Seeking Nairn’s London


There’s a strong possibility that Nairn’s London will be back in print later this year. So David McKie and I, as co-authors of Ian Nairn: Words in Place have divided up London and its extremities (from Uxbridge to Dagenham was his ambition) and are looking around to see which of the almost fifty-year-old entries needs an indication of current condition – or its loss. To start at the end, Dagenham church, for example, is still there, but even more isolated than it was in Nairn’s day, stranded in Ford Motors’ company town, now gone belly-up. The churchyard is a nature reserve, the building is, viewed from the outside at least, in good condition, but the surroundings are dire. But without Nairn, I would never have found it. Equally, round the back of Fenchurch Street station, in the City, is French Ordinary Court. When Nairn was tramping around, the alley was threatened by development; now that development itself is elderly, but the entrance off Crutched Friars is there, as atmospheric and promising as its name (though it does not, on closer examination, deliver much beyond the street approach). Watch this space – I plan to fill the dank days of early 2014 with more dispatches from the Nairn’s London front and, very soon, hope to reveal when and by whom it is to be re-published.


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Nairn takes off!

Ian Nairn at Cardington, in his final film for BBC in the Finding Follies series

Here are some early responses

Nairn, in his raincoat and Morris Minor, was an unlikely Icarus. He flew, he burned, he drowned. As alcoholism is now recognised as a disease, we should perhaps simply say that that is what killed him, but it might also be possible to guess that, in asking architecture to fill an emotional void, he was seeking the impossible. Also, that, in wanting officialdom to feel as intensely about places as he did, he was doomed to disappointment. But anyone who cares even slightly about their surroundings should be intensely grateful for his attempt. –Rowan Moore, The Observer

I am far from alone in having the awkward, melancholic architectural writer and broadcaster as one of my heroes: partly for his deep conviction that the built environment mattered, partly for his insistence – in defiance of modernist orthodoxy – that people mattered more. One day no doubt Nairn will get a heavy-duty biography, but for the time being this elegant, rather slighter treatment does the job with charm and just the right degree of critical affection. –David Kynaston, The Guardian, Books of the Year, 2013.

Richard Strachan blog
‘As a writer and broadcaster Nairn was unafraid to speak his mind, and Darley and McKie perfectly capture his belligerence and critical force….This excellent collection of essays is an ideal introduction to a powerful writer and personality who has languished in obscurity for too long.’

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November, a busy month

Ian Nairn: Words in Place is published November 14 by Five Leaves Publications. David McKie and I take part in the LRB bookshop event on 19 November, chaired by Owen Hatherley.



On November 27 I am giving the Soane Annual Lecture on Nairn’s London at the Art Worker’s Guild




My article in the London Library magazine, ‘Ian Nairn’s London’ will be in the winter 2013 issue – due mid November.


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news for September

September 12th talking about John Soane and St Pancras at St Pancras Old Church.


September 23rd talking, with others, about Ian Nairn at the Barbican

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Vesuvius at Lowdham

Lowdham Book Festival Scroll to page 12 to find the details of my Vesuvius talk early on the final day of the Festival, Saturday June 29th.
It’s a great little celebration of books (and more) in an intriguing part of England, close to Southwell and Newark and not so far from Nottingham. Lowdham even has its own railway station (photo courtesy of – so no excuses.

...with thanks to

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10 days in the USA

Ten days in the USA filled my head with impressions. First visits to Charleston and Savannah revealed towns that are immeasurably different, even if both are in the southern states, both antebellum. Live oaks are veiled in Spanish moss, a reminder of the humid, extreme, climate.

In atmosphere I found Charleston gentler. The view of water lapping away at the far end of King Street was magic (on a fine spring morning, at least) but I overdosed on gigantic handsome houses on which prodigious sums of money had been spent and where, I gather, their wealthy owners rarely come.

The more modest areas with their ‘single’ house, one room, gable end onto the street, spilling onto ‘piazzas’ (the tiered balconies,with doors alongside) demonstrate more surprises and signs of life.

Savannah spoke volumes to this Bloomsbury dweller. The humane plan, based on a linked sequence of public green spaces (eighteen, I think) 1820’s to 1860’s in character, was really appealing. The waterfront is quite a separate deal, tougher but complementary. To my considerable surprise I discovered John Soane’s influence in Savannah through the work of architect William Jay, who arrived there from London in 1817, steeped in what he learned from his Professor of Architecture at the Royal Academy.

Currently the entire city of Savannah is benefiting from education. Over fifty buildings (mostly historic structures, many brought back from disuse) scattered across the town, are part of the ambitious Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) expansion plan.

From there to New York City. Teeming with new open spaces, ranging from the High Line (I prefer the Parisian version) to Brooklyn Bridge Park, a work in progress along the shoreline of the old port area and now framing the new buildings as they rise on Ground Zero across the water.

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Life and death Pompeii and Herculaneum


A nice sight for an author! a lovely great heap of their books handily positioned to catch exhibition goers leaving the fantastic, poignant show Life and Death Pompeii and Herculaneum  at the British Museum until 29 September 2013.

Thursday 2 May I’ll be talking about how one volcano caught the imagination of the world, from classical times until now.
A joint enterprise between Ealing Libraries and Waterstones.
Venue The Green Room, Ealing Central Library, Broadway Centre, W5 5JY.
Free but they recommend advance booking. Look forward to meeting you there.
Enquiries: 020 8825 9278

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London in flux


Looking out from the Rubicon. Shard far left, London Eye towards the right. Kings Cross sheds in their glory. Soon ten storey bocks will obstruct the view, leaving just two chinks.



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Where in the world?


Walking at weekend struck by this landscape, universal in its look.

Essex…and to catch more glimpses of this maligned county

see Jonathan Meades excellent programme for BBC 4


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Cambridge Botanic Garden

botanics        Cambridge Botanic Garden, the winter garden – exuberant branchscape.

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