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JOHN Harris, now Curator Emeritus of the RIBA’s Drawings Collection, has published many books on architecture and the decorative arts.

He is perhaps better known to a wider public through his book No Voice from the Hall: Early Memories of a Country House Snooper, in which Harris takes a pop at Nicholas Pevsner and John Betjeman, writes compellingly and nostalgically about the romance of ruins and the discovery of country house gems around the world, with a joyful and eccentric curiosity and a honed sense of trespass.

He continues his insatiably nosy journey in the second of these mischievous books spattered with antique dealers and art collectors.

Harris rushes us through his brief apprenticeship as a Heal’s upholsterer, brief curatorship of the Grotto of the Four Winds of Battersea Pleasure Gardens and in his chapter Privé-Défense d’Entrer, Mr Harris describes finding, in 1952, Racine de Monville’s ruined 18th century ornamental garden, the famous Désert de Retz, with its derelict Column House and the Maison Chinoise, the most famous of all the European Chinese Houses, then in terminal decay.