Incidental details

9 August 2015
Ben Pentreath

We’d been out near Henley for lunch today. A beautiful day and a delicious time.

And then, Charlie had to head down to Dorset to get permission from the garden to go on holiday for 2 weeks.

Do you know what I mean? Three days of hard labour (on top of the weeks of time that he’s been devoting already) will just about mean that on Wednesday he is allowed to leave. Of course, we’ll arrive back to total chaos, and a glut of this and that, and doubtless to scenes of devastation in corners of the vegetable beds. But for now, I hope he should be free to go.

I, sadly, have to be at my desk rather early tomorrow morning. So I took the train back from Twyford and dozed my way into Paddington station, waking up just as the train pulled in.

It was a perfect evening in London. Far too hot and too beautiful to descend into the tube; far too nice to rush home in a taxi. It was one of those moments to linger, and realise the incidental details and everyday beauty that surrounds us… if you choose to look.

The roof of Paddington Station glowed.

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Even the grimy old walls of the station tunnels glowed.P1090995

Ancient un-noticed signs quietly rejoiced in the soft evening light.P1090997 P1090998

If you’re rushing into Paddington Station tomorrow morning on the 8.35, will you pause for a moment and notice the fabulous beauty of the roof, and the way it curves just at its termination.P1100001P1100004 P1100011 P1100013 P1100017

Charlie and I have a thought that begonias are about to have a massive revival. In five years time they will be about the coolest plant going. Watch this space… you read it here first.P1100018 P1100019

Endless creamy stucco mansion blocks glowed.P1100021 P1100023

It was the pillar-box red door that grabbed my attention first…

But don’t you adore even more the black rocking horse that sits watching through the window to the right? On Saturday, we’d been to the Ravilious exhibition at Dulwich with Mum & Dad. This picture was like a little Ravilious or Bawden compressed into a single frame.P1100025 P1100029 P1100030

I’m rather into 1950s brick terraces at the moment. I’m wondering if they are even more fabulous that tall Georgian streets. Friendlier.P1100032

Hyde Park basked in the August heat. It was a dream.P1100038 P1100043 P1100044

Planes drifted into the sunset overhead.P1100046 P1100047 P1100051

The towers of Battersea emerge from dry lawns and thick green trees.

Over at Speakers’ Corner…. debates raged thick and fast. The noise reached a loud babble.P1100070 P1100072 P1100073 Hundreds of people had gathered to listen and discuss. From all corners of the earth, debate was going on.P1100077 Maybe it’s the child in me… but I was almost more intrigued by the guy blowing huge bubbles across the road at Marble Arch…
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And I wondered how much the ancient, creamy white stones have witnessed on this busy corner of London…P1100095 P1100096

Across Park Lane, the gently-bowed fronts of the great Regency Mansion houses looked on silently.  Not houses I know very much about. I should probably turn to the lovely book we’ve got in the office written by Oliver Bradbury… The Lost Mansions of Mayfair.  Yet another book where I seem only to look at the pictures. There is never time to read these days, is there?P1100097

Tucked around the corner, is the perfect, eccentric, beautiful facade of the building that now houses our wonderful friends The New Craftsmen.  If you are in London you MUST visit. It’s brilliant. And if not, enjoy a superb wander around the perfect website explaining all the things they get up to. Bonkers, but so good.P1100101

I have never known very much about this beautiful church on North Audley Street. P1100104 P1100105 P1100106 P1100107 P1100108

A perfect Greek Revival facade by Gandy, formerly St Mark’s Church, it is now an event space.P1100109

I love moments of magic change of scale in the street like this.

London is full of cranes. I admit, I like them. Although I don’t always like what they build.  I sometimes wonder what it would look like if electricity pylons were painted in shades of electric red or cobalt blue as they marched across the countryside. Probably very weird, but it is an interesting thought.


Retained facades, meanwhile, are very weird aren’t they?

A glimpse to that temple of commerce, a piece of American optimism dropped in to sleepy Georgian London: Selfridges.

Although of course it goes without saying I really prefer We Sell Fridges.  CLASSIC!

I have always loved the Duke Street Electricity Substation.  Earlier in the year I bought a beautiful lithograph of the building by the remarkable artist Glyn Boyd Harte, part of Glyn’s Temples of Power series. To read more about wonderful Glyn, read this perfect post over at the Bible of British Taste.

Glyn would have loved this sign and the yellow glazing.P1100122

I have never noticed the brightly coloured flower vases on top of Claridges. So I checked out some photos on the internet, and realise there is a reason why. They have just been decorated, by the looks of things.P1100123

Insane.  Gorgeous. More please.P1100124

I heard a terrible rumour at dinner the other night, that Colefax & Fowler are to leave their legendary show room further up Brook Street. I sincerely hope this is not true.
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More planes drifted through the evening blue sky.P1100129 Everywhere in London at the moment, vast squares are being dug up in the creation of Crossrail. If any one who works on the Crossrail project reads this blog, I’d seriously love a tour one day (I doubt the Crossrail community and the Ben’s blog community have very many venn diagrams, but we will see). I’m completely amazed by the scale of this engineering project going on right under our noses, without anyone really noticing. Five million tons of earth are being removed from London.P1100131

Down the road, the serene tower of St. George’s Hanover Square has seen it all before.  I was reading a little of the history on the church’s website and was struck by this sentence: “Building materials were stacked in Hanover Square, and there were constant complaints from the inhabitants about the prolonged inconvenience caused by what seemed to them unnecessary delays”.P1100133 P1100137 P1100139 From time to time I go to a couple of meetings just around the corner from the church, and I am particularly fond of these giant surrounds to tiny doors along the side flank.
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I called Charlie, who had arrived in Dorset to a garden shrouded in fog, and walked home, past more cranes…

And past our old favourite, the Post Office tower…P1100152

And the sun faded. And I reflected on what an incredible thing a 45 minute walk through London is.



