The Eagle Soars at Your Command and Builds its Nest on High
She chooses to conceal her identity. She is strong, powerful, well defined. She is a bird of prey. She is the woman who dares to wear The Golden Nest Dress by avant garde fashion artist Mary Martin London. Sewing metal? All in a day’s work. There are undeniable historical references yet this costume is as resolutely contemporary as the brutalist backdrop of the shoot. Enigma. Mystery. Luxury. And drama. Wherever there’s Mary there’s drama!
A couple of Lavender’s Blue readers who live in one of the houses in this article have undertaken thorough and academic research into the architect under examination and, wishing to remain anonymous, have agreed to share extracts of the detailed outcome of their work. This article concentrates on the architect’s residential development oeuvre in London.
“James Taylor senior seems to have been successful, so when his son showed youthful promise at Old Hall Green Academy near Ware in Hertfordshire, young James, aged 12, was sent to the English College in Rome. He remained there until 1783, when illness prompted his transfer to the English College of Douai, 80 miles southeast of Calais. He moved to London in 1786 and took a house in Bandyleg Walk, Southwark (now Great Guildford Street, behind the Tate Modern Gallery), where he established a small Catholic mission in 1788.”
“Unsuited for the priesthood, young James Taylor trained as a surveyor and married Ann Green by licence in 1789 at St Mary’s Church Islington. A young man with great drive, Taylor was able to purchase a desirable plot beside an old inn at Park Vista, Greenwich, and build a short terrace of three houses. The central one became the Taylor family home. It is slightly salient from the other two and has an additional fourth floor surmounted by a pediment. This carries an oval date stone inscribed ‘Park Place 1791’. Park Place faces south over Greenwich Park and its rearward view originally extended to the Thames.”
“By 1790 he had bought part of Clay Pitt Field in Islington, west of the New River from Robert Vincent. He was able to raise mortgages and arranged to have 10 modest houses built that became Charlton Place (north side). On the opposite side of the street, Taylor soon started building a further 14 houses that became Charlton Crescent.”
Next, our contributors critique these schemes, “At first glance it might be assumed that Taylor’s houses in Islington and Greenwich are typical of late Georgian architecture. Considered in their historical context, they reveal a distinctive Taylor style. This drew inspiration from features already common in the grander mid Georgian terraces of the West End of London, Bath and elsewhere but was adapted to the needs of smaller dwellings. Grand classicism was reduced to quiet simplicity, preserving mathematical proportions of windows, doors and an exactly calculated volume of room space, to create a feeling of balance and harmony on a human scale.”
“The most obvious Taylor features are symmetry expressed in the terrace façade, round headed windows at entrance level with proper Palladian glazing bars, semicircular fanlights above the doors and lightwells (colloquially termed ‘areas’ or more properly ‘airies’) in front of the basement level. These features arrive at a satisfying conjunction in New Terrace, where the regular three by three fenestration falters only in No.50, but is immediately redeemed by the double bays that complete the picture there. Taylor’s solutions were copied and adapted in various Regency and early Victorian terraces, but never with the flair apparent in his early creations.”
The researchers note that James Taylor’s first project in Islington was the three storey Charlton Place built in parts from 1790 up to 1805. Charlton Crescent opposite dates from 1791: “The crescent has a radius of seven chains (141 metres) and rises over two metres along its length. It is a possibly unique example of a bilaterally symmetrical ‘palazzo’ arrangement in a rising crescent. Door transoms mostly have a modest round fanlight style that echoes the shape of companion windows…”
“Concurrently with Charlton Crescent construction, Taylor was also developing another terrace around the corner that he called New Terrace… James Taylor retained No.7 (now 56 Duncan Terrace) for his own use from its completion in 1793 until 1803… Unusually, the original York stone pavement in front of New Terrace is raised well above street level so that the basement floors would be above the level of water in the New River. That early aqueduct, dating from 1613, ran just beyond the vaulted cellars until it was arched over in 1861. The raised pavement originally extended to steps rising directly from the street. In 1963 it was lowered by two feet opposite No.50 to improve illumination for its basement flat and steps reinstated to their present position.”
