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Photo of stewpan and recipe book.

Take a Two-Gallon Stewpan

People have often criticized Mrs. Beeton for the enormous quantities she recommended in her recipes: take six fowl, two dozen eggs, 4 lbs. sugar and so on. When we started work on The Shorter Mrs. Beeton, we were pleasantly surprised to find that her recipes were mostly modest in scale and perfectly suited to a modern family. In the case of her medium stock, however, you do really need a two-gallon pan.

Very Heath Robinson cover image

Now You Can Mow in Comfort

You can also dance with robots, date by slot machine and boil an egg straight from the chicken, thanks to Heath Robinson. Helpful devices to do all these things are now on view in the big new book we publish today, Very Heath Robinson. The author is Adam Hart-Davis, presenter of What the Romans Did for Us, and Philip Pullman has written the Foreword.

More candles, more kisses, that’s the way of the future, as seen by Heath Robinson in How to Run a Communal Home, 1942.

A Very Heath Robinson Birthday

On 31st May 2016 Heath Robinson would have been 144. Artist, humorist and Contraptioneer Extraordinary, he satirized the technical advances and social pretensions of three generations, from the 1890s to the 1940s. To celebrate a birthday blow-out, we are proud to announce that the well-known television presenter and author Adam Hart-Davis will write a new book for us called Very Heath Robinson.

One of the baths supplied by Thomas Crapper

Ablutionary Mystery

We are running a mini-quiz in The Oldie magazine. What is the etymology of ‘crap’, we wanted to know. Curiously, the answer is to be found in The Victorian House Book.

Publishing Traineeships

Are you looking for a way into publishing? Our traineeships offer an introduction to all aspects of publishing, with the opportunity to work in the editorial, sales and marketing, production and foreign rights departments. Click here for more information and how to apply.

Keeping the Heat in an Old House

A Technical Advice Paper by Denis Meehan

A lot of damage is done to Victorian houses in the name of energy conservation, most frequently by replacing original sash windows with inappropriate double-glazed units. As Denis Meehan explains in his report on Energy Conservation in a Victorian House, changing the windows is one of the last things you need to do.

Bespoke stained glass by Judi Stark

Sheldrake Press on Pinterest

Our new Pinterest page will help you to explore some of the topics that we specialise in: Victorian restoration, wilderness travel, traditional children’s illustration and quirky design.

Gangster Pete

Gangsters, Goats and Greek Mythology

What brings a smile to the face of this cigar-toting stranger? Rubber feet, it turns out. Gangster Pete has rubber feet. If this sounds faintly ridiculous, you are at one with the judges of the Ruthless Rhyme competition. Some of the entries, they decided, while not ruthless, were memorable for their oddity or absurdity.

Laugh for Less than a Fiver

To celebrate the solstice and all things summery, head to the Riviera ‘And there upon the sunny sands’ relax with a good old laugh, courtesy of Harry Graham. We guarantee the health benefits of When Grandmama Fell Off The Boat. As luck would have it, it’s 50 per cent off this month.

Getting Up, from When Grandmama Fell Off The Boat: The Best of Harry Graham

Political Incorrectness for Father’s Day

If you admit that men should be permitted to be men, at least on one day of the year, we suggest a late lie-in for the head of the household and a politically incorrect gift: a volume of humorous verse by the charmingly callous Harry Graham.

Ollie Cromwell's crowning dilemma. Illustration by Kulsoom Mirza

Jubilee Rhymes

Cavaliers and Roundheads

Ollie Cromwell, aged just three
Just loved the Diamond Jubilee,
He’d wear a saucepan for a crown,
But soon it stuck there, upside down.

His Mother tugged, the boy turned pale,
Her efforts were to no avail,
The problem was, his Mother said,
That Ollie had such a round head.

After Harry Graham’s Ruthless Rhymes

Pop goes Henry. Illustration by Amrita Dasgupta

Jubilee Rhymes

Henry’s party in the street,
Would be a lovely royal treat,
To celebrate the Jubilee,
With flags and music, games and tea.
The food was good, he could not stop,
He ate until he went off pop,
From looking much like Henry Eight,
He ended up just Henry. Late.

After Harry Graham’s Ruthless Rhymes

Bunting La Cuisiniere Northcote Road London SW

Can You Trump Our Bunting?

We are running a bunting competition to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. All you have to do is take a better bunting picture than ours and post it on our Facebook wall, tweet it to @SheldrakePress or e-mail it to Add an innovative caption with the word bunting in it, and you’re done!

Bunting in Broomwood Road London SW

Red, White and Blue

Our resident poet, Angela Perkins, has written some Ruthless Rhymes to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The first, entitled Royalist vs Republican, is now published on our Blog.

