Where are the Betjemans de nos jours?

We need more opinionated English eccentrics making documentaries like, ahem, me...

6 September 2014

Is it just me or are almost all TV documentaries completely unwatchable these days? I remember when I first started this job I’d review one almost every fortnight. Always there’d… Read more

St Enodoc Church overlooking St Enodoc golf course and the sea beyond, Rock, Cornwall. John Betjeman lies buried in the graveyard

The ultimate guide to Cornwall

19 July 2014
Cornwall Peter Beacham and Nikolaus Pevsner

Yale University Press, pp.800, £35, ISBN: 9780300126686

Before writing this review I spent an hour looking for my original Pevsner paperback on Cornwall, published in 1951 (the first in the ‘Buildings of England’ series). It was falling… Read more

English tea-chests are thrown into Boston harbour, 16 December 1773

A Labour MP defends the Empire – and only quotes Lenin twice

14 June 2014
Ten Cities that Made an Empire Tristram Hunt

Allen Lane, pp.514, £25, ISBN: 9781846143250

In a grand history of the British empire — because that is what this book really is —  you might expect more hand-wringing from a historian and Labour MP who… Read more

Curse of the Gherkin

Why the bankers’ bonus debate is not going away

A bouquet to Alison Kennedy, ‘governance and stewardship director’ at the Edinburgh-based pensions provider Standard Life, for leading the rebellion of Barclays shareholders against the bank’s decision to pay increased… Read more


What Quique Dacosta knows that Picasso didn’t

29 March 2014

Chefs have a problem. Think of much of the best food you have ever eaten. Caviar, English native oysters, sashimi, foie gras, truffles, jamon iberico, grouse, golden plover, properly hung… Read more

Hotel Chelsea

Where artists went to drink and die

8 February 2014
Inside the Dream Palace: The Life and Times of New York’s Legendary Chelsea Hotel Sherill Tippins

Simon & Schuster, pp.457, £20, ISBN: 9780743295611

Once below a time (to quote the man himself) the bloated poet Dylan Thomas slouched back to New York’s Chelsea Hotel in the dead of night and informed his mistress… Read more

The real life of the Kremlin will always remain off-limits to ordinary Russians

Secrets of the Kremlin

14 December 2013
Red Fortress Catherine Merridale

Allen Lane, pp.505, £30, ISBN: 9781846140372

A building bearing testimony to the power of eternal Russia; a timeless symbol of the Russian state; a monument to Russian sovereignty. To the modern eye, the Kremlin fortress seems… Read more


Interview David Chipperfield: It is better to be fond of architecture than amazed by it

7 December 2013

For a man who’s about to celebrate his 60th birthday, Sir David Chipperfield looks remarkably fresh-faced. His pale blue eyes are bright and piercing, his thick white hair is cut… Read more

Fans, 1924, by Georges Barbier

A book on Art Deco that's a work of art in itself — but where's the Savoy, Claridge's and the Oxo Tower? 

30 November 2013
Art Deco Norbert Wolf

Prestel, pp.288, £60, ISBN: 9783791347646

Over the past 45 years, there have been two distinct and divergent approaches to Art Deco. One of them — which was mine when I wrote the first little book… Read more

The London terminus of the North Western Railyway in the 1860s, showing a busy scene in front of the Euston Arch, which was demolished a century later

The men who demolished Victorian Britain

23 November 2013
Anti-Ugly: Excursions in English Architecture and Design Gavin Stamp

Aurum, pp.260, £16.99, ISBN: 9781781311233

Lost Victorian Britain: How the 20th Century Destroyed the 19th Century’s Architectural Masterpieces Gavin Stamp

Aurum, pp.192, £12.99, ISBN: 9781781310182

Anyone with a passing interest in old British buildings must get angry at the horrors inflicted on our town centres over the last half-century or so. Gavin Stamp is wonderfully,… Read more

One of the two pavilions at Stoke Park, designed by Inigo Jones

Is Northamptonshire not scenic enough to visit?

9 November 2013
The Buildings of England: Northamptonshire Bruce Bailey, Niklaus Pevsner and Bridget Cherry

Yale, pp.757, £35, ISBN: 9780300185072

I don’t know whether Bruce Bailey, a proud Northamptonshire man, agrees with the late Sir Nikolaus Pevsner that no one would visit his county for its landscape. In the introduction… Read more


Taki: Mayor Bloomberg has sold New York out to the highest bidder

5 October 2013

 New York The trouble with driving into the city is nostalgia. Manhattan Island looms into view and it still has the same effect of wonderment as it did long ago.… Read more

‘Madonna of the Future’, 1967, 
made from a 
headless mannequin, 
electric cord, 
a Belling’s heater and the Henry James novel of the same name

Adhocism, by Charles Jencks - review

6 July 2013
Adhocism: The Case for Improvisation Charles Jencks and Nathan Silver

MIT, pp.256, £17.95, ISBN: 9780262518444

Here, for time travellers, is the whack-job spirit of ’68 in distillate form, paperbound and reissued in facsimile (with some exculpatory, older and wiser material fore and aft). Adhocism (re)captures… Read more

