November 6th, 2013
The architectural historian and writer Gavin Stamp is one of the ‘new Georgians,’ pioneers of gentrification who brought up their families in the unloved and unlovely bits of London, where boarded up and multi-occupied old housing stock survived and could be had cheap in the 1970s and 80s. While Dan Cruickshank squatted in Hugenot houses threatened with demolition in Spitalfields and Glynn and Carrie Boyd Harte went to Islington, the Stamps came to rest in Chad Street, within a few hundred yards of St. Pancras Station. The two atmospheric pictures below were taken there, by that non-pareil Derry Moore for Alvilde Lees-Milne’s rather brilliant book, The Englishman’s Room.Along with Charles Moore and A.N. Wilson, Gavin Stamp was one of the original triumvirate of ‘Young Fogeys,’ mentioned in despatches in The Young Fogey Handbook (1985) by Suzanne Lowry. ‘Being a fogey in those days was, in fact, a form of rebellion against the boring conformity of pop culture — against the unthinking Left-wingery of the university common rooms and the bigwigs in the art world, who were obsessed only with being modern and ‘progressive,’’ A. N. Wilson wrote in 2010. Afficiandos dressed in tweed à la Brideshead, and tended towards erudite, conservative cultural pursuits. Gavin Stamp was married to Alexandra Artley, the author, with John Martin Robinson, of an even more esoteric publication, The Young Georgian Handbook, published by Harpers and Queen in 1985. They had already set out their stall in The Spectator on 22 December 1984, in an article entitled ‘Kentucky Fried Georgian’ :
Conservation fogeys love expressing opinions. They bang on about COUNTY BOUNDARIES (‘they can call Yorkshire what they like. I come from the NORTH RIDING and PROUD of it’); ABOLITION OF TELEGRAMS (‘I shall write to the Post-Master General’); OPEN-PLAN TRAINS (‘the crack of ring-pull cans was DEAFENING!’); CENTRAL HEATING (‘don’t be so FEEBLE. It will split your mahogany’); FITTED CARPETS IN CHURCHES (`absolutely OUTRAGEOUS’); BUILDINGS BY AGEING MODERNISTS (‘meretricious TAT’)…NOUVELLE CUISINE (‘had to eat a CHEESE SANDWICH on the way home’); MICROWAVE OVENS (laughter in the house); Then, plop, the Spectator falls through the letterbox and Mr Fogey sits in COMPLETE SILENCE and reads it.
The most time-consuming thing in Mr Fogey’s life, apart from campaigning, is a house, or when he is a poor Very Young Fogey, a basement or garret flat in the right sort of house. Fogeys differ from young Sloanes in the way they look at London property. Sloanes choose the area they want to live in and then find a house. Fogeys find the perfect house to restore and don’t give a damn about the area. They go where the architecture is and this is usually the rotting Georgian centres of big cities. Fogeys like Places to be socially crunchy …Mr and Mrs Fogey like to live in decaying splendour with wonderful, slightly broken things. They love costly tatters, the aristocratic aesthetic of pleasing decay. Their walls of patchy bare plaster give the Crumbling Palazzo Look. It is like hanging pictures on the inside of a Stilton. To go with that they like old china repaired with brass rivets.
To repair their houses properly, fogeys invented architectural salvage. Miles away when philistines are gutting an old house, fogeys pick up high-frequency distress signals. Suddenly, they are there, saving the bits if they can’t actually stop the destruction. Cracked marble fireplaces, panelled doors masked by crude hardboard flushing, sash windows, shutters, Carron grates and strangely brilliant old glass are mourned over and carried home. Another good building RIP. When a demolition pickaxe shatters the work of the human hand, fogeys feel it is a blow against humanity. If an old house is modernised with a new crudely-panelled front door, fogeys call the style Kentucky Fried Georgian… Like playing with Leggo they swop building bits (one small Georgian reeded marble fireplace broken in three places equals a big cast- iron bath on claw feet).
Fogey families believe in conservation heroics. They live with no roof, then no floors, then only a few walls, but lots of dry rot, Greek builders drinking Coca-Cola, collapsing ceilings, cold water, layers of filth, cellars full of old tights and tea- leaves, re-wiring by day, re-plumbing by fly-by-night and donating the drawing room as an emergency campaign office. Fogeys learned to rough it in the early Seventies. They trained as conservation commandos in squats and Direct Action against London’s rapacious property developers.
They printed cards on which members of the public could recommend buildings for the ‘Anti-Ugly Seal of disapproval.’ Many of the buildings which they condemned were essays in modern Classicism by progressives such as Sir Albert Richardson, for the anti-uglies were actually crusaders for Modernism. Stamp tells their story in order to explore the complicated history of architectural taste and changing perceptions of ugliness, then and now.
His views are often heterodox, he questions Sir John Soane’s current status as a superstar while insisting on the brilliance of the self-taught Neo-Classical sculptor Alexander Stoddart, a ‘Canova for today.’