Tag Archives: RIBA

chasing Walter’s ghost through London (no scone left unturned)




It’s my last day of this English sojourn, appropriately spent in a number of Walter’s haunts, or at least as I fancy them, places that he still haunts.  Started at the architectural drawings study room of the V & A to see the watercolor renderings that Walter presented to the RIBA when he arrived in London in 1838 at the start of a four-month European tour.  Will conclude the day in a few hours’ time at St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields to  hear a concert with the Academy conducted by Sir Neville Marriner.  Walter had no time for concerts and had interest in neither the Anglican service housed within the church nor its Baroque vessel.  But he did stay at Morley’s Hotel, immediately adjacent, so he could have hardly missed it.  I’m currently writing from the location of his great reception into British architectural professional society, as on his first night in London he attended the RIBA, then housed in rooms on Conduit Street.  It’s now the home of Sketch, a very swish cafe where I have just consumed an extraordinary cream tea.  I came with reservations that any cream tea should cost £10.50, but am happy to report if any are worth that sum, especially given the current dreadful exchange rate, that was the one.  Even so, I am sure my architect would be scandalized by the indulgence, even more so by the behavior around me, with people drinking champagne in the middle of the afternoon.  No, perhaps I would be more scandalous yet: a lone woman, in public, hatless and even baring my ankles.

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fortuitously beautiful research

RIBA library

I suppose it’s possible that a person might select their research agenda solely on the criteria of conducting their research in wonderful places.  That was not my approach when I started down this road, some seventeen years ago, on the trail of a nineteenth-century American architect.  Tracking down Walter’s paper trail has led to some mildly dismal places (literally the closet of a small historical society, municipal records departments), and some pretty wonderful ones (lovely architecture museums, gorgeous big-city libraries).  I was treated to one of the latter two days ago here in London; it is also one of the happiest justifications for this trip.  The library of the Royal Institute of British Architects is a swish place on two floors of the Institute’s great 1930s Classical building.  Wonderful place, full of distractingly interesting things, and run by friendly librarians to boot.  And we all know, a friendly librarian is a researcher’s best friend.

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