There’s something fun over at the shop just opened!  Our lovely Pop-up book shop, McGonigles, is installed (up to the big city from beautiful Cerne Abbas in Dorset) for the month of August. Do call in as soon as you can.  It’s a dream.

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You see what I mean?IMG_6737 IMG_6739

Charlie browsing…IMG_6741 IMG_6744

I have this in my sights…IMG_6747

And I was thrilled to find a copy of More Ant & Bee.  One of my favourite books from my childhood.IMG_6748

We never had copies at home, but my wonderful Aunt Barbara had them, and I used to love staying with her precisely as a result.

And this week, Charlie and I are off on holiday. We can’t wait.  Maybe this is the perfect holiday reading for both of us…?IMG_6749

Here’s Charlie, meanwhile, yesterday evening, getting permission from the roof terrace in London to leave.

Irregular posts will follow… from Tuscany.

18 comments on this post

What an excellent post, working in the spray painting sector, we get to see a lot of this and it is so true that people forget to look at the beauty around them. The structures and architecture in London or any old UK city are so cool, thanks for the post.

Oh what a glorious treat – so glad you didn’t opt for taxi home. Seeing things in my old stamping ground that I’m not sure I ever noticed. Gems all, and it made me a little homesick…and left me wondering if you ever do a Bath visit with your camera if you would notice things I’ve never seen. My other half will be happy to hear about begonias! I still need a little more convincing. Have a wonderful Tuscan hols, and thank you again for your perfect eye and comments


Thank you once again for a brilliant walking tour of part of London. There was much to admire in detail as usual, but those Claridges flowerpots stood out. Someone painted them knowing they might not be appreciated behind the flags. You spotted them. And as for Ant and Bee! Straight back to toddlerdom in an instant. Have good hols. Best, Nicola


Hi Ben,
I love these walking through London posts. Occasionally I found myself following along (like a map-nerd on Google Maps), trying to recall my first (and last) trip to London in 2003. It was in Winter so it’s very hard to imagine that amazing, dry grass savannah in Hyde Park.

I have to admit to having a love/loathe relationship with London. Spending my childhood in the Highlands of Scotland often makes this city seem a claustrophobic and uncouth place! But your posts remind me that London has a beauty of it’s own and make me feel much less jaded!

Hi Ben,
I know just the chap – my friend is an engineer on Crossrail! Will see if he can give you a tour!
I’m going to have to quash that thought of Colefax & Fowler ever leaving Brook St, it’s one of my favourite places in the world, I’d quite like to move in one day.


Bring back the begonias! Also deserving a revival: pansies and marigolds (were they as popular over there in the eighties as they were here in the States?)


Thank you, Ben, for sharing your evening with us. I am so glad you decided to walk home. Have a lovely holiday. I will miss the garden in Dorset while you are away.

Andrew Beansays:

Thank you yet again for another sublime blog.
It would indeed be a tragedy if Colefax and Fowler were to leave their iconic premises… a place of pilgrimage to me on my regular visits to London and to all lovers of great interior design and flawless good taste..

Thank you for taking me on your lovely evening stroll through London via these pictures and comments – how much there is to see if you choose to…

Peter Sullivansays:

I agree it would be very sad if Colefax and Fowler were to move from there original building. A tragedy to sever ties with Nancy Lancaster’s famous yellow drawing room and the wonderful courtyard that has been an inspiration to so many for so long.
Happy holidays in Tuscany.

A magnificent wander old lad! I spent three years as a Philosophy undergraduate in the 80’s living in one of the regency villas on the edge of Regents Park. I would frequently return back via Paddington (and it’s roof) after a trip home to Somerset.
A favourite wander from Regents Park was through Mayfair and down to Fortnum and Mason for afternoon tea with friends when bunking off lectures! (before they spoiled it all with set menus).
We were aesthetically and architecturally spoiled for life after that.


Brilliant post, just brilliant. I look forward to each and every one of your updates. Your pics are fab, but the comment/ary makes them shine, gives each one meaning. Such stories and layers.
Bon vacances!

Donald Leeverssays:

Happy holidays.
If you are interested in opera, Jessica Pratt is giving a concert in Montisi on the 21st august.She, I think is currently THE great coloratura soprano of the moment.Her voice is magical.
Best regards


I wish I could think of some unique way to thank you for all your blogs. You have taught me to see things anew. Your photos help me to enjoy the London I love but unable to visit. Your garden is splendid – Charlie has more than a green thumb! Have fun on your holiday and please send photos when you have a moment.
Thank you again.


From the title to the finish this reads like a Maira Kalman essay — I mean that as just about the highest compliment! I have always loved your posts and now I think I’ve put my finger on why… Have a fabulous vacation — can’t wait to see Tuscany through your eyes.


Well, you’re already Doing It for Dahlias, so I’m sure begonias will soon be on their way.

Have a fabby holiday. I hope the garden forgives Charlie and, at worst, is only a little sulky on your return.

Nicola Lawrencesays:

Dear Ben. I could wish myself to any of those photographs. They were all so beautiful/thoughtful. I love your comment about realising the everyday incidentals and finding beauty if you care to look. Best wishes to you and Charlie for a wonderful holiday in Italy – I look forward to the posts.

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