Republican bunting at La Maison des Roses, Webbs Road, London SW

Jubilee Rhymes

Royalist vs Republican

A royalist simply through and through,
Fred turned his house red, white and blue.
It really was a sight to see,
All dressed up for the Jubilee.
But Mabel (maybe with good reason)
Showed inclinations close to treason.
Then with an axe found in the garden,
Fred refused to grant her pardon.
He smiled and said ‘Off with her head,
I’ll buy a corgi pup instead.’

After Harry Graham’s Ruthless Rhymes

Knitting Needles

Spiky Plight

The judges in the Ruthless Rhyme Competition were surprised to see illustrations accompanying some of the entries, including one of a man with knitting needles through his head. What could have led him to such a plight? Was this a case of true ruthlessness?

Eastern Himalayas by Abhijit Dasgupta

Wild Escapades

In our Wild Escape Competition, Liz Cleere described a trek in the eastern Himalayas to visit a slice of wild India that people rarely see and Helen Moat recounted the magical night she and her young son Jamie spent in the company of glow worms in Britain’s Peak District. Liz Cleere is the winner.

Winner of the Wild Escape Competition

Gorkhaland’s Wild West

The freshly brushed floor of compacted cow dung was smooth and cool under foot. I crossed the room, climbed into the heavy wooden bed next to Jamie and blew out the candle. Night crept in through the open window bringing with it the intoxicating scent of gardenias, and quietening the moths and insects that had been dive-bombing the candle’s flame. Curling up under the blanket, my body relaxed on to the hard mattress, while outside pale moonlight whispered through the forest on the other side of the valley. Somewhere on the horizon Kanchenjunga’s five tiger-toothed caps glinted silver against the black sky.

Second in the Wild Escape Competition

Wild in Cressbrook Dale

‘Wake up, little fellow. It’s time…’
 My child of four sat bolt-upright in bed, eyes glassy from dreams of wild things.
 ‘…It’s time for our wild night out,’ I whispered.
 It was a warm summer’s evening in June, the light of the day gently fading out; the air beginning to cool. Jamie’s small chubby hand fitted perfectly in mine, like a Russian doll within a Russian doll, as we slowly descended the stairs. On the kitchen table, a rucksack sat ready, the items needed for our adventure laid out beside it.

The Judges

Ruthless Rhyme Competition Result

The judges have announced the 12 poems short-listed in the Ruthless Rhyme competition. All are now published, along with audio readings, profiles of the writers and judges and a selection of rhymes that deserve mention for being creative or ridiculous.

The Bleach 2

Morbid Resolutions

The runner-up in the Ruthless Rhyme Competition is Rosemary McDougall with her Good Intentions. She scored 20 points, just one behind Angela Perkins with George’s New Year’s Resolution. In third place is Elizabeth Francis with A New Year’s Hobby and a score of 13 points. You can read all three rhymes in our Blog.

La Dream 2

A Franglais Dream

The winner of the Ruthless Rhyme Competition is George’s New Year’s Resolution, written by Angela Perkins. George’s dream was to buy a little place in France, but Mavis stood in his way. A coup de something or other was required. To see how George resolved this petit problème, click here.

La Dream 2

The Winning Ruthless Rhyme

George’s New Year’s Resolution

New Year, he thought, was just the chance
To buy a little place in France.
When Mavis once again said no,
George knew that she would have to go.

His beating heart was all a-quiver,
As George pushed Mavis in the river.
And as she floated down the stream,
George shrugged and muttered, ‘Vive la dream’.

After Harry Graham’s Ruthless Rhymes

Grandmama 2

Ruthless Rhymers at Last Fence

The contestants in our Ruthless Rhyme Competition have reached the last fence. After a process of ruthless elimination, ten judges have reduced a big field down to a short list of 12. Only the finishing post lies ahead.

Authorized anthology of humorous verse by Harry Graham

Sixty-Five Rhymes Written

For the past two months we have been running a competition to find the best short poem in the style of a Ruthless Rhyme, a humorous verse form invented by Harry Graham. By the time the competition closed at midnight GMT on Sunday 4th March, we had received 65 rhymes from nine countries, including Australia, Germany, India, Nigeria, Romania, Spain, France, the UK and the US. The last entry came in at eight minutes to midnight.

NEW WILD ITALY

Wild Escape Competition

Sheldrake Press, publishers of the Wild Guides, are running a travel writing competition this month. Share one of your wild travel experiences with us for a chance to be published on our web-site and win a set of guides to Italy, Britain and Ireland.

Brooking griffen

Brooking Collection Finds Temporary Home

Charles Brooking’s major collection of architectural detail, referred to in our earlier news item, has been written up in The Financial Times, along with this griffin and other illustrations. The collection has now been moved to temporary storage, but is still under threat and needs a permanent home and financial assistance. To read the article in The Financial Times, click here. To find out more about the collection’s immediate needs, please visit their web-site.

Can You Write a Ruthless Rhyme?

