'Kilted crusader' dies, aged 71
I first met Roderick Gradidge nearly 30 years ago.
He was leading a Victorian Society walking tour of St George's Hill, Weybridge, where elaborate neoTudor mansions, designed by long-forgotten architects such as Imrie & Angell and Blunden Shadbolt, nestle in dense woodlands. I still have a photograph of him declaiming - the appropriate term - to the party. He was, even then, a striking figure - dressed in tight trousers, crepe-soled 'brothel creepers', sideburns and sporting an earring (then a highly unusual accessory for a man) - though he was yet to adopt the garb which turned him into 'the kilted crusader'. (The London Evening Standard coined the description, which Gradidge loved. ) Gradidge died suddenly shortly before Christmas. He would have celebrated his 72nd birthday on 3 January. It would be all too easy - but in my view entirely mistaken - to write him off as a 'character', an eccentric, a reactionary gadfly, an anachronistic figure of no relevance to the contemporary architectural scene. There was more to his long career than that.
Gradidge was born in Norfolk in 1929. His youth was spent partly in India, where his father was a cavalry officer. His time at the Architecture Association was difficult. He disliked modern architecture and flatly rejected the ideals and aspirations of the Modern Movement. He qualified, nonetheless, and spent a formative period working for the brewer Ind Coope, which was producing the first neo-Victorian pub interiors under the direction of the late Ben Davis.
Gradidge was an enthusiast for Victorian architecture, especially the work of great Goths such as Street and Burges, and served on the committee of the Victorian Society for nearly 40 years. He was a founder member of the Thirties (latterly Twentieth Century) Society.
Gradidge's abilities as historian and critic were evident in his journalism and his books, most notably Dream Houses (1980), a radically revisionist exposition of the domestic architecture of the Edwardian era. 'Now that Modern architecture has been rejected, ' he wrote, 'we may turn back to what little there is left of the Arts and Crafts movement bitten into by the intellectuals on one side and the philistines on the other.' Gradidge's work as an architect reflected his passionate traditionalism. He believed firmly in 'keeping in keeping' and made seamless, but spirited, additions to a number of important Arts and Crafts houses - indeed, his skills in this area were unrivalled. His client list was distinctly glamorous and included a number of peers, as well as the Labour MPs Geoffrey Robinson and Barbara Follett.
Gradidge initially warmed to the attacks on modern architecture launched by the Prince of Wales in the mid '80s, but found the sterile Classicism promoted by the Prince entirely lacking in the qualities he admired in Lutyens, Herbert Baker and Ernest Newton. He produced an extraordinary design, in the manner of Schinkel, for extending the National Gallery, but was not by instinct a Classicist. He vastly admired the work of Wright and saw merit in that of British contemporaries such as Cullinan and MacCormac.
Gradidge returned to his Victorian roots for striking internal restorations at Bodelwyddan Castle, Northampton Town Hall and the National Portrait Gallery (the last now destroyed). His extension to St Edmund's College, Cambridge, made something memorable out of an undistinguished collection of buildings where something more than 'keeping in keeping' was required. One of his last works was the tiny, but intense, columbarium chapel at St Mary's, Bourne Street (which was, along with the Art Workers'Guild, his spiritual home) where his ashes will rest.
Gradidge was a vastly entertaining and genuinely lovable man who had many years of work in him.Who is left to take up the torch of genuine, progressive traditionalism, rooted in a feeling for materials and craftsmanship?