HNY?!? or what I really prefer is to think of the 1st January as the first blank page of a 365 page book in which YOU can write what you wish ~ now ENJOY!!
This is the view from the top of the steps of Marlborough College Chapel where I first met my future wife and where music became my main ‘raison d’être’. I returned there recently in the hope of arranging to have access to the organ having played it when learning and being the Chapel ‘organ-boy’ for the last two of my A-level years.
My ‘New World’ developed from this point and at eighteen years of age to find myself playing Schubert Impromptus on an open concert hall stage in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, a year after having left the Shire was spell-binding! Fortunate in that I was able to find a home in Hatch End with my ‘Godfather’ Patrick Vermont (a viola player in the LSO); my Auntie Marion (a cellist in the BBC Symphony Orchestra) and my Nana lived around the corner in Harrow, and my Uncle Stan (principal cellist in the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Beecham) who lived around the next corner in Kenton – he also just happened to have a superb Steinway Grand lurking in the corner of his lounge and an irresistible daughter in her early teens hardly ever at home! From that springboard I found music in abundance and a future career in architecture.
Whilst invading as many architectural practices as I could find invitations to, I stretched my fingers at piano masterclasses in The Guildhall School of Music under Kenneth van Barthold and piano dexterity classes with Anthony Kinsella in Belsize Park, where I also joined a whizzo squash club! It was a constant source of concern to my parents that I was being too easily distracted from my primary goal, having taking a year out before starting university, and that proved to be the case. In the meantime I managed to fall for the lovely Dékà, a 35yr old polish pianist who to my horror was teaching Dena, my Uncle Stan’s daughter, the piano! He turned on his heels and confronted me with the appalling news that I would never be good enough to earn a living from playing the piano. Architects earnt twice as much as musicians and I should take on board the fact that music looses much of its wonder and magic when it becomes a daily ‘job’.
My architectural journey in London started with two weeks in Robert Matthews office (RMJM) when they were ‘recreating’ Stirling and York Uni campus sites; I distinctly remember making revisions to Exeter Uni’s ‘water path’ links during my first few days! In between soirées at LSO rehearsals/concerts with Previn and then the internationally famous cellist/conductor Rostropovich, of whom I drew a very flamboyant energetic action sketch, I managed to spend several odd weeks with Erno Goldfinger and his beautiful French wife only to be told by employees not to stay as he would constantly interfere with your work to the extent of using your draughting pen for you!
The amazing but v.young Norman Foster, yes!!, took me out for lunch as he had just been awarded a coveted architectural prize for my Father’s office building in Drakes Way, Swindon: Reliance Controls, sadly now demolished. I vividly remember his asking me to define my idea of Architecture on the back of a postage stamp and then telling me I was trying to run before I could walk! His office in Hampstead was a hive of activity and a really generous family business at that time.
My next interview was with Sir Basil Spence’s team based in Canonbury, a flourishing office in London, which resulted in a second interview. I was full of myself having fallen in love with Coventry Cathedral, bringing along extra art material and line drawings as requested which they applauded but we had an extraordinary disagreement over what I can only describe as my architectural philosophy ~ actually, I think I was a bit too full of myself and needed bringing down to earth, resulting in a resounding bump/bruised ego! (It might also have been due to the fact that I happened to mention Alan Watson, a family friend in Swindon, came third in the Coventry Cathedral Competition!)
With my ‘tail between my legs’ I arrived at an office secreted away above Leadenhall Market in Central London, climbed an ancient rickety wooden staircase and came back out with my first appointment as a junior architectural assistant with Fielder & Tatnall, F/FRIBA. There were just four rooms, one each for the two partners, one for the receptionist and the last with two drawing boards one of which was mine!! First drawing was for the street logo sign for AMP Insurance Group and the second for their lift housing gear room. We did Barclays head office and London branches, numerous schools, Goldsmiths College buildings, boathouses and accommodations, and alterations to a memorable semicircular building, the Punch Offices in Bouverie Street: a vast medley of exciting work. I survived for a year which ended with my having awful bronchitis, from trying to inhale cigarette smoke, resulting in six months convalescence in Mildenhall, nr Marlborough.
I eventually returned to London to pursue an amazing role as Architectural Assistant with Laurence King & Ptns, Gower Street, essentially Church and School Architects. I was attached to Laurence’s team upstairs next to his plush, well appointed office. Did I revel in the best world ever but as always we take too much for granted and leaving his office has to be my one big regret in life! We were mainly responsible for Exeter and Blackburn Cathedral, numerous churches and vicarages; I drew all the printed/published material, organ cases, the cathedral crossing in Blackburn alongside John Piper the sculptor, the new East Door in glass at Exeter Cathedral and a pair of squash courts for Framlingham College! I must comment on the fact that I designed the very first open tread cantilevered wooden staircase with a triple railing using stringed tensioned stainless steel wires ~ oh how I wish that I had registered it under a patent ~ my design has been copied and manufactured thousands of times since then so it must have worked despite the structural engineers having a nervous breakdown! Unbelievably a colleague of mine was designing a staircase for National Power’s New Headquarters in Swindon twenty years later: I placed my hand on his shoulder, said “excuse me, that’s a copy of the staircase I designed to lead up to the viewing gallery of the squash courts at Framlingham College” ~ Robert’s face was a picture! I was certainly one very privileged lad in a team of just three. We would frequently go to Covent Garden and on for black tie dinner events! Treats out for us, the ‘youngsters’ including seeing “Hair” the musical down the road ~ all quite unforgettable.
I tried unsuccessfully to get into the AA School of Architecture in Bedford Square, literally around the corner, but they didn’t seem keen on ‘mature’ students. I do wish that I had stayed at No.9 Gower Street and to overlook about qualifying as an Architect!
A brief afterthought:
Luke Chapman was the photographer of the picture below, which is my No.1 favourite photo of the city! It’s extra special as I submitted a scheme for the Greenwich Design Competition including a 500m long compass on the meridian line that the public could displace and watch in awe as it slowly navigated back to due north, hopefully knocking over members of the public in its path ~ no doubt the reason for my not being shortlisted!!