Are you a budding writer or a keen poet? Would you like to see your work published on-line? We are running a competition to find the best short poem in the style of a Ruthless Rhyme, a humorous verse form invented by Harry Graham.

brooking logo 2

Help for the Brooking Collection

Since the age of two, Charles Brooking has been collecting architectural detail. He has amassed 250,000 items of salvage, which have just been moved into temporary storage following the withdrawal of support from the University of Greenwich. The collection urgently needs a new home and funding to preserve it for the future. Can you help? For more on this unique archive, click here.

Gertrude Jekyll House

Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932)

On this day in 1843, the garden designer Gertrude Jekyll was born in London. She created over 400 gardens in the UK, Europe and America, and is particularly noted for her collaboration with the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens.  Her design style employed cottage-garden motifs to make her meticulous arrangements of plants appear effortless and uncontrived. Notable examples of her work are Vann Hambledon in Godalming, Surrey, Glebe House in Connecticut, USA, and Les Bois de Moutiers, France.

KGBF cover

Seven Billionth Human Born

Congratulations to all those special seven-billionth babies out there! To mark the occasion, we are giving our readers a 45% discount on The Kate Greenaway Baby Book, a baby journal for the first five years, and The Kate Greenaway First Year Baby Book. Simply write to us at to get a copy.

Free Downloads

The following are now available as downloads:

Glossary of Architectural Terms
The numerous terms used in The Victorian House Book are defined, with illustrations.
Download

Energy Conservation
Denis Meehan, Director of Ecological Heating Ltd, explains how to reduce heat loss in a Victorian house while retaining the architectural integrity of the building.
Download

Victorian House Suppliers
The editors of The Victorian House Book have compiled this list of more than 60 suppliers of goods and services appropriate to a house of this period, with profiles and pictures.
Download

When Grandmama Fell Off The Boat
In this excerpt are four sample poems from When Grandmama Fell Off The Boat, an anthology of the humorous verse of Harry Graham, inventor of Ruthless Rhymes. Three are Ruthless Rhymes, Including Grandmama, the baby in the Frigidaire and poor Billy, and you also have the much longer epic of The Bath, all with illustrations.
Download

Twelve New Ruthless Rhymes
These humorous verses were written for the Ruthless Rhyme competition in January and February 2012 and placed on the short list by the panel of judges named below. Included are the winning poem by Angela Perkins and the two runners-up by Rosemary McDougall and Elizabeth Francis. The other rhymes were written by Delia Chilom, Yasir Hayat, Diane Jackman, Katherine Lavender, Gwen de Mel and Elizabeth Sarah Pearl.
Download

Ruthless Rhyme Competition Judges
The ten judges of the Ruthless Rhyme competition included past and present staff of Sheldrake Press, chaired by Simon Rigge, and four external moderators including the poet Charles Boyle, the historian Fergus Fleming, the publisher David Jefferis and the editor Mike Brown.
Download

Ruthless Rhyme Competition – Mentioned for Creativity
Many of the poems submitted in the competition were not strictly Ruthless Rhymes, as defined in the competition rules, but were thought worthy of mention for their intrinsic quality as verse or the fact that they were accompanied by rather good line drawings.
Download

Ruthless Rhyme Competition – Mentioned for Ridiculousness
Among the poems submitted in the competition, but adjudged not ruthless, were some which took the biscuit for their oddity or absurdity.
Download

Free Samples
We will shortly make available extensive excerpts from all our books in order to give you a better idea of their content. Initially, we will be offering samples from:

Wild Italy
Wild Britain
The Victorian House Book

Plans for London Bridge Station

Network Rail have unveiled their plans for the redevelopment of London Bridge station. The aim of the new design, by the architectural firm Grimshaw, is to make it easier for passengers to enter and exit, but the scheme has drawn controversy due to the proposed demolition of the buildings at 64-84 Tooley Street.

The former South Eastern Railway Offices at 64-84 Tooley Street were built between 1897 and 1900 by the architects Charles Barry and Son. Charles Barry Sr created the Gothic extravaganza of the Houses of Parliament. This is the only surviving commercial building by his son, and it is an important part of the London Bridge conservation area. Do we really want to swap this for Network Rail’s new entrance to London Bridge station (see our Blog)?

Proposed Tooley Street Entrance for London Bridge Station

Brave New London Bridge?

The practitioners of the modern architectural establishment are on the march again. Like matron, they are determined to force another dose of utilitarianism down our throats.

The Great Exhibition

The Great Exhibition

Today is the 160th anniversary of the closing of the Great Exhibition. In the five months since it opened, over six million people had visited and viewed the 100,000 objects on display, including exhibits from France, America, Canada, India and Russia. To the surprise of many, the exhibition made a profit of £186,000, most of which was used to create the South Kensington museums. The influence of the Great Exhibition on interior design is examined in The Victorian House Book.

