Burton, Richard (1 of 10). National  Life Story  Collection: Architects' Lives

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  • Recording date

    2014-02-01, 2014-02-08, 2014-02-09, 2014-02-15, 2014-02-16, 2015-09-10

  • Recording locations

    Interviewee's home, London

  • Interviewees

    Burton, Richard, 1933-2017 (speaker,  male)

  • Interviewers

    Franklin, Geraint (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 1: [Session one: 1 February 2014] Richard Vladimir St John Burton, born in London on [3] November 1933. Love of countryside and intention to build ‘a country house in the city’; description of view from recording location. Discussion of middle names and nicknames. [00:04:22] Maternal grandfather Vladimir Poliakoff [VP], a Russian Jew from St Petersburg. Arrival in Britain as an émigré in 1916, followed by his family. VP a railway engineer; VP’s father known as ‘king of the railways’ in Russia. VP’s decision to change profession. VP translator for British Mission in St Petersburg; VP’s contact with Lenin through this role, and description of Stalin as ‘doorman’. VP and Stalin both born in same town, family story that Stalin’s mother worked as a domestic for RB’s family. VP’s insistence that RB pronounced ‘Vladimir’ in the Russian way. [00:09:23] VP’s training as Ponts et Chaussées engineer in St Petersburg. VP’s persecution by communists. Family of VP travelled to Finland at end of 1917 or beginning of 1918, interned in displaced persons’ camp; Teddy [Edward] Lessing, an MP working in the British Mission in St Petersburg, arranged passage to Aberdeen on a Destroyer. [00:11:08] VP’s new career as political writer and correspondent for the Daily Telegraph. VP’s reputation as ‘unofficial voice of the Foreign Office’. VP’s political views on the Soviet Union and Germany. VP became deputy diplomatic correspondent for The Times around 1926. [00:14:50] Maternal grandmother Xenia Poliakoff [XP]. XP’s inexperience at cooking; her large wardrobe. XP’s problems with asthma aggravated by London smog. VP’s departure from The Times in 1935 after disagreement with [Lord] Astor about British policy on Germany. Remarks on pro-German stance of newspaper proprietors. Move of family from London to Welwyn Garden City. VP keen gardener; his assistance to agricultural research station; his views on ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign. Remarks on XP’s clothes and appearance. Group of émigrés based at Welwyn. VP’s interception and translation of Russian radio signals for Foreign Office with homemade receiver. XP’s cooking. RB stayed with maternal grandparents at beginning of War. [00:26:40] XP’s speech; XP’s lessons in French, English and Russian as a child. Description of XP’s multi-lingual conversations with her daughters. Dispersal of RB’s extended family throughout Europe. [00:30:23] RB’s father [Percy Basil Harmsworth Burton] [PBHB] a Communist sympathiser. RB’s mother [Vera Xenia Poliakoff] [VXP] an actress in the 1930s. Her affair with Michel Saint-Denis, theatre director in the South of France. XP’s brother Pierre Leon [PL] lived in Paris, solicitor and friend of James Joyce [JJ]. Leon a family of Spanish Jews who had come to Russia. Story of VXP’s arrival in Paris in 1933 to have an abortion; PL and JJ dissuaded her. Effect of RB’s birth on VXP’s life. [00:38:06] VXP born in St Petersburg; uncertainty about year of birth. Description of family house on Quai des Anglais in St Petersburg. Description of VP’s forward-looking attitude and lack of interest in past. Mentions VXP’s sister Olga, and death of brother Vova from blood poisoning. Story of VP rediscovering the box from his dacha in a London antique shop. [short break in recording] [00:48:30] Description of VP’s appearance. Anecdote of VP’s Afghan wolfhounds excluded from RB’s birth. Details of VP’s journalistic career. Mentions RB’s maternal grandparents’ house in Welwyn Garden City. Description of VP’s dress and speech. RB’s inheritance of VP’s fur-lined coats. [00:56:42] Account of Anglo-Irish lineage of father’s family. Two branches of Burtons in West of Ireland, other branch included president of Royal Academy. [01:00:12] Paternal grandmother’s family name Harmsworth, also of Anglo-Irish origin. Arrival of paternal grandfather, Percy [Collingwood] Burton [PCB], from Dublin around turn of twentieth century. PCB businessman and golfer; founded London Press Exchange. PCB built own golf course, Brookmans Park [near Hatfield]. Story of PCB teaching RB golf. [01:06:58] RB’s paternal grandmother ‘Granny B’ [Christabel Rose Harmsworth Burton] [CRHB], youngest of thirteen children, including [Alfred Harmsworth, 1st Viscount] Northcliffe and [Harold Harmsworth, 1st Viscount] Rothermere. CRHB’s influence on her siblings. After First World War CRHB instituted free milk for children. CRHB nurse during War; involvement with Coram’s Field’s children’s park. CRHB’s reputation as ‘peacemaker’ of the family. RB’s childhood love of motor cars. Anecdote about CRHB in charity meeting. [01:17:14] Absence of VXP during RB’s childhood. Paternal grandparents lived at Elizabethan house, Nast Hyde, near the de Havilland Aerodrome, Hatfield. Description of CRHB; a ‘modern woman’. CRHB’s four children: PBHB, Cristobel, Barbara and John. CRHB’s decision to build modern house, Torilla in grounds of Nast Hyde. CRHB’s daughter Cristobel had met the architect, F.R.S. Yorke, on skiing holiday. Description of Torilla. Grandparent’s move to Codicote, Hertfordshire. CRHB commissioned Yorke to build a short terrace [single dwelling] for family, prototype of new town housing. Influence of these projects on RB’s decision to become architect. CRHB’s support of Republican’s during Spanish Civil War and manufacture of sidecars for use by Republicans at barn in Nast Hyde. Influence of hallways at Nast Hyde on Ahrends Burton Koralek’s design for British Embassy in Moscow. Strong social conscience of CRHB.

  • Description

    Life story interview with Richard Burton (1933-2017), architect.

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