When Charles Moore recently commended in The Spectator a new memoir by my Somerset neighbour Lord (William) Waldegrave, I was intrigued to see his claim that one of Waldegrave’s schoolboy ambitions was to save “Trafalgar Square from demolition”. Having twice myself been involved in campaigns to do the same thing, when I happened to sit behind Waldegrave in church last Sunday I asked him what this referred to.
He told me how angry he had been at the plan 50 years ago to replace all the historic buildings at the south-west end of Whitehall with a massive modern development by Leslie Martin, the architect of the Festival Hall. But this was at the opposite end from Trafalgar Square. A few years later, when writing a book called Goodbye London, recording the way developers and planners then wanted to transform virtually the whole of familiar central London, I was shocked to find that two buildings they wanted to replace with large, featureless modern blocks (one by Richard Seifert of Centre Point fame) were those on the south-east side of Trafalgar Square.
The more prominent of these, on the corner of the Strand, was built in 1878 as the original Grand Hotel, the first in London where respectable married women could dine out in public. […]