Christmas Lunch at the Doyle Bloomsbury Hotel

(the former YWCA)

Saturday 26th November 2011

Can there be any other architect for whom a great crowd gather for lunch each Christmas? Do Jones, or Wren, or Soane get such treatment? And if not, why Lutyens? Could it be that it is not just his buildings that we find lovable and endearing, but the man himself? This was made palpable during the lunch when Herbert Baker’s grandson, Michael Baker – how good it was to be able to welcome him and his wife Caroline – showed us a letter which Lutyens had written from Delhi to his father: it was a characteristically charming and amusing letter festooned with his usual humorous sketches. The same humanity and wit we have come to recognise in his buildings, but it is the knowledge that when the occasion so demanded, his work could be laden with gravitas that we are reminded that this is an architect who cannot be disregarded, even in the busy days leading up to Christmas.

And so, over sixty gathered at the building in Great Russell Street which Lutyens designed in the 1930’s for the YWCA, now in the safe hands of The Doyle Bloomsbury Hotel who very kindly provided us with a complimentary glass of Prosecco on arrival, and gave us a tour of the building, embellished with architectural and contextual detail from Mervyn Miller. The Chapel (now a boardroom) and the Library were notable – the latter complete as built, including the light fittings, and the panelling with its pilasters composed of inverted exclamation marks. Once more, the wit! This writer’s Thought for the Day: nowadays, we tend to jokiness – so very different from wit, which has staying power, whilst jokiness like a over-retold joke, does not.

Back to the lunch, which had all been arranged by Paul Waite who was sadly unable to enjoy the fruits of his work, being in New Zealand at the time. He missed an excellent lunch and also the after-lunch session most expertly composed by the photographic and events team. Martin Lutyens took us through the year’s activities, which included the City Council’s proposals to relocate the Manchester Cenotaph (with its outlying obelisks), for which he, Tim Skelton and Mervyn Miller had travelled to Manchester and met with the City Authorities; Heathcote now at a crucial stage in its future with strong prospects as a single private residence, which it so deserves; Le Bois des Moutiers which is now in the hands of eleven descendants of the Mallet family, where the Trust is working closely with regard to securing its long-term future.

Martin Lutyens ended by reminding us that December 12th was the centenary of the 1911 Delhi Durbar which may prompt us to think of so many centenaries of Lutyens’s work which will be arising in the coming decade or so.

Mervyn Miller ran through some of his casework during the year, which included Folly Farm, 7 St. James’ Square, Ednaston (where an uncompleted wing is now being built by Michael Edwards), Homewood, and Midland Bank Manchester (now partly occupied by Jamie Oliver). Mervyn Miller is now, after twenty six years, standing down as architectural adviser to The Lutyens Trust, and is to be congratulated on being appointed Master of The Worshipful Company of Chartered Architects. Martin Lutyens paid tribute to Mervyn’s tremendous service to the Trust, and welcomed the appointment of Anthony Richardson who is taking over as architectural adviser.

Then followed the quiz, which had been devised by Paul Waite, and in which one had to identify parts (often very small) of Lutyens’s buildings. It seems we are all becoming very expert in this, for almost all tables scored 13 or 14 out of 15, full marks being scored by the winners. I envisage the photographs being increasingly detailed in the years to come!

Well into the afternoon, the event concluded with the raffle, which raised £325, and for which Paul Waite had most generously provided the prizes. Lutyens gave each of us a parting challenge as we left the building and were confronted by the remarkable geometry of the railings to the perron, irresistible – though futile – as it is to try and commit such complexity to one’s visual memory.

Charles Morris