One of the gifts of google to the biographer is the ability suddenly to put a face to someone who has just been a name. Birkbeck College has put online a collection of its historical photographs, and amongst them is an image of George Francis Troup Horne, who was Secretary to the college and Clerk to its Governors from 1919 to 1952.
He was also one of the most significant contacts of Pevsner’s life, in that it was Troup Horne, a neighbour in Hampstead, who seems to have suggested to Birkbeck that they might use Pevsner as a lecturer during the war, when many of the college’s regular staff had been called up. Pevsner’s first lecture at Birkbeck, early in 1940, was entitled ‘Enjoyment of Architecture’. By the time he gave his second, he had been briefly interned as an enemy alien and spent an equal number of months clearing the remains of bombed buildings from the streets of North London.
The first talk was not followed by any offer of regular employment, and Pevsner’s second appearance was not in Birkbeck’s lecture hall but on its roof – again, probably thanks to Troup Horne. After the devastating fire bombing of the City on December 29, 1940 – the ‘second Fire of London’ – compulsory firewatching was introduced. Standing between Chancery Lane and Fetter Lane, Birkbeck – then in Bream’s Buildings – had been lucky to escape the worst of the damage in the City and it was now anxious to comply with the regulations. Pevsner was signed up, and saw it as a welcome release from rubble-shovelling: ‘It is by no means the kind of return to academic surroundings that one would fancy,’ he wrote, ‘but it is a decided improvement’.
Troup Horne also took his turn on the roof, and seems to have put the time to good use. A portly man, he was an excellent cook and selected members of the college would sometimes receive a welcome invitation: ‘Mr Troup Horne presents his compliments and has prepared a pigeon pie’.
Troup Horne would feature again as a mentor after the war, this time as one of the four sponsors of Pevsner’s naturalisation as a British citizen. He is commemorated in London I: the Cities of London and Westminster, published in 1957, four years after his death: ‘To the memory of G. F. Troup Horne and the nights of 1941-1944 at the old Birkbeck College in Bream’s Buildings’.