Membership Area

We publish books not just because they contain a good idea, but often because they advance a cause: for example, better home improvement, environmental conservation or literary revival. To further these aims, we are happy to provide you with additional resources in the form of free downloads, which you can obtain by registering below. The following are now available:

Glossary of Architectural Terms
The numerous terms used in The Victorian House Book are defined, with illustrations. To download this glossary, please register below.

Energy Conservation
Denis Meehan, Director of Ecological Heating Ltd, explains how to reduce heat loss in a Victorian house while retaining the architectural integrity of the building.To download this report, please register below.

Victorian House Suppliers
The editors of The Victorian House Book have compiled this list of more than 60 suppliers of goods and services appropriate to a house of this period, with profiles and pictures.To download this resource, please register below.

When Grandmama Fell Off The Boat
In this excerpt are four sample poems from When Grandmama Fell Off The Boat, an anthology of the humorous verse of Harry Graham, inventor of Ruthless Rhymes. Three are Ruthless Rhymes, including Grandmama, the baby in the Frigidaire and poor Billy, and you also have the much longer epic of The Bath, all with illustrations. To download this sample, please register below.

Twelve New Ruthless Rhymes
These humorous verses were written for the Ruthless Rhyme competition in January and February 2012 and placed on the short list by the panel of judges named below. Included are the winning poem by Angela Perkins and the two runners-up by Rosemary McDougall and Elizabeth Francis. The other rhymes were written by Delia Chilom, Yasir Hayat, Diane Jackman, Katherine Lavender, Gwen de Mel and Elizabeth Sarah Pearl. To download the short list, please register below.

Ruthless Rhyme Competition Judges
The ten judges of the Ruthless Rhyme competition included past and present staff of Sheldrake Press, chaired by Simon Rigge, and four external moderators including the poet Charles Boyle, the historian Fergus Fleming, the publisher David Jefferis and the editor Mike Brown. To find out more, please register below.

Ruthless Rhyme Competition – Mentioned for Creativity
Many of the poems submitted in the competition were not strictly Ruthless Rhymes, as defined in the competition rules, but were thought worthy of mention for their intrinsic quality as verse or the fact that they were accompanied by rather good line drawings. To read them, please register below.

Ruthless Rhyme Competition – Mentioned for Ridiculousness
Among the poems submitted in the competition, but adjudged not ruthless, were some which took the biscuit for their oddity or absurdity. To read them, please register below.

Free Samples
We will shortly make available extensive excerpts from all our books in order to give you a better idea of their content. Initially, we will be offering samples from:

Wild Italy
Wild Britain
The Victorian House Book

Register now for a free download
Already a member?  Sign in
Gothic Revival lamp in the Palace of Westminster

Augustus Pugin (1812-1852)

On this day in 1852, the architect Augustus Pugin died at his home in Ramsgate, Kent. His most famous project was his work with Sir Charles Barry on the Palace of Westminster after the old building had been destroyed by fire in 1834. Pugin was responsible for the design of the interior and some of the exterior details. His contribution to architecture and interior design is covered extensively in The Victorian House Book, from which this detail in the Palace of Westminster is taken.

More Articles…
Architectural Propriety · Edward Burne-Jones · Joseph Paxton · Great Exhibition · St Pancras Hotel
Stained glass design by Edward Burne-Jones

Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898)

The Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones was born 178 years ago today. Inspired by the artists of the Italian Renaissance, his paintings depict graceful figures in meticulously detailed medieval settings and are often on mythological or religious subjects. His interest in medieval art can also be seen in the stained glass and tapestry designs he produced for Morris & Co. This example is taken from The Victorian House Book by Robin Guild.
Three Buildings in Moneglia

Architectural Mini-Quiz

Here are three buildings in the seaside town of Moneglia in Liguria, northern Italy. Which do you prefer: (from left) A, B or C? We will explain the purpose of the quiz as soon as we have the results at the end of this week. Please express your preference by clicking here.
A History of Artificial Stone Published by Haddonstone Ltd

History of Artificial Stone

The invention of Coade stone in 1769 allowed architects to add more ornamentation to buildings than had previously been possible. Coade stone mimicked natural stone but was cheaper and longer lasting. The history of artificial stone, including Coade stone, is chronicled in a book by Simon Scott, director of Haddonstone Ltd. His company, just added to our Victorian House Decoration page, produces its own variety of artificial stone.

Frog Prince

Walter Crane (1845-1915)

Walter Crane was born in Liverpool on 15th August 1845. His prolific career reached its zenith with his brightly coloured toy books, created for children but prized by connoisseurs of design. The popularity of these books was hardly surprising, given the care that went into their production and the colours which glowed from every page.

Walter Crane (1845-1915)

On this day in 1845, the artist and designer Walter Crane was born in Liverpool. A Utopian Socialist, Crane aimed to bring art into the homes of the people with his designs for wallpaper, pottery, fabrics and ceramic tiles. He founded the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society in 1888. He was also one of the leading children’s book illustrators of the 19th century, along with Kate Greenaway and Randolph Caldecott.