“These nine houses have an aura of restrained astylar elegance, following a ‘palazzo’ rhythm of one-three-one-three-one in its façade elements. This pattern is accented by the discreetly salient central house, with its shallow central pediment. The tympanum has an underlining string course and an oval date stone. Its level moulding extends along the terrace as a parapet capped with simple coping that hides low valley roofs, some converted to roof terraces late in the 20th century. The salient terminal houses at either end are accented with a cornice moulding of the coping and an additional string course. The central and terminal houses were further distinguished by small balconies embracing all first floor façade windows. The other houses had simple balconettes fronting individual windows as a precaution for child play. These ironwork embellishments were removed before the 1930s and replaced with neat and appropriate horizontal rails.”
“On each house, the double sash windows in the façade form a regular three by three fenestration grid. All houses have two round headed windows with Palladian astragals at ground level, where the third element is formed by a fan lit Georgian door. Each door has six raised and fielded panels, central brass knob and knocker, and post 1840 letterboxes. The leaded tracery fanlights are surmounted by attractive Coade stone ‘macaron’ keystones that follow three designs. No.50 has the cheerful bearded face of an old man. Nos.51 and 53 have a young female head with coronet. No.52 and Nos.54 to 58 all have young male heads with pomade and helmet. The fanlights are braced by moulded Coade stone impost blocks joined by a frieze across the door. Each block has three anthemions on the fascia and one on the return. At No.50 they have two rosettes on the fascia and one on the return.”
“No.50 is distinguished by projecting full height rounded bays on either side of the lateral front door. These have sympathetically curved window frames fronting an oval staircase on the left and an oval plan sitting room on the right. The two blank enclosures over the front door were due to a then prevailing Window Tax. To the northern end of No.58 its side wall is also carefully detailed. It has three round headed blind windows at ground level, three rectangular blind windows at first and second floor levels and at basement level there is even a blind doorway between two blind windows.”
Heading south of the River Thames, our contributors report, “As work progressed on New Terrace, building began on Taylor’s home in Park Vista, Greenwich. Park Place forms a group of three similar houses built on a confined site beside an old inn. The ground floor is raised above street level so that the doors are reached on a half flight of stairs, while basements received extra daylight from the south because of their shallower lightwells. All three houses have round headed sash windows on the ground floor and rectangular sash windows elsewhere on the entrance front. Stringcourse and coping are carried across the three houses but Coade stone embellishments are absent. Ground floor fenestration is offset from that of the upper floors and residual symmetry fails because of the central door dilemma. These houses are more akin to Charlton Place compromise than to New Terrace elegance and mark a milestone on Taylor’s learning process as he progressed from simple to rather grander houses.”
“The central house in Park Place achieves prominence by having wider frontage and by supporting a rather inharmonious extra floor level with pediment and plaque. It also is slightly salient and has a wider and more elaborate front door with fanlight, narrow pilasters and sidelights. This, and the matching wider ground floor window are overarched by external embrasures above its piano nobile windows – an interesting and commendable design solution.”
“These Colebrook Terrace houses form a graceful, coherent composition that pays careful attention to symmetry. On the main terrace façade, like No.50, both end houses have just two lights at each level. The elements that terminate this façade each form a full height salient bay with windows arranged vertically in arched recesses, cleverly disguising the change in window spacing. These projections are emphasised by rusticated stucco at ground level and by a cornice and stringcourse at roof level. They have round headed façade windows inset within additional external embrasures. The rearward aspect too was carefully considered, as it would be visible from Charlton Place. It has large sash windows braced by narrow sash sidelights on the three principal levels. The two central houses form a rearward salient that reflects the fascia salient on the end houses. The two central houses form a rearward projection that reflects the fascia salient on the end houses. Some of these features demonstrated by James Taylor were adopted in later built parts of Duncan Terrace and became commonplace in Regency developments elsewhere.”
“No.49 has an elaborate round headed light at ground level, supported by slim Doric columns and matching rectangular pilasters. It also retains a horizontal ‘tethering’ rail to the right of its ‘mounting’ steps with another shorter handrail to the left. This house originally had three rectangular blank windows above a round headed blank in each of the salient bays that flank the front door. Both these round headed blanks were opened up and had windows installed in the 1960s. The uppermost blanks establish that the attic floor was an original feature in these houses, although attics were never intended in the earlier part of New Terrace.”