The Church of the Nativity of Our Lady on the Podmoklovo Estate, Serpukov, Moscow Region

Russia: A World Apart, by Simon Marsden - review

1 June 2013
Russia: A World Apart Simon Marsden and Duncan McLaren

Mudds and Stoke, pp.144, £25, ISBN: 9780957379503

Here are acres of desolate countryside, pockmarked by once great estates, ravaged by rot. Could it be much bleaker? Many aristocrats  fled Russia during the Revolution. Even Tolstoy’s family were… Read more

La Maison Blanche: the house Le Corbusier built as a present for his parents

Le Corbusier was ashamed of the house he built

1 June 2013

On the outskirts of La Chaux-de-Fonds, an industrial town in the Swiss Jura, stands one of the most beautiful houses I’ve seen. Elegant and understated, La Maison Blanche is the… Read more

The ultimate fashion accessory?
Left: the hermitage at Dale Abbey, Derbyshire and (right) the new hermitage, Painshill, Surrey

The Hermit in the Garden, by Gordon Campbell - review

11 May 2013
The Hermit in the Garden: From Imperial Rome to Ornamental Gnome Gordon Campbell

OUP, pp.257, £16.99, ISBN: 9780199696994

In his 1780 essay On Modern Gardening Horace Walpole declared that of the many ornamental features then fashionable, the one ‘whose merit soonest fades’ was the hermitage. Inspired by the… Read more

The symbolism of the cemetery: the draped urn, popular among the Victorians, is usually taken to mean that the soul has departed the shrouded body for its journey to heaven

How to Read a Graveyard, by Peter Stanford - review

4 May 2013
How to Read a Graveyard Peter Stanford

Bloomsbury, pp.263, £16.99, ISBN: 9781441174777

Peter Stanford likes cemeteries. Daily walks with his dog around a London graveyard acclimatised him, while the deaths of his parents set him wondering about customs of mourning and places… Read more


Defending the real Downton Abbeys

9 March 2013

From a horrific Victorian murder to its role as a royal refuge from Nazi invasion, Newby Hall has known enough genuine drama to make a primetime telly series. And in… Read more

East window of Holy Trinity Church,Templebreedy, Co. Cork, designed by William Burges

William Burges and the High Victorian Dream', by J. Mordaunt Crook - review

9 March 2013
William Burges and the High Victorian Dream J. Mordaunt Crook

Frances Lincoln, pp.432, £45, ISBN: 9780711233492

It is 32 years since the first edition of this hefty book appeared in 1981. The original was based on the research materials amassed by Charles Handley-Read, the pioneer scholar… Read more

‘On Glasgow and Edinburgh', by Robert Crawford - review

9 March 2013
On Glasgow and Edinburgh Robert Crawford

Belknap Press, Harvard University, pp.344, $35, ISBN: 9780674048881

Glasgow and Edinburgh are so nearby that even in the 18th-century Adam Smith could breakfast in one city and be in the other for early-afternoon dinner. For all that, these… Read more

At least Prince Charles should be happy with the roof of the new Design Museum in Holland Park

The new Design Museum: Prince Charles will prefer it. But should we?

2 March 2013

Twenty-five years ago I went to St James’s Palace to ask the Prince of Wales if he would open the new Design Museum. Before us was the model of the… Read more


The shape of things to come

31 December 2011
Futurescapes: Designers for Tomorrow’s Outdoor Spaces Tim Richardson

Thames & Hudson, pp.351, 24.95

Drawing for Landscape Architecture: Sketch to Screen to Site Edward Hutchison

Thames & Hudson, pp.240, 29.95

I opened Futurescapes with anticipation, knowing Tim Richardson to be a forceful commentator, and landscape architects to be in dire need of an articulate champion. The mixed marriage of ‘landscape’… Read more


Amazing grace

3 December 2011
Downside Abbey: An Architectural History edited by Dom Aidan Bellenger

Merrell, pp.224, 45

It was in 1814 that the Benedictine monks arrived in Stratton-on-the-Fosse in Somerset from Douai in Flanders where, in 1606, they had established an exiled, but English, monastic house. They… Read more


Rather in the lurch

9 April 2011
The Irish Country House the Knight of Glin and James Peill, with photographs by James Fennell

Thames & Hudson, pp.192, 24.95

The Country House Revealed: A Secret History of the British Ancestral Home Dan Cruickshank

BBC Books, pp.288, 25

Will it ever end? The romantic interest in the architecture, history and life lived in the country house is as alive today as it was in 1978, when Mark Girouard… Read more


Vertically challenged

27 November 2010

St Paul’s Cathedral is quite rightly something of a national obsession. No other building has protected ‘view corridors’ as a result of legislation in 1935, when new building regulations allowed… Read more