See all news items

Ceiling rose by Simply Mouldings

Simply Mouldings

In the 19th century, plasterwork such as cornices and dado rails played both a decorative and practical role. Dado rails, for example, prevented walls from being knocked by furniture, but also added visual interest because contrasting colours could be used above and below. If you wish to add or replace decorative plasterwork in your house, Simply Mouldings can make and install many features, including dado rails and ceiling roses. Their contact details are now available on our Victorian House Decoration page.

The Front Entrance of the Crystal Palace

Sir Joseph Paxton (1801-1865)

Today is the 210th anniversary of the birth of Sir Joseph Paxton, who designed the Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition of 1851. The building was modelled on a conservatory he had created at Chatsworth to house the giant Victoria amazonica water lily. The plant’s vein structure is said to have been the inspiration for his design. There is a chapter on garden design, including conservatories, in The Victorian House Book. Paxton’s railway work is covered in The Railway Heritage of Britain.

GBS Joinery Doors

Bespoke Front Doors

‘However charming the gate or imposing the porch, it is the entrance door which captures the eye of the visitor as he waits to be admitted’ (Robin Guild, The Victorian House Book). Impress your visitors with a replica Georgian or Victorian timber door made by GBS Joinery, whose details are now available on our Links page under the Victorian House Decoration section. They offer a bespoke service, making and fitting doors and windows for residential and commercial properties.

St Pancras Grand Brasserie

Top Table at St Pancras

The great days of railway luxury are returning. Today Top Table have a special offer on the St Pancras Grand, ‘a stylish, romantic destination restaurant’. When was the last time a railway dining room was connected with romance? Brief Encounter? Early next year, the restored King’s Cross station will be unveiled, offering more 19th-century splendour. For a snapshot of the work in progress, see our Blog.

King's Cross clock tower image

The Regeneration of King’s Cross Station

Last Thursday, as a member of the Railway Heritage Trust Advisory Panel, I toured the works at King’s Cross, where Lewis Cubitt’s 1852 terminus is being restored and a new concourse added.

Up on the roof, as we walked along the valley gutter between the twin trainshed arches, we saw new plate-glass and solar-voltaic panels being installed. From the parapet of the station façade we could survey the entire battlefield of 19th-century railway rivalry, the plain engineering style of the Great Northern at King’s Cross facing the Gothic upstart of the Midland’s St Pancras across the road. Further west, now converted into a concrete hulk, lies the terminus of the North Western at Euston, on which the statue of Britannia atop St Pancras turns her back.

The Project Director for King’s Cross, Ian Fry, has all the ebullience of a railway engineer who knows he is creating the future. We have come a long way from the two original Departures and Arrivals platforms at King’s Cross, with sidings in between. Passenger numbers are now higher than they were in the 1920s, and are expected to continue rising, so a large new concourse is essential. It is being built in the space between King’s Cross and the Great Northern Hotel. As the last of the scaffolding is dismantled, the sweep of the honeycomb roof can be appreciated. ‘Jaw-dropping’ is what most visitors tell Fry, and it is. As a new railway building, it’s as good as you get, and Fry is justly proud of his achievement. Maybe his name will rank alongside Cubitt’s a hundred years from now.

As we toured the station, I was ready to embrace the undeniable feats of engineering which have created underground service tunnels, sweeping passenger interchanges and concrete underpinning good enough to last a thousand years. The reglazed trainshed roofs will look stunning when all the gantries and covers have been removed. Part of the western range of buildings which was destroyed by a bomb in the Second World War is finally being rebuilt. The original booking office will be re-opened and the largest railway pub in Britain created further up the platform. Where necessary, panelled sash windows are being reinstated and the original station master’s office will once again become operational.

What I was uneasy about, when I saw the first drawings, I am still uneasy about. The new honeycomb-roofed concourse is a soaring success in its own right, but it is, as Ian Fry proclaimed, a new railway building, and as such it upstages Cubitt’s original design. Like a flying saucer, it has come to rest between two 19th-century developments, the western range of King’s Cross station and the back of the Great Northern Hotel, to which it is attached. It has nothing in common with either. Its steel girders cascade down in front of Cubitt’s western frontage, partly obscuring it. The mellow brick and sash windows of the original station are now seen through a glass screen. Two different idioms are jammed together, and inevitably they conflict. Cubitt’s idiom is Victorian domestic in brick, stone and wood, allied with engineering prowess in wrought iron and glass. Fry’s idiom is steel and concrete, and at the base of the new flying saucer you can see massive reinforced steel joists and concrete footings. Fine it may be, but it has nothing to do with the listed buildings it is supposed to complement.

