Wednesday, 14 June 2017

The De Laszlo House, Fitzjohn's Avenue, London

View down the length of Fitzjohn's Avenue.
The De Laszlo House is at the bottom.
In a blog post last summer called Upstairs Downstairs I wrote about the history of the house at 3 Fitzjohn's Avenue in London. From 1921 to his death in 1937 it was the home and studio of the society portrait painter Philip de Laszlo. In his time number 3 was called Hyme House but recently it has been developed along with the two neighbouring houses, 5 and 7, and all three have been dubbed De Laszlo House to give them a caché and added value, though De Laszlo owned only 3 and had nothing to do with 5 and 7.

Now I have been contacted by Caroline Ries of St Paul, Minnesota, who tells me she lived in the houses as a student in the 1970s when all three had been taken over by nuns. At first Caroline was thrilled to come across her old residence online but said, 'I was shocked to see the ultra modern interior replacing the historic character of the house'.


To illustrate her dismay at what the developers have done, Caroline has sent me the brochure for the Holy Cross Convent as it was in the late 1930s along with her own photographs of the houses taken in the 1970s, 'in black and white which doesn't do them justice', she says, but which clearly depict how a once beautiful example of Arts and Crafts architecture has been turned into what the developers call 'a masterpiece of artful design'
- and where the price of a three bedroom flat is around £4,000,000.

Cover page of the Holy Cross Convent brochure from the late 1930s.  Philip de Laszlo lived in number 3 on the left, but after his death all three houses, 3, 5 and 7, were taken over by the Catholic Church and turned into a convent.  



Brochure illustration of the entrance hall at number 3, the one house owned by De Laszlo.

Caroline recalls the entrance hall at 3 Fitzjohn's Avenue. 'Parlour and dining room to the left on the Maresfield Gardens side.  The back door to the garden was to the right of the window, behind the staircase. The panelled door next to the fireplace opened to the room used as a chapel. Visible through the open doorway is a free-standing partition of frosted glass panels. They were probably not original but served to separate the second dining room from the hallway to the adjacent house, number 5.'

The following are also taken from the Holy Cross Convent brochure.


Dining room at number 3.









The lounge.












A single bedroom.







Brochure view of number 3 from the garden.



Caroline Ries took these photographs when she took a room at the convent during her student days in London in the 1970s.


The French doors leading from the dining room at number 3 to the garden.

View of the garden from the back door of number 3.







Looking across from the garden of number 3 to the rear of numbers 5 and 7
showing their Arts and Crafts architectural features.



'I was thrilled to see your blog on 3 Fitzjohn's Ave.', Caroline wrote to me.  'I lived there as a student from 1971-1977. In fact, I still have a very old brochure advertising Holy Cross Convent as a student residence which shows photographs of the house and gardens. The brochure appears to have been made in the late 1930s or early 40s.'

'I was very disappointed to see that the interior of the three houses (Nos. 3, 5, and 7) were completely gutted. The woodwork was beautiful, and there were French doors leading from the dining room to the gardens. I am surprised there was no effort to restore the interior. The photos I saw online as individual flats are unrecognizable.'

'The original woodwork (that did not get painted over) was beautiful, as were the fireplaces. The main foyer was quite spare. I think the Swiss nuns tried to downplay the opulence of the place. A restoration would have been a better tribute to de Laszlo. After all, he painted the portraits of the Duchess of York and the young Princess Elizabeth in his studio there. I read there exists a film of De Laszlo entertaining the Duke and Duchess of York and Princess Elizabeth at Hyme House.'


'I lived in two different rooms as a student: one facing Fitzjohn's Ave., and my favorite facing the garden. I stripped the white paint off the fireplace in my room thinking it would reveal beautiful woodwork. It turned out to be marble.'

Online photographs of the the so-called De Laszlo House at 3, 5 and 7 Fitzjohn's Avenue show, as Caroline says, that the interior has been gutted, all the fireplaces removed, its Arts and Crafts detail stripped away both inside and along the rear facades.

Bedroom.

Living room.

The only detail that survives is a bit of stucco cornicing here and there
and the exterior mouldings.






Saturday, 10 June 2017

Postcards from Corfu: Kouloura

Madame Gennatas' Venetian manor house still stands at Kouloura today.
The following is adapted from The Durrells of Corfu by Michael Haag which again this Saturday, for the sixth week in a row, is The Times number one bestseller among paperback non-fiction titles.

On a beautiful spring day in 1936, Spiro drove Theodore Stephanides and Larry and Nancy Durrell from the Daffodil Yellow Villa at Kontokali north along the coast road, a difficult journey during rainy weather and impossible when it was stormy. Here the ridges of Mount Pantocrator drove straight into the sea, creating a succession of coves but allowing little workable land, only the olive trees clinging to the slopes of the mountain in steep steps of terraces.

Normally the journey was done by the daily caique which set out from Corfu Town for Kouloura across the narrow strait from Albania. In each direction the caique put in, when requested, at the little villages along this remote coast – exposed to the northern winter winds, parched in summer, a wilder Corfu, so different from the gentler, almost Italian lower half of the island. But today was fine, and as the big car bounced north along the broken road the afternoon sun struck obliquely through the olives, dappling the occasional colour-washed houses of ochre, of white, of mulberry, with light and shade.

