by Andrew Greg
Gavin Stamp, who sadly died on 30 December 2017, was known to many of us in Strathbungo as a former neighbour and friend who was tireless in his rediscovery and promotion of Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson as an architect of international importance. On the wider, even international, stage, he was a campaigner for architectural conservation, active in the Victorian Society and a co-founder and long-time chair of the Thirties, later Twentieth Century, Society. He was generous with his time to the Strathbungo Society, presenting a lively lecture on Thomson at one of our at one of our AGMs and being interviewed by the Strathbungo News in Autumn 1996.
Gavin was the voice behind the ‘Nooks and Corners’ column in Private Eye, succeeding John Betjeman, and a regular contributor to Apollo, the Spectator and Architectural Review. Charles Jencks called him “Pithy, succinct, elegant, opinionated and analytical with a strong sense and knowledge of history.”
He was born in 1948 and came to Glasgow in 1990 to lecture in architectural history at Glasgow School of Art. A pupil in history of art of David Watkin at Cambridge, his youthful conservatism had soon broadened into a wider appreciation of most aspects of 19th and 20th century architecture and the built environment. As one of the ‘New Georgians’ of the 1980s he combined his tweeds with radical conservationism. Ian Martin tweeted that he was “The only bloke I ever met with a pocket watch who wasn’t a wanker”. For further insight into his desired lifestyle see http://www.bibleofbritishtaste.com/the-englishmans-room-gavin-stamp-and-anti-ugly/.
Gavin was a brilliant and inspiring unscripted lecturer, indefatigable tour leader and author of much-admired books ranging from scholarly works on George Gilbert Scott and Edward Lutyens, especially his recent study of Lutyens’ ‘Memorial to the Missing of the Somme’, to several glossy coffee-table books of old architectural photographs, lost buildings and townscapes, in which he could rail against developers and politicians. Most familiar to us will be his ground-breaking books on Alexander Thomson.
In Glasgow, while he was looking for a place to live, Thomson’s neglected home at 1 Moray Place came up for sale. He later regretted the “starry-eyed” enthusiasm that caused him to buy it without the funds to restore it. Indeed, the Evening Times infamously criticised him for his neglect. He did however research and publish its eccentric window mechanisms and in 2001 he put a new roof on the house to keep the water out.
His energies went into his family and into founding the Alexander Thomson Society in 1991 – of which the Strathbungo Society is a proud member. He was an active participant in Glasgow’s successful bid to be the UK City of Architecture and Design, 1999 and indeed hosted several meetings in the drawing room of 1 Moray Place. He wrote and edited the two definitive books on Thomson, and helped organise the seminal exhibition ‘Thomson – the Unknown Genius’ during Glasgow’s reign as UK City of Architecture and Design. Previously he had orchestrated the saving of Thomson’s Holmwood House for the nation.
Gavin’s contribution to architectural history and architectural conservation is immense, on the national scale through his books and articles, campaigns and pressure groups, on the city scale in Glasgow where he championed not only Thomson but Glasgow’s magnificent Victorian buildings, and at the local level by saving individual buildings – and of course ensuring that Giles Gilbert Scott’s red telephone boxes were listed and protected. It is somehow fitting that one of Scott’s telephone boxes is located adjacent to Gavin’s former home at 1 Moray Place, and where it may yet still be the focus for a guide to Thomson’s work in Glasgow’s Southside. Indeed, 1-10 Moray Place was described by the great American architectural historian Henry Russell Hitchcock “with little question the finest of all nineteenth century terraces … and one of the world’s most superb pieces of design based on Greek precedent”.
It was Gavin Stamp, more than anyone, who helped the world better appreciate Thomson’s genius, something that we mark here.