The language of today’s engineer is steel and concrete, loads and functions. I do not doubt Fry’s satisfaction in the work he has undertaken to restore and reinstate so much of Cubitt’s station. He is to be congratulated for his enthusiasm and evident commitment. My concern is broader. Steel and concrete bring structural strength, and with strength comes superiority. It is only too easy for today’s engineers to assume that new is better. You can see the march of this belief in cities all over the world. Right here, there is an example of thoughtless modernism in the extension to St Pancras station, a glass box which bears no relation to the Barlow trainshed or the rich polychrome brickwork of the main station. The same is true of the Underground tunnels and concourses which are supposed to be part of the scheme.

Engineers and planners think it’s okay to jam a utilitarian box up against a soaring piece of architecture, but they are wrong. It will take decades more before this mistake is recognized for what it is, and by then our cities will be that much uglier than they have already become since the end of the Second World War. The extension of St Pancras is in everyday use, and I use it. The new concourse of King’s Cross will be opened early next year, and I will use that, too. But I will be hoping that, in a new age of enlightenment still to commence, architects and engineers will once again take a Grand Tour of the styles, master the subtleties of idiom and refrain from cramming unadorned steel and concrete down our throats.

There will be another test of architectural awareness when the 1970s concourse in front of King’s Cross is cleared away and an open plaza created. Two ventilation shafts from the Underground will remain. How should they be clothed and camouflaged? Here is an opportunity. Planners, engineers, architects and designers should ask themselves, what is the prevailing idiom of King’s Cross? What are the prevailing materials?

In designing a sign for the station entrance, they should ask the same questions. A quick look at the entrance to the re-opened St Pancras Hotel might provide a clue.

The views expressed here are my own and do not represent Railway Heritage Trust policy. To see pictures of the King’s Cross Regeneration Project, please visit our Facebook page (below) and click on Photos.

More Articles…
 Scott of St Pancras · St Pancras Hotel

Home Fires

The Victorians placed great importance on the fireplace as ‘the cornerstone of domestic comfort’ (Robin Guild, The Victorian House Book). If you would like to bring some authentic Victorian character into your home, Nostalgia UK Ltd supplies antique fireplaces in wood, stone, slate, cast iron and marble. We have just given them a link on our Links page under the category of ‘Victorian House Decoration’. They have a stock of more than 2,500 fireplaces, including classical, Gothic, Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau designs. Visitors to their web-site can take a virtual tour of their showrooms and warehouses.

Well-designed interior of Browsers Bookshop, Woodbridge

Browsers Bookshop and Café

The Victorian House Book is now available at the Browsers Bookshop and Café, in the picturesque town of Woodbridge in Suffolk. This is an environment where visitors can browse at their leisure, with tea, coffee and cakes available if the mood takes them. Recipes for all the cakes can be found in the cookery books on the shelves. There is a children’s branch of Browsers further down the road.

Sir George Gilbert Scott

St_Pancras_Hotel
Today is the bicentenary of the birth of Sir George Gilbert Scott, the architect who designed the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens and the soaring hotel at St Pancras station. The hotel re-opened on 5th May, with many of its original features restored.

As publishers of The Victorian House Book and The Railway Heritage of Britain, we are instantly alert to any good-news story about Victorian architecture, still the butt of modernist derision 30 years after the death of Sir John Betjeman, and few stories can have had such a positive slant as the re-opening of the St Pancras Hotel. Formerly called the Midland Grand Hotel, to reflect the aspirations of the Midland Railway, one of the last to reach London, it was the grandest of grand termini. Its architect, Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-78), designed everything, right down to the chandeliers and the door handles. Abandoned by British Rail in 1985, it stood empty for 20 years. On 5th May 2011 it reopened as a luxury hotel. Excitingly, the decorators discovered the original wallpaper in what is now the Sir Gilbert Scott Suite, and it has been faithfully reprinted and reinstated, along with many other original details all over the building. The 1873 restaurant has been brought back to life as The Gilbert Scott. As the hotel historian Royden Stock has said, it is amazing that they have got it this right.

My own connection to the St Pancras Hotel goes back to 1983 when we published The Railway Heritage of Britain in association with the British Railways Board. The project was the brainchild of Bernard Kaukas, Director – Environment at British Rail;  he was the only contributor permitted to comment on the embarrassingly poor state of Britain’s railway architecture. In his piece on The Splendours and Miseries of British Rail’s Architectural Heritage, we showed a picture of the western tower of the St Pancras Hotel, freshly washed on his orders. The rest of the façade was left dirty. As the caption explained, it would cost at least another £1 million to finish cleaning the brickwork, and at the time it seemed a faint hope that even the exterior would be done, let alone the interior. As we prepared the book for publication, we spread out scores of 8 x 10 in. black and white prints from the hotel’s 19th-century heyday and gawped at the magnificence of Scott’s reception rooms, with antimacassars on the armchairs and chandeliers ablaze. We never imagined we would see this lavish magnificence faithfully recreated.  