“No.46 closes the view from the City Road end of Duncan Terrace. It has an original three storey side extension, making it significantly larger than the other houses. Initially the entrance on this extension had a grand fanlight with sidelights in its setback porch façade. This fanlight was removed at a much later date and was installed as a decorative feature inside the house, to be replaced by a plain rectangular door casing with heavy lintel. Above this door are two blanks and the extension is illuminated by a lateral round head window with two windows above. On the gable end of the main terrace, at a right angle to the entrance door of No.46, there is a single blank window on each of the four floors. This house also had the largest garden, which originally extended behind five houses in Charlton Crescent. Its first occupant was William Taylor, probably a close relative of the architect.”
“The two central houses have a three by three fenestration on the façade but lack Coade stone embellishments of brickwork around their doors. The front railings are plain. They originally had the same elaborate lamp holders seen in the earlier part of New Terrace but these were removed at some stage. Except for No.49, the graceful wrought iron bow balconies at first floor level still survive.”
After that thorough analysis of James Taylor’s lasting work in Islington and Greenwich, what’s our experience of the houses on the ground? First to Islington: Charlton Place and Charlton Crescent lead straight off Camden Passage, a popular pedestrianised street packed with cafés and antique stalls. The two terraces are relatively plain but well proportioned and finely detailed. A mid terrace house was demolished in Charlton Place to plunge an entrance through to later housing to the rear. The truncated gable elevations on either side of this gap are essays in incidental brutalism. The bow windows and blind windows of the side elevations of the two sections of New Terrace frame the far end of Charlton Place. New Terrace is on a significantly grander scale and style. The elevated pavement and wooded grass banks create a desirable enclave.
Secondly, we’re off to Park Vista on Park Place, which is a discreet mainly residential road well named for its views over Greenwich Park. The upper floors of Park Vista in particular have long reaching views across the open space. James Taylor’s contribution to the streetscape is short – a mere six bays – although it is still the tallest at a maximum five storeys. The height of Park Vista dwarfs the two and a half storey Plume of Feathers pub next door. Heavy planting at piano nobile level blurs any asymmetrical anomalies. The round headed piano nobile window of the middle house looks like it would have lit the architect’s own office. The first floor windows of the left hand house plus the first and second floor windows of the right hand house have been reduced from three panes wide to two panes at some stage. James Taylor’s legacy is one of truly sustainable residential development. How many of today’s houses will age so well?
We prefer tropical to topical and views to news, but sometimes you just gotta break with tradition to mark tradition. As the second age of Gloriana reigns down upon us we’re celebrating an Elizabeth, Princess of Greece and Denmark’s certain anniversary. We’re in clubland of course. The best balcony save for Buckingham Palace. And what a flypast! Or in our case, flyover. Battle of Britain Spitfires, Lancaster Bombers and Hurricanes are the first of 71 planes and helicopters roaring across the sky. Glasses are raised, cheers erupt and anthems sung from our terrace, soon echoing down Pall Mall. Apaches, Chinooks and Typhoon fighter jets blaze the heavens above. Next, C-130 Hercules (missing its crew: Prime Minister Johnson was last seen applauding Trooping of The Colour with the fuchsia clad Carrie). The best really is saved for last. Nobody in living memory will ever forget the sight of the two most important digits of the day. You get them. Seven. Zero. And no Royal event is complete without a Newzroom Afrika broadcast from South Chelsea! Newzroom Afrika is of course South Africa’s leading 24 hour 100 percent black owned television channel. Didn’t we say the best really is saved for last?
There’s a wee drop of aul’ rain in Lifford and it’s bucketin’ in Letterkenny so it is, but by the time we get to Marble Hill the sun is splittin’ the trees. It’s gone from Baltic to boilin’ so it has. All in good time for a dead on wee bite of lunch in Shandon’s overlookin’ the empty beach with not a wee’ne in sight. It’s dead posh. Not like the Carrig Rua Hotel in Dunfanaghy which is dunderin’ inn. Anyone up for a wee trip in Bert’s boat later on Killahoey Beach?
Running out of Ulsterisms it’s time to enjoy a celebratory pescatarian feast in Shandon Hotel which has had the greatest revivification since avocados were mere vegetables or fruit or whatever they used to be. There are views and there are views and there’s the framed golden strand of Marble Hill with the white tipped frothy spray of waves almost lapping up to our table. Across the water on the far side of Sheephaven Bay lies Downings.
Next stop the jolly town of Dunfanaghy. It’s all abuzz around the august Market House. “This Building was erected by Alex Rob Stewart of Ards House AD 1845,” marks a plaque between its first floor windows. On the ground things are more relaxed. There’s a coffee bar, antiques store and yoga venue. And a farmers’ market in the Diamond in front of the Market House.
