sept 2019

Dear Reader(s)

The SAW fortnight is upon us and I wonder what you have seen and liked. The Reflect exhibition in the Brewhouse (venue 25) celebrates 25 years of Somerset Art Weeks with work by invited artists, including at least one of our members, Hilary Adair. I do recommend that, and a visit to Close House, Hatch Beauchamp (35) for sculpture and line drawings in a new space. This year’s free SAW booklet is informative and well produced.

The Brewhouse’s plans to expand are on hold, I understand, while the West Somerset and Taunton Deane Council assesses what cultural project(s) in Taunton to support. There is an important meeting about this on 8 October. You may have signed the online petition in support of the Brewhouse or made your view known some other way. The re-opened Brewhouse has made such a difference to our town’s cultural provision: among its achievements, it has given art a gallery fit for many purposes, brought cinema to Coal Orchard, restored a café, attracted a wide range of people, and given voluntary organisations a role and worthwhile stake in its future. Surely it has to be commended, and now adequately funded and backed to expand?

Ken Grieb, who died on February 11, some months after his 100th birthday last year, was remembered by family and friends, including members of SAGT on September 20. Born in Wales, he served as a Captain in the Royal Engineers in India, returned in 1946 to become a good caring architect who sought to improve the quality of life for residents. He designed London housing estates and the hall of a Poplar primary school (now listed). He married Joyce, owned and altered Hendon Park lodge and coach house – a home he loved. He was appointed chief architect for Islington but found the job too stressful and resigned. He recovered, and then worked for the Housing Department of the Department of the Environment where he developed the idea of ‘gradual renewal’ of an area rather than comprehensive redevelopment. This later became Government policy. I was told that he applied this successfully to a part of Exeter.

He took early retirement and moved to an Arts & Craft house in Wembdon with a view of Steep Holm and  Welsh hills. Joyce was able there to support her sick brother. Ken’s many interests included the new Bridgwater Arts Centre and joining Chandos. He did the Guardian concise crossword: when stuck he phoned his friends, ‘Six across?’ he would ask. He went to the opera, saw plays, attended the Preaters’ Friday morning life drawing, and more recently was driven home by Damien Parsons, a friend and fellow London architect, after a class in Pawlett. Damien described Ken’s ‘life’ drawings as ‘distinctive, lively, amusing, rather than naturalistic.’

Ken joined SAGT in its early years and funded the lectures that bear his name, which we hope will continue well into the next decade.This year’s is on Saturday 5 October, at 11.0 in the Trull Church Community Centre. Our Speaker is Dr. Jan Cox and his subject is Thomas Fearnley and the Golden Age of Danish Art. We do hope you can come. It will be the first that Ken has missed. Please encourage others to be there. The cost is £7 for members, £10 for non-members, and £3 for Students.

In addition to his generosity to SAGT, for which we give many thanks, I learnt from Anna Mullett, at the farewell to Ken, of an RIBA article written by a fellow architect Philip Bottomley, which I quote from. He chose Ken, ‘a rather modest retiring chap’, as the person who had left perhaps the biggest impression on him. To illustrate this Bottomley selected two projects that Ken completed.

‘He was deeply committed indeed obsessive about the production of good local authority housing…He attacked each new design with a fresh and open mind and never just took the current dogma off the peg.’ Bottomley then described the Angrave Road scheme in 1950s Shoreditch. In those days inner city houses had to be built at a density of 136 persons to the acre. An obvious way to achieve that was to build high. Not by Ken who knew that most people wanted houses on the ground with gardens, not patios. Ken struggled until he had achieved back to back housing with 60 feet gardens, overcoming building and public health regulations and the ‘scepticism and general disapproval’ of most of his senior colleagues. In the second example, a point or tower block in Camberwell Road, he managed to ‘overcome the drawbacks of many of the current designs’ by ingenious replanning of such things as draughty lift lobbies after another ‘stiff fight’ to meet building regulations. ‘The lobbies together with the completely glazed escape stair enclosure and small play-deck at every third floor produced together a spacial arrangement of considerable delight, a surprising achievement in a high-rise local authority block.’

For those of us who have known Ken in his later years we may have found him, at times, odd, a bit abrasive, even rude or crude, but often amusing.  The warmth and affection with which his family and friends remembered him on September 20 will be my lasting impression of this generous and talented man who survived much and gave even more.

Best wishes,
Jeremy (Harvey)

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