6 January 2014

Foundations of a nation

Head of English Heritage, Simon Thurley, picks the 10 buildings that changed the face of this country - what makes England special.

During the Christmas holidays over 9 million people tuned in to Downton Abbey for a festive dose of nostalgia.  Downton's masterly evocation of country life captures, for a global audience, an image of Englishness: the country house, the rolling countryside, quaint villages, dogs and cucumber sandwiches.  

These are of course central to our national identity, and need to be cherished and preserved, but a more critical look at what makes England special takes us to a different place.

After the Battle of Waterloo, Britain changed to being a world power built on mechanisation, minerals and urbanisation. Hard, dirty, crowded places built the machines and manufactured the goods that gave Britain global dominance for around a century.  
The glorious buildings of of the English countryside, the lanes, the villages and the cathedral closes became junior partners in a much harsher view of our national identity.

Danny Boyle's inspired Olympics opening ceremony (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-18971766) captured this perfectly.  While our cathedrals are glorious, our country houses sublime and our villages the most chocolate-boxey, what sets England apart is our mastery of industry.   It is home to the earliest monuments of industrialisation, the first factories, warehouses, railways, docks, power stations and much more.  

Half of this list of the most influential buildings are products of engineering and technology and were all built in the space of 45 years.

These places have a sublime beauty all to themselves.  Although many of these places are heart-stoppingly beautiful they are in need of a new use. The heritage crisis of the 21st Century is the fate of our industrial past.

The 20th century saved the country houses, and we can celebrate that, but the effects of our long obsession with the countryside have been a neglect of our unique industrial heritage.

Ditherington Flax Mill, one of the top 10, was rescued from collapse by English Heritage in 2005 and is only now finding a new use.  Another on the list - Liverpool Road Station, Manchester, the earliest surviving railway station in the world - faces the prospect of its original viaducts being demolished. 

This would never be contemplated if a line involved the demolition of part of Highclere Castle (where Downton Abbey is filmed).  We need to accept that our unique contribution to the world was not cucumber sandwiches, however nice they are.

This year will be important for our nation's heritage.  In 2013 we celebrated a century of heritage protection by the state, allowing us to enjoy our countryside.  In 2014, all three national heritage agencies - Historic Scotland (http://www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/), Cadw in Wales (http://cadw.wales.gov.uk/daysout/castles-and-historic-places-in-wales/?lang=en) and English Heritage (http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/) - will be under review, and the outcome will affect their ability to continue to do their jobs into the next century. 

Each agency will have its work cut out, and perhaps facing the consequences of de-industrialisation  will be somewhere at the top of their lists.

Full article is here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/architecture/10549001/englands-best-buildings-top-ten-best-buildings-britain-english-heritage-simon-thurley-westminster-abbey.html
Liverpool Road Railway Station, Manchester

  1. Westminster Abbey, London (c.960): which set the standard for aspiring builders for centuries.
  2. Rievaulx Abbey, North Yorkshire (1147 - 67): the dominant architectural style for 300 years.
  3. King's Bench Walk, Temple, London (1677): blue-print for urban houses, even for today.
  4. The Peckwater Quadrangle, Christ Church, Oxford (1707): style adopted for houses, churches and public buildings everywhere.
  5. Ditherington Flax Mill, Shrewsbury (1797): ancestor of every large building today, even sky-scrapers.
  6. A&G Murray Mills, Ancoats, Manchester (1801): Britain's industrial revolution entered a new phase, creating the largest economy the world had ever seen.
  7. Liverpool Road Railway Station, Manchester (1830): familiar architectural style gave an atmosphere of confidence.
  8. No 6 Slip, Chatham Historic Dockyard (1847): enabled enormous ships to be constructed, pushing the limits of technology.
  9. All Saints Church, Margaret Street, London (1849): polychrome brick, fusion of architecture and engineering.
  10. Bedford Park, London (from 1877): inspiration for suburbs.
All Saints Church, Margaret Street
And here are other key landmarks
Thirty buildings that also shaped England (listed in roughly chronological order):
  1. All Saints Church, Brixworth, Northamptonshire
  2. The White Tower, Tower of London
  3. Westminster Hall, Houses of Parliament
  4. Dover Castle keep
  5. Canterbury Cathedral
  6. The Wheat Barn, Cressing Temple, Essex
  7. Lincoln Cathedral
  8. The Divinity School, Oxford
  9. Woollaton House, Nottinghamshire
  10. Canterbury Quad, St John's College, Oxford
  11. Forty Hall, Enfield
  12. The Radcliffe Camera, Oxford
  13. Chiswick House, London
  14. St Martin-in-the-Fields, London
  15. The bridge at Ironbridge, Shropshire
  16. The Royal William Yard, Plymouth
  17. Albert Dock, Liverpool
  18. Gower Street, London
  19. St George's Hall, Liverpool
  20. Cromford Mills, Derbyshire
  21. Windsor Castle
  22. The Houses of Parliament
  23. The Palm House, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
  24. Newcastle upon Tyne railway station
  25. The Bass Maltings, Sleaford, Lincolnshire
  26. Boundary Estate, Bethnal Green, London
  27. Selfridges, Oxford Street, London
  28. Battersea Power Station, London
  29. Speke Airport, Liverpool (now Liverpool John Lennon Airport)
  30. Letchworth Garden City
Royal William Yard

From the Sunday Telegraph 5 January 2014 by Simon Thurley

'The Building of England' is by Simon Thurley (HarperCollins £35)

No comments:

Post a Comment