Opposite the Diamond is McAuliffe’s Craft Shop. It has evolved over four generations of the same family since opening in 1920 as Sweeney’s Drapery. Romantic Stories and Legends of Donegal by Harry Percival Swan, 1965, is one of several local interest books for sale. It opens with, “Donegal calls you. Situated in the North Western corner of Ireland it is one of the most fascinating playgrounds in these islands. It is part of the nine Counties of Ulster, and is the largest County in the Province (1,865 square miles). Donegal belongs to Eire, but is separated from it by County Fermanagh. Donegal’s key note is variety.”
We’re the first guests of the new season so the Veuve Clicquot is on ice. Just in time for sunshiny days, The Dorchester Rooftop has reopened for those who like to see the bigger picture, or at least take in a sweeping panorama of the better half of the Capital. We’re going up in the world: a lift to the ninth floor of the hotel opens into a former penthouse which is now a suite of lounges with pleated satin hung walls, deep pile carpet and velvet sofas. The Rooftop Restaurant sweeps around the lounges.
Hurrah! We made it! It feels like winning the Radio Four programme Mornington Crescent. Next stop Friday Street! Except the trainline doesn’t go there. Yes! Arcadian. Bucolic. Calming. Dreamlike. Enchanting. Forested. Heavenly. Idyllic. Sylvan. Tranquil. Welcome to Friday Street. First captured on camera by the Victorian photographer Francis Frith. A stream runs through it. Copse Cottage. High Trees. Hollow Lane. Manor Gate. Mill Pond. Noons Corner Road. Pond Cottage. Pugs Corner. Sheephouse Lane. Tall Trees. Edgar the ram is getting his toenails trimmed in the meadow, cheered on by a spring chorus of cawing rooks. The farmer and her husband are hard at work. Friday Street is the country cousin of Mornington Crescent.
Unusually for London, King’s Cross and St Pancras are two major railway stations located next to each other. King’s Cross provides public transport from the English capital to the rest of the country right up to Scotland; the Eurostar links St Pancras to mainland Europe. A transport hub in its fullest sense. Little wonder such a dynamic location has attracted a miniature galaxy of five star hotels. But one stands out: it’s wild, whimsical and whacky. And that’s just the mural cloaking the building’s exterior like a psychedelic Joseph’s Coat of Many Colours.
The Megaro Hotel appeals to the luxury traveller with a sense of fun and an appreciation for the novel. An inscription across mezzanine windows overlooking the entrance foyer reads: “Our hotel was inspired by Victorian quack doctor James Morison who in 1828 opened the British College of Health just a few doors down from here…” The interior is based on, “An alchemy lab, esoteric literature, and an anchoring in King’s Cross heritage.”
“Retro-futuristic steampunk” is the official hotel style. A reimagining of olden days but with advanced technology. Public spaces are filled with cabinets of curiosities and illuminated by neon signs. Chain curtains in one of the Design Room bedrooms continues the engineering theme while stage lights, minibars disguised as speakers and stage platforms acting as headboards pay homage to the nightlife tradition of King’s Cross. Charcoal grey tiled wet-rooms are a pure indulgent touch. Charcoal grey is the new black.
Charcoal is having a fashion moment in culinary circles as well as with interior types and The Megaro Hotel’s recently opened restaurant Magenta is on trend. Charcoal steamed sourdough bread is the first item out of the kitchen for dinner. Magenta has a northern Italy inspired menu curated by Executive Head Chef Manuele Bazzoni. It is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday to Saturday with an à la carte menu of two courses for £32, three for £42, or four for £52. But ‘when in Rome’, it would be rude not to opt for the four course evening menu with matching wines for £85. Walk-ins are welcomed at breakfast for an unlimited portioned breakfast costing £25.
The phrase ‘poison of choice’ is played out in The Megaro Hotel’s basement bar. Hokus Pokus Alchemy Lab takes the James Morison theme to its extreme. Staff work their magic conjuring up torched and fizzing cocktails. It’s like being in a time machine reversing to the future. ‘Tempered Prescriptions’ are on standby for those guests who want to enjoy the alchemy without the alcohol. Bar Manager Greg Chudzio explains, “Today, at Hokus Pokus we like our botanicals to be distilled and served with a large lump of ice or at room temperature. While we make no claims of health benefits, we are confident that our potions and elixirs might do wonders to your mood!”