“Every ceiling, when reached, becomes a floor…

…upon which one walks as a matter of course and prescriptive right.” Aldous Huxley

Rowan Moore wrote in 2011 of George Gilbert Scott’s design for the Midland Grand Hotel (completed in 1876), which the architect, working in the English Gothic Revival, considered his most successful project. Now the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, it is attached to the railway station for which Scott also designed the accommodation. Moore describes:

“….pointed arches and ogees, bunches of colonettes, carvings of flowers and fruit, trefoils and quatrefoils. The materials include granite, alternating pink and white stone and wrought iron. The decoration, as it would have been in medieval buildings, is as dazzling as it can be: within a square foot or two, you can find royal blue, vermilion, gold, green, pink and a mustardy yellow. Great floral splodges march across the wallpaper…”.

Moore explains that for Scott:

“…the project was the fulfilment of his greatest dream, to design a great Gothic public building in London. For him the making of this monument went beyond mere uses; it was almost “too good for its purpose,” he said.”.

This evening I am three stops away on the Piccadilly Line to Covent Garden, and not far off stylistically, at the Chapel of King’s College London, another of Scott’s many works. King’s College was founded by men of deep religious conviction. Robert Smirke was appointed architect of the new college in 1829. When reconstruction of the chapel was proposed thirty years later, Scott’s scheme, to be modelled on the lines of an ancient Christian basilica, was accepted.

The event I’m attending is one of a series, and is entitled “Poetry and…the Havoc of the body”.

(In passing: “The Black Book of the Admiralty”, 1385 is a collection of laws in French and Latin that relate to the organisation of the English Navy. In the “Ordinances of War of Richard II” we find: “Item, qe nul soit si hardy de crier havok.” (Item: No one should be so foolish as to cry havoc.”) ).

Ruth Padel, who has been Professor of Poetry at King’s since 2013, chairs this series, to which tonight’s event brings writers Gavin Francis and Linda Gregerson.

In October 2015, the Chapel was the location for the Churches Conservation Trust’s Annual Lecture, “George Gilbert Scott: the family that built Gothic Britain”. I didn’t persevere long with the recording on YouTube, as the sound quality is poor. Long enough, however, to see Loyd Grossman (Honorary Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Glaziers, and Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Carpenters) offer the Rev Canon Professor Richard Burridge, Dean of KCL and Professor of Biblical Interpretation, work as roadie for his band, “The New Forbidden”.

The lecturer on that occasion, Dan Cruickshank, recommended the important and then newly published book, “Gothic for the Steam Age” by his friend Gavin Stamp, who has since died at the very end of 2017. In an obituary for the Spectator, Charles Moore recalled:

“Gavin made his greatest splash in the paper early in 1985 with his cover piece: “Telephone boxes: reverse the changes”. This led our vigorous campaign to force the newly privatised British Telecom to stop ripping out all its 76,500 K2 and K6 red telephone boxes, designed by Giles Gilbert Scott, perhaps the best pieces of street furniture ever made.”.

Giles Scott, grandson of the aforementioned George Gilbert Scott (Sr) designed a four sided rectangular box with a domed roof, largely inspired by the mausoleum of Eliza Soane, wife of Sir John Soane, at the Old St Pancras churchyard in London.

Stamp was born in Bromley in 1948, and attended Dulwich College under the Dulwich College Experiment, which admitted London County Council scholars in the forerunner of the state “Assisted Places Scheme”. In Moore’s obituary, he remarks of Stamp:

“He had an instinctive dislike of anything to do with money, and was therefore poor.”.

“the gentle author” posted on Spitalfields Life, on 14th March 2018, photographs taken by Dan Cruickshank “between 1969 when he first came to Spitalfields and 1977 when he led the first campaign to stop British Land destroying Elder St. “I did it to document the buildings that were here then,” he explained to me in regret, “but sometimes you’d go back the next Saturday and there’d be virtually nothing left.”.”.

Back to the present and to poetry: The Mail Online reported breathlessly last Sunday of Imtiaz Dharker: “Pakistani-Scottish Calvinist Muslim is set to replace Carol Ann Duffy as new poet laureate”. Duffy, due to complete her decade’s tenure in May, has been the first woman in the post. In 2008, Jenna Krajeski wrote a short piece for the New Yorker on the candidates at that time:

“Now, centuries after the appointment of John Dryden as Britain’s first official Laureate, there’s a strong possibility of a crack in the glass ceiling….Carol Ann Duffy, considered a front runner, might be too controversial….And Ruth Padel has expressed concern about what would happen to the quality of her work should she become laureate…”.

The first speaker to be introduced this evening, betrousered Scots GP Gavin Francis, attended the Lennoxlove Book Festival in his kilt in 2013, to hear that his book, “Empire Antarctica: Ice, Silence and Emperor Penguins”, had won Scotland’s most prestigious literary prize, Scottish Book of the Year.

Our second speaker, Linda Gregerson, Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, has written:

“……………………the past

that has a place for us will know us by our scattered wake.”.

Young Greta Thunberg, environmental activist, told the European Parliament’s environment committee this month: “It will take a far reaching vision…..to lay the foundations where we may not know all the details about how to shape the ceiling. In other words, it will take cathedral thinking.”.

The Independent’s 1997 obituary for the Rev Gordon Huelin noted in passing that being granted the livery of the Mercers’ Company, to which he was Chaplain, “gave the London historian greater pleasure than all his academic honours.”. Huelin wrote of the King’s College Chapel:

“The construction of the Hambledon Building of Anatomy at the top of the College in 1931-32 involved the substitution of a flat boarded ceiling with beams for the then existing sloping roof of the Chapel…..The Council sought the advice of the Central Council for the Care of Churches before the work was put into operation…..the examination by the Central Council produced the discovery that the upper part of the building was of unsound construction, consisting of wood largely masked by painted canvas….Much needed ventilation was provided by the conversion of the twelve windows on the floor level into casement windows which could be opened and cleaned as required.”.

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