In the first of a new interview series profiling Londoners and their love of the capital, A Gentleman’s Jotter welcomes literary agent Tom Cull to the blog to talk architecture, spies and the whereabouts of London’s oldest coffee house.
1. Which part of London do you feel most at home in and why?
That’s a tough question and it changes depending on my circumstances. I lived in North London for a while in my 20s, but have also spent time in West and South London. If I could choose anywhere to live in London right now, money no object, then it would be anywhere near a park and with everything I need in walking distance.
2. Do you have a favourite piece of modern or classical architecture?
There is sadly little modern architecture I admire in the City and London’s skyline is rapidly becoming one of skyscrapers, but I do like The Gherkin and The Shard. They punctuate the skyline with some originality, however they may lose their uniqueness as even bigger towers inevitably go up. On the more subtle end, there are the interiors of the British Library and the Great Court in the British Museum, which are fun and the tilted structure of City Hall and the Lloyds Building have their place as relatively tasteful futuristic-looking buildings.
The Houses of Parliament probably ranks as my favourite for its sheer ambition and scale. It’s not just the outside either. Inside, the detailing is remarkable and equally as impressive as the façade. I really enjoy the architecture around Pall Mall and ‘Clubland’. It’s classic London with all those gorgeous little squares like St. James’s. The London Guildhall is also astonishing and I always marvel at the London St. Pancras Hotel. Leadenhall Market is another favourite.
3. Tell us an interesting trivia/fact you’ve learned about this great City?
There are many but more recently I have learned a lot about The City of London. The oldest coffee house in London was founded called The Jamaica Wine House, which is now a gem of a restaurant hidden away down St. Michael’s Alley. It was London’s first ever coffee house opened there in 1652, counting Samuel Pepys amongst its earliest patrons.
It may not be interesting to your readers but I discovered that my great grandfather was married at The Queen’s Chapel of the Savoy, which is right behind the Savoy Hotel; very tiny and you would never had known it was there.
4. Choose some noted Londoners (past or present) to host a dinner party for and where would you like it to take place?
1. Oscar Wilde – For wit and wisdom, and to keep things lively.
2. Ian Fleming – For his many stories from journalism, the war and general urbaneness.
3. Arthur Conan Doyle – For his ability to talk on many subjects and to get some song writing tips.
4. Maud Russell – A true aesthete and society hostess; she would maintain order with that lot.
The setting? Perhaps a private room at The National Liberal Club or The (Graham) Greene / Sir John Betjemen Room at Rules restaurant.
5. Name any buildings not currently open to the general public you’d like to explore?
I would love to view inside 22B Ebury Street, Belgravia which was the former home of Ian Fleming. He bought the flat from Oswald Mosley in 1934 and it was also where his fictional villain in Moonraker, Sir Hugo Drax lived.
I would also like to look inside Orchard Court in Portman Square, which is where my Great Grandfather took a flat and the SOE (Special Operations Executive) used some of the properties for the French or ‘F’ section (SOE head office was at 64 Baker Street). Here, new spies were recruited and later briefed before being taken into occupied France and my Great Aunt worked for them as a secretary.
Of course, who wouldn’t want to take a peek inside the Royal Mint?!
6. You have the chance to change one thing about London – what would it be?
I think it would be to have all taxis and buses to have to be electric or hydrogen powered coupled with more pedestrianisation of the streets. Some parts of London I avoid just because of the amount of traffic, much of it unnecessary. London has always been able to combine history and modernity, so I hope it can lead the way in cleaner energy.
7. Sir John Betjeman famously saved some great buildings from demolition including London’s St. Pancras. What modern structure do you admire which you’d want grade listed for future generations?
I’m not sure how modern they are but the old Battersea Power Station seems iconic enough for me to protect. I feel that a building needs to develop a rich history as well to earn that sort of status. I’m open to suggestions!
8. Tell us a recent London-based event that you enjoyed attending?
I am a member of the Author’s Club, which hold their meetings at the National Liberal Club, which is a spectacular building inside and out. One of the founding members was Arthur Conan Doyle and former members included Maxwell Knight, Graham Greene, Malcolm Muggeridge and Oscar Wilde.
9. Tell us three things you most like to do when in the capital?
• Explore something new about the City
• Frequent my favourite haunts.
• Meet friends and new people.
10. Do you know of a secret London gem that people should visit?
The Grade I listed former Midland Bank HQ, designed by Sir Edwin “Ned” Lutyens in 1924. It is now The Ned Hotel in Moorgate, part of the Soho House Group, an Edwardian-styled hotel and restaurant(s). It has stunning marble architecture and beautiful classic bars in the round. It won’t stay a secret gem for long though. For extra cachet, the basement vault with its two metre-wide vault door – was the very same one that stood in for Fort Knox in the Bond film Goldfinger.
Mr. Tom Cull is a literary agent, publicist and owner at Cull & Co. He splits his time between London and West Sussex. You can follow him on Twitter