24 Of The Best Quotes From Nairn's London

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 18 months ago
24 Of The Best Quotes From Nairn's London

2016 marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of Nairn's London, widely considered the quintessential — if highly opinionated — guidebook to our city. To mark the occasion, we rootled through our copy and dug out some of our favourite quotes.

St Mary Woolnoth. Photo by James Guppy in the Londonist Flickr pool

Just as topographical London is a vast 20-mile saucer of people with a rim of low hills, so human London is a central goulash with its rightful inhabitants forming an unfashionable rim. — London

Sheer horror: a Francis Bacon shriek in the affluent, uncomplicated surroundings... It looks like a normal St John's Wood villa pickled in embalming fluid by some mad doctor. — 12 Langford Place, St John's Wood

This is the one City church that you must go in. By comparison almost all Baroque churches on the Continent seem overloaded and hysterical. — St Mary Woolnoth

Horse Guards Parade. Photo by a lonewolf in the Londonist Flickr pool

Unlike many of London's traditional ceremonies , this is a blatant tourist-trap, neither better nor worse than a Soho strip-tease club. — Horse Guards

It is the opposite of a firework; it smoulders through to your consciousness with quiet intensity... This building is meant to be used and worn and thumbed over and hugged, like the family's big wooly dog. — Royal College of Art, Kensington Gore

A poor third to the National Gallery and the Tate. It is an overwhelming, suffocating display of expensive 19th century taste. With all the gilded clocks and boiseries it feels exactly like a provincial French museum. — The Wallace Collection

Royal Festival Hall. Photo by Natalie Clarke in the Londonist Flickr pool

The new facades will be complete by the time this book appears, and so the unsuspected tragedy has come full circle. — Royal Festival Hall

A vast throbbing hangar; the phrase needs to be repeated 16 times to make enough weight in the book and convey the overwhelming solid force of this beginning or end to journeys. — St Pancras station

The shape is the building, a point made straight away by comparison with the clever fribble on the front of St Pancras, next door. — King's Cross station

Selfridges. Photo by David Burton in the Londonist Flickr pool

If man does not blow himself up, he might in the end act at all times and on all levels with the complete understanding of this room" — the breakfast room, John Soane's House

Victorian wildness can come from half a dozen causes... But this is truly demoniac, an Edgar Allen Poe of a building. It is the scream that you wake on at the end of a nightmare. — 33-5 Eastcheap

The whole thing could float off down the Thames as Noah's Ark and the Tower of Babel combined. — Selfridges

Senate House, Bloomsbury. Photo by Balazs Studinger in the Londonist Flickr pool

As anything more than an area on a map, Bloomsbury is dead. Town planners and London University have killed it between them – a notably academic victory — Bloomsbury

One of those structures which make the whole complicated process of designing look absurdly easy. — Waterloo Bridge

Lord Leighton's house has the wholeness and excitement which is so conspicuously absent from his paintings. — Leighton House

Albert Memorial. Photo by neal1973 in the Londonist Flickr pool

In daylight, the romantic aspirations never get off the ground: this detail was meant to be taken seriously, like Wagner. But at night it is magnificent... one of those high points which lose nothing through being frankly melodramatic. — Tower Bridge

And the elephant on one of the corners has a backside just like a businessman scrambling under a restaurant table for his cheque-book. — Albert Memorial

Chelsea is only relatively remarkable. — Chelsea

Photo by Martin Stitchener in the Londonist Flickr pool

Earls Court is a hippopotamus in the water hole, rearing up above West London, that ought to have grass all over it.  — Earls Court

Not to be missed, in the sense that you ought to try Fernet Branca at least once. — Milner Square, Islington

No need to go to Leningrad. Come to Woolwich instead, and see the yellow brick march out for a quarter of a mile or more. — Woolwich Barracks

Highgate Cemetery. Photo by Ralf Siegel in the Londonist Flickr pool

A bitter irony has put the headquarters of the RIBA in Portland Place. For all the streets in London it is the one which has been most stupidly and selfishly and blindly ruined by 20th century RIBA members — velly professional, velly respected, oh yes. — RIBA

It is always four o'clock in late November here, but in the same positive way as in Peter Grimes. -- Beddington Lane

Nothing seems real but death at its greyest and clammiest. The cemetery closes well before dark, and a good job too. — Highgate Cemetery

Last Updated 01 November 2016

Continued below.

Mike Paterson

Nice work and thanks for the reminder. You are not a proper Londoner unless you own a Nairn; mine is ever-present in my bag/rucksack. "An architect on the razzmatazz, out for a day in the suburbs... A rag-bag with enough ideas for a dozen churches: and a splendid place for a boggle." St Mary's, Ealing. "God's bowels." Abbey Meads pumping station. “Miss the Tower of London if you have to, but don’t miss this.”, Tooting Grenada. The whole book is virtually one long quotable quote. May I plug my own effort? Thanks.
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