Theodore had been invited to tea by Madame Gennatas and was asked to bring his new friends. The old widow lived in a fortified Venetian manor house at the port of Kouloura, the most beautiful of all the little coves along this coast, where a horseshoe jetty sheltered red and blue fishing boats, and where waving pale green eucalyptus and dark jets of cypress rose above the sound of water faintly lapping at a pebble beach. The immensely thick walls of the manor house, originally pierced by loopholes, was now opened up by several French windows, which let out onto a wide stone terrace overlooking the sea. Here the visitors were served afternoon tea and listened to Madame Gennatas recall the Corfu she had known when she was a girl – and how to this day the King of Greece always arrived aboard his yacht at Kouloura to visit her in summer.

It was dark by the time Theodore, Larry and Nancy departed, but the bright moonlight helped Spiro navigate the Dodge back to Kontakali. Along the way the talk was of the beauty of Kouloura and the dramatic landscape of the surrounding countryside. Nancy had long wanted to get away from the south of Corfu, away from the villas near town. ‘I felt we’d been living too near the crowds – too tame. I was terribly keen on being in the wildest place I could find – most untamed.’

Come morning, and Larry and Nancy decided to find some rooms in a peasant cottage up that way. Their thoughts were put into immediate effect by Spiro, who knew everyone: ‘Don’t you worries, Larry, I’ll soon fixes it.’ Ten days later, and against the wishes of his mother Louisa, who wanted him to remain at her villa in Kontokali, Larry was moving with Nancy into two rooms in a white-painted house overhanging the sea at Kalami, a sprinkling of four or five cottages round the headland to the south of Kouloura.

Aerial view of Kouloura, below, and Kalami beyond.  The White House,
home of Lawrence and Nancy Durrell, is the large house at the left-most
end of Kalami's crescent beach.   

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

The Charm of The Durrells of Corfu

I have just been sent this photograph of the attractive window display at the new Waterstones bookshop in Crouch End, London.

Booksellers have been having a lot of fun with this title, imaginatively suggesting the mix of sun and sea and wildlife and an idiosyncratic family presented by The Durrells of Corfu, Book of the Month for May.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Corfu Postcards: Kardaki




I have been receiving some beautiful postcards of Corfu. This one is of Kardaki, south of Corfu town, in the general direction of Canoni where Spiro Americanos lived.

Meanwhile The Durrells of Corfu continues at the top of the bestseller lists this weekend, number 1 in The Times, number 3 in The Sunday Times.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

My Family and Other Secrets: Three Women Written Out of the Durrells' Corfu Story

Nancy, Alexia and Maria were intimately connected to the Durrells in Corfu, part of the family you might say - but not a word was said about them in My Family and Other Animals or in the other volumes of The Corfu Trilogy.  This article in the Radio Times says something about these missing women.


Sunday, 21 May 2017

Bestseller Again This Weekend: The Durrells of Corfu



Like last weekend The Durrells of Corfu stands in the top ranks of the bestseller lists, number one in The Times, number three in The Sunday Times.

Meanwhile I have work to do, writing the biography of Lawrence Durrell for Yale University Press.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Hello Lenin!

Passing through Percy Circus.
I visited Profile Books in Holford Yard, Bevin Way, London WC1 the other day.  Profile publish several of my books, including The Templars: History and Myth, The Tragedy of the Templars, The Quest for Mary Magdalene, and The Durrells of Corfu, and it is always a good idea to check that they are still in business.
Lenin at Percy Circus in 1902.

Also Profile are near two spots where Vladimir Ilyich Lenin lived before the 1917 revolution that made him master of Russia and the creator of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.  One of these places is Percy Circus where Lenin lived in 1905; the other was in Holford Square in 1902, but the entire square was destroyed by German bombing during the Second World War.

A modernist housing project designed by a Russian architect called Berthold Lubetkin was built over the ruins of Holford square and was at first called Lenin Court but once the Cold War got into full swing in the late 1940s its name was changed to Bevin Court after the strongly anti-Communist Labour foreign secretary Ernest Bevin.  It was Lenin/Bevin Court I was particularly keen to see.

Bevin Court
The central staircase had a social purpose, to make people mix and to run them together.  Fortunately there are also lifts for the socially incorrect.






Lubetkin also created a memorial to Lenin on this site but it was constantly attacked and he buried it beneath the central core of the staircase at garden level. But if you want to see Lenin himself, and not tulips, you will have to visit his mummified corpse in Moscow's Red Square, abutting the wall of the Kremlin and opposite the delightful GUM department store which is a thriving monument to the vitality of pre- and post-communist Russia.

