Trip Tips: 50 years on, quirky guide to London still shows the way

Fri Feb 6, 2015 12:49am EST
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By Giles Elgood

LONDON (Reuters) - Arguably the best guide to London published this season was written nearly 50 years ago.

"Nairn's London" by Ian Nairn first appeared in 1966 and has been reprinted after fans of the idiosyncratic architectural enthusiast mounted a public campaign.

The author, a former Royal Air Force fighter pilot who badgered the editors of the Architectural Review into giving him a job and who went on to become the Observer's architecture critic, died of drink in 1983, aged 52.

He made his name as an agitator against poor quality buildings being thrown up after the war, coining the derisive term "Subtopia" for the damage being inflicted on Britain's suburbs and starting a campaign against bad modern architecture called "Stop the Architects Now".

Nairn's guide to the capital contains 450 entries describing churches, galleries, offices, houses, monuments, bridges, markets, pubs and just about everything else between Uxbridge to the west and Dagenham in the east.

Most of the buildings he writes about are still there, although inevitably some have since changed use or disappeared. He chose places the public could get into.

It's an extraordinary catalog, the product of an exhausting amount of legwork enlivened by a literary style that is waspish, informed and opinionated.

Nairn very much likes the Soane Museum, the former home of the architect Sir John Soane in Lincoln's Inn Fields now crammed with his collection of art and antiquities.   Continued...

A general view of Milner Square in Islington, north London in this June 30, 2012 file photo.  REUTERS/Olivia Harris/Files