Gus Alexander on H. B. Cresswell, The Honeywood File and The Honeywood Settlement

Building Blocks

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The idea of telling a story based on a construction project has been with us since the Book of Genesis, but the method chosen to tell the tale imparted in The Honeywood File, and its sequel The Honeywood Settlement, is by far the most effective and entertaining way I know of describing a process that is at once collaborative and confrontational. Written by H. B. Cresswell, himself a practising architect, The Honeywood File and its successor began life as a series of weekly articles that appeared in the Architects’ Journal between 1925 and 1927, whence they soon gathered enough of a following to be collected and published as books in 1929 and 1930.

The story concerns the building of a ten-bedroomed country house, Honeywood Grange, for a peppery but fair-minded middle-aged financier, Sir Leslie Brash, his neurotic wife Maud and their daughter Phyllis, a bright young thing. The file in question is the architect’s ‘job file’ as it accumulates correspondence in the office of 29-year-old architect James Spinlove, recently established in practice and whose first significant project this is. The job might generate a fee of perhaps £100,000 today.

Most practising architects find themselves with an irate client and/or disgruntled builder at some point, and will be familiar with the dispiriting task of poring over ancient correspondence, trying to unravel the obligations the various parties have to each other in an attempt to stop an argument turning into a lawsuit. When I began working as a trainee architect, I remember waiting in trepidation as my boss looked over a draft of one of my early letters. ‘This is much too chatty,’ he said, crossing out half my effort with a red Pentel. ‘One day we’ll find some clever-dick lawyer reading this out in court and tearing us to shreds with it.’

The reader needs no specialist knowledge in order to enjoy The Honeywood File. I first read it before sitting my p

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About the contributor

Gus Alexander set up his own practice in London in 1986 and has been working as an architect and writing about it ever since. He is currently completing an illustrated book of tales from the architect’s life recorded in his own files.

This piece is one of the winning entries in our Older Writers’ Competition.

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