Shortly after the publication of the book, the Railway Heritage Trust was founded with financial support from British Rail, under the chairmanship of Sir William McAlpine. Luminaries from the worlds of railways and architecture became members of the Advisory Panel, and I was honoured to be invited to join them. In 1995 the annual meeting of the Advisory Panel was held in the dilapidated grandeur of the St Pancras Hotel, interrupted by a prolonged power cut. In the gloom of an October afternoon, we toured miles of silent corridors, peering into empty bedrooms where the soot spilled out of abandoned fireplaces. Encouragingly, we were shown that beneath each floor there was a cavernous crawl space through which, in principle, modern wiring and plumbing could be routed. The question was, could any investors be found to take on such a daunting and extravagant project?

Now we have the answer. The hotel is once again open, and next week, following a hard-hat inspection of the engineering works in progress at King’s Cross, I will once again ascend the grand staircase and tour the St Pancras Hotel, this time occupied by guests and refulgent in all its Gothic splendour. I doff my hat to Sir John Betjeman, who sounded the call to honour and preserve our Victorian heritage. Thanks to him, we can still celebrate and enjoy some of our greatest 19th-century architectural achievements, including this one on the bicentenary of Sir George Gilbert Scott’s birth.

There is a very good BBC news report, including a clip of Sir John Betjeman touring the St Pancras Hotel, and you can see it by clicking here. It is also well worth watching Tim Hayward’s review of Marcus Wareing’s new restaurant at St Pancras, The Gilbert Scott. If you are up for some bureaucrat bashing, read Simon Jenkins in The Guardian.

To see pictures of the re-opened St Pancras Hotel, please visit our Facebook page (below) and click on Photos.

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Scott of St Pancras

Scott of St Pancras

Grand staircase of St Pancras Hotel

Today is the bicentenary of the birth of Sir George Gilbert Scott, architect of the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras, re-opened this year and featured today as a Google Doodle.

Sir George Gilbert Scott is perhaps best known as the architect of the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens and the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras station. The hotel re-opened on 5th May 2011, with many of its original features restored. This is an achievement we could only dream of when we featured the hotel in The Railway Heritage of Britain in 1983. If anyone is still unconvinced of Scott’s standing as an architect, may we suggest a walk up his grand staircase at St Pancras. There is more on this subject in our Blog, and you can see an album of 21 photographs on our Facebook page.

Curved staircase

E. A. Higginson, Staircase Makers

When so many people are doing loft conversions or digging out their basements, there is a frequent need for new flights of stairs. To ensure a seamless connection between old and new, you need to be able to copy your existing staircase accurately. This is just the sort of job that E. A. Higginson can do. Their contact details are now available on our Victorian House Decoration page.

Stained-glass frog and stars.

Star-Gazing Frog

In Japan, frogs were thought to bring good fortune, allowing money to return to a person (the Japanese word for ‘frog’ is the same as ‘to return’). This little frog certainly looks as if he might have special powers, as he gazes up at the starry sky. This is our favourite design by The London Stained Glass Company. You can see more designs by visiting their web-site, which can be reached from Victorian House Decoration in Links.

Bespoke stained glass by Judi Stark

London Stained Glass

There can be no denying the importance the Victorians placed on first impressions, and with grandeur in mind they turned the front entrances of their houses into showcases of architectural detail and decorative art, in which stained glass was ever-present. If yours is missing, and you want to commission a new design, have a look at Judi Stark’s portfolio, now available on our Victorian House Decoration page.
Curtains and upholstery by Mr Jones of Muswell Hill, North London

Mr Jones of North London

We have just added a link to Mr Jones of Muswell Hill, makers of curtains, blinds and traditional upholstery. After more than 25 years, they have built up an in-depth knowledge of their subject and amassed a stock of designer fabrics and wallpapers which they claim is the largest in North London. Do a one-stop shop with them, they say, and you will save yourself many frustrating hours of traipsing around.

Mrs_Gorm

Stung to Death by Savage Bees

For your entertainment, we have just posted sample couplets by Harry Graham in our Preview of When Grandmama Fell Off The Boat. Whether your subject is dining, dancing, motoring, bathing or bee-keeping, we believe you will find something here to trigger your schadenfreude. Try this:

When Mrs Gorm (Aunt Eloise)
Was stung to death by savage bees,
Her husband (Prebendary Gorm)
Put on his veil, and took the swarm.
He’s publishing a book, next May,
On “How to Make Bee-keeping Pay.”
One of the baths supplied by Thomas Crapper

The Well-Known Mr Crapper

We have given a link to Thomas Crapper, who gave their name to an inglorious noun and verb. They are still trading on it, producing hand-made replicas of their firm’s products from the late-Victorian and Edwardian periods. As you would expect, they do loos and W. C. seats, but they can also fit you out with baths, basins, taps and bathroom accessories which they claim are ‘ultra-authentic’ and not the ‘vaguely Victorian’ sanitary ware that is generally available. Lucinda Lambton and Adam Hart-Davis, among others, have written glowing reviews of their period detail and thunderous flush!

