,
Played Handel’s Largo on the fife,
Or gave the dog a run.
Eventually, it was Miles Kington who saved the day. He discovered the lines in When Grandmama Fell Off The Boat and was able to solve the case of the missing rhyme.
When Grandmama Fell Off The Boat is the only comprehensive anthology of Graham’s humorous verse, compiled with the help of his daughter, Virginia. It contains not only the best of his Ruthless Rhymes but also a selection of longer poems, and it is in one of these, Creature Comforts, that Agatha Christie’s quotation can be found.
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