For more of Lenin in London, click here.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Sunday Times Bestseller 14 May 2017

The Times yesterday and The Sunday Times today both have The Durrells of Corfu in the top ranks of their bestseller lists.  The Times, which bases its rankings on sales by Waterstones, has the book at number one.  The Sunday Times takes into account all avenues of sale and ranks it at number three. Either way, not bad.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

The Times Number One Bestseller: The Durrells of Corfu


The Durrells of Corfu is the number one bestseller on The Times non-fiction list.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Following in the Footsteps of the Durrells

'It started accidentally and has continued accidentally ever since. I mean following in the footsteps of the Durrells and writing about them. It began in Cairo just before I was about to catch the train for my first visit to Alexandria. I went into the Anglo-Egyptian bookshop which had been run since 1928 by an old Copt called Sobhi Greis; business was not what it used to be and his books were piled in heaps and covered in dust. I was looking for a guidebook to Alexandria but there was no such thing, but I did pull out from the bottom of a pile a paperback copy of Lawrence Durrell’s Justine, the first volume of The Alexandria Quartet which I had read ages ago. It was the Faber edition, the one with the red cover and the handprint like you see on walls throughout Egypt, a child’s hand to avert the evil eye.'

That is how my blog post for Waterstones begins.  It tells how I accidentally came to follow in the footsteps of the Durrells, from that day in a Cairo bookshop to the recent publication of The Durrells of Corfu.  To read my full Waterstones blog post, click here.














Monday, 8 May 2017

The Durrells of Corfu Audiobook


The Durrells of Corfu will be published as an audiobook by Bolinda on 28 June 2017.

The Durrells of Corfu Emigrate to Australia

One of Abbey's famous outdoor blackboards.
Abbey's is a leading independent bookshop in Sydney, Australia. Their promotions are simple but effective.  They have two blackboards that they place outside announcing recommended titles inside. Publishers covet a position on the blackboards - only two titles are mentioned on each, four in all - and the books then sell like hotcakes.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

The Times Bestsellers on Saturday 6 May 2017


The Durrells of Corfu ranks third in the nonfiction paperback list.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Durrell Tweets
























The International Lawrence Durrell Society, under the moniker @Durrell, tweets about all sorts of things Durrellian, not only Larry but also Gerry and all the rest, as well as just about anything that can claim free association.  You can see it online here.

Constantinople Exhibition at the Hellenic Centre



I am very much looking forward to seeing more of Andreas Giorgiadis' remarkable pen and ink works at the Hellenic Centre.

I have previously seen his evocative illustrations of Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet.

This time his subject is Constantinople.







The Durrells of Corfu Blossoming in Windows

Some remarkable window displays, for example at Piccadilly and Edinburgh.


Monday, 1 May 2017

Waterstones Book of the Month









I was away at the Hexham Book Festival when Waterstones announced this morning that The Durrells of Corfu is their non-fiction Book of the Month for May.

I am told that the book is blossoming in shop windows up and down the country and in airports too but I have seen nothing myself yet (apart from the photographs people have been sending in); instead I was inspecting the northern border defences of the Roman Empire along the River Tyne. (More of that later.)







Saturday, 29 April 2017

Waterstones Gower Street in Bloomsbury


Spotted by a passer-by at Waterstones Gower Street just a moment ago.  In the heart of Bloomsbury.  Larry lived near Gower Street in his early twenties and it was here that he met Nancy Myers, a student at the Slade School of Art across the road, who went with him to Corfu.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Waterstones Piccadilly Tonight

I have been sent this photograph of The Durrells of Corfu
piled high at Waterstones Piccadilly tonight.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Louisa Durrell's Corfu Romance?

The television Durrells, 2017.
The Times television critic Andrew Billen previews the second season of The Durrells, which starts tomorrow night, and wonders about mother Durrell's love life.  The following is an extract.


The biographer Michael Haag has just published an excellent book, The Durrells of Corfu, in which he pieces together the true story of the family’s stay on the island. I phone to inquire if he had uncovered any indications that Louisa had romantic interludes on the island.

“None whatsoever. Zero. Gerry made that up. Never happened. I have spoken to her grandson and other people and they say she was straight up and down, with no interest in other men whatsoever — purely her late husband. I am not quite sure what Gerry was doing there. He might have been ragging his brother Leslie, who was very protective of his mother. If you look in my book, there are two photos in which Leslie literally has his mother in his clutches, holding on to her in a very controlling way. And that comes through in this series.”

Nye happens to be a neighbour of [Haag's] and he says that his programme makes him smile. He also gives it some credit for subtly acknowledging the tale’s roots in tragedy, the death of Louisa’s husband, Lawrence Samuel Durrell, at the age of 44 from a brain haemorrhage in 1928, when Gerry was three. The photograph twice held up by Hawes in the first series is of the real man, an intimation, Haag writes on his blog, that “something more was going on than Gerry would ever admit as he turned to his world of animals”.

Some of that “more” was that in Bournemouth Louisa fell into alcoholism and had a nervous breakdown. Larry may have wanted to move to Corfu to live alone on a rock and write, but his conscience never allowed him to leave his family behind. After such eruptions, it is perhaps not surprising that Gerry made friends with the animal world that would later, when he was a conservationist, become his career.

The real Durrells at the Daffodil Yellow Villa c1936. Leslie is missing; he was taking the photograph.