A front entrance shows its age after a century of use

New Tiles for Old

A front entrance with original tessellated tiles inevitably looks tired after more than a century of use, as this house in Dagnan Road, south-west London, demonstrates (below left). Replacing like with like will generally produce the best result, as can be seen from the front entrance of a neighbouring house.

New wooden sash windows

Wooden Sash Windows

Workmen have started installing new windows in the house next door. What a relief: they are putting in the correct, wooden, box-sash windows! These closely match the originals and will raise the value of the house, unlike UPVC replacements, which would have lowered it.

New front paths in Cavendish Road, laid in traditional style

Traditional Front Paths

Two of our neighbours in Cavendish Road have relaid their front paths in true Victorian style, and what an entrance they have made! They have used the right tiles with square-cut edges, not the rounded modern alternatives which never look as good.

‘I do like the traditional look,’ says the owner of the house on the right, who acted as project manager. He has found Victorian rope-top border tiles to trim the sides of the paths and commissioned new railings, complete with decorative pineapples to top off the gate posts. ‘The visitor had to be left in no doubt as to the owner’s position in society,’ wrote Robin Guild in The Victorian House Book, discussing the importance of the front entrance. Attitudes have changed since this south London house was built in 1893, but the truth of the statement is still evident more than a century on. Use the right architectural detail and you will impress.

These tiles were laid by the Victorian Tile Co., 07976 937 667.

Literary Links


The humorous verse of Harry Graham was an early hit with several 20th-century literary figures, including W. H. Auden, George Orwell and Agatha Christie. The hilarious rhymes they adored as children remained with them, popping up unexpectedly in their heads during their writing careers.

W. H. Auden
When asked by The Paris Review whether reading poetry had influenced his decision to write, Auden responded that as a child the only poetry he had been interested in was the ‘sick’ kind, including Harry Graham’s Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes. Here is his favourite:

Into the drinking well
The plumber built her
Aunt Maria fell;
We must buy a filter.

George Orwell
Orwell was struck by an anecdote in Salvador Dali’s autobiography which described how Dali had kicked his sister in the head as a child. This reminded him of something: ‘What was it?’ he asked himself. ‘Of course! Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes, by Harry Graham.’

Poor little Willy is crying so sore,
A sad little boy is he,
For he’s broken his little sister’s neck
And he’ll have no jam for tea.

Agatha Christie
A reader of murder mysteries asked Agatha Christie about the origin of four lines of poetry quoted by one of her characters. Had Christie written these herself? Christie admitted she had not, nor could she remember where she had heard them. The reader then started to investigate. She wrote to everyone she could think of to try to find out the source of the mystery rhyme but no one recognized it. Except, that is, for the crime writer Ruth Rendell. Yet she too struggled to recollect who had written the troublesome fragment.

The days passed slowly, one by one;
I fed the ducks, reproved my wife,
Played Handel’s Largo on the fife,
Or gave the dog a run.

Eventually, it was Miles Kington who saved the day. He discovered the lines in When Grandmama Fell Off The Boat and was able to solve the case of the missing rhyme.

When Grandmama Fell Off The Boat is the only comprehensive anthology of Graham’s humorous verse, compiled with the help of his daughter, Virginia. It contains not only the best of his Ruthless Rhymes but also a selection of longer poems, and it is in one of these, Creature Comforts, that Agatha Christie’s quotation can be found.

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Simon Rigge Editor of The Victorian House Book

Honouring Past Craftsmen

This is an excerpt from the Publisher’s speech at The Victorian House Book launch party, Brunswick House, Vauxhall Cross.

Why did we do a book on Victorian houses? There are more of them in Great Britain than any other period house. A quarter of the British housing stock is Victorian. Nearly six million of us live in them and we all have to look at them when we walk or drive through our cities and towns. When I was a small boy living in Kent, my grandfather used to drive us up to London for a Christmas treat – Peter Pan on ice or Bertram Mills’ Circus – and as we made our way through the Victorian suburbs of Catford, Lewisham, New Cross, Peckham and Camberwell, I witnessed scenes of sad dilapidation. What had been Class I gentleman’s villas now had cars parked in their front gardens, garden walls crumbling, paint peeling off the windows, brickwork dark from London soot, front doors drab and cluttered with inappropriate ironmongery. Rows of plastic doorbells testified to the scourge of multi-occupation.

Third edition, with cover designed by the award-winning artist Ting-Chung Cheng

Baby Book Published

The new edition of The Kate Greenaway Baby Book has arrived. With a freshly designed cover by the award-winning artist Ting-Chung Cheng, the book combines traditional childhood images with a clean modern style. It has sections for parents to fill in with details of their child’s general progress, as well as important information such as vaccinations and illnesses. All of this is accompanied by beautiful images from one of the first book illustrators to have her work published in colour, and whose ability to capture the innocence of childhood won her lasting popularity. It provides an ideal gift for new and expectant mothers.

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