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fiona maccarthy

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a life in architecture

As a biographer Fiona MacCarthy is interested in the effect that buildings have on her subjects, Ashbee, Gill, Morris and now Byron. Her introduction to Modernist architecture came through Jack Pritchard who invited her to dinner at the Isokon Building in the 1960s, and introduced her to the architecture of the thirties. Writing about CR Ashbee, she came to know the Old Silk Mill at Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds which Ashbee converted into craft workshops and which is still stamped with his presence and the atmosphere of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Eric Gill, her most controversial subject to date, designed only one building, the church of St Peter, Gorleston, completed in 1939. 'It was a very enterprising church at that time,' MacCarthy explains. 'In keeping with his democratising ideas he brought the altar forward into the centre of the church.' For William Morris, MacCarthy unhesitatingly offers the Red House (pictured), designed by Philip Webb in 1859. MacCarthy is currently researching the life of Byron, and says that this is leading to a whole new architectural education. Looming over the poet's early life was the building he inherited as a boy, Newstead Abbey, 'a very haunting building and the place where the Byronic frisson started'.

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