An Englishman’s Home 1
Or rather an Englishwoman’s home, as females are more often deciders when it comes to moving. Now that London is unliveable for most young couples people are heading out and new homes are being built. But what kind of homes do people want?
The term Metro-land was coined by the Met’s marketing department in 1915 when the Guide to the Extension Line became the Metro-land guide. It promoted a dream of a modern home in beautiful countryside with a fast railway service to central London, but was also picked up by John Betjeman as something between paradise and a perjorative. The ticky-tacky boxes of the commuter belt were ersatz mansions with pinched little gardens.
But still, it seems, they remain the English ideal. The largest residential development scheme under construction in Britain launches today as the first batch of new homes go on sale.
With a perimeter of 18km, Alconbury Weald, built on the site of a former cold-war RAF base, will deliver nearly 7,000 homes when it is finally completed in 15 to 20 years time. And they look like the house above. Or at least the grandest ones do. God knows what the cheaper ones look like.
Now, to my mother-in-law, who is from New Zealand, this is a fantasy-manifestation of Englishness. It’s not to my taste (why are there hardly any windows?) but then I like Le Corbusier and agree that a home should be a machine for living. Moving from a small Victorian house in a cobbled street which was many people’s dream home in London I switched to a bare glass-walled flat and it transformed the way I lived so much that moving back would now be my idea of hell.
The French, Italians and Spanish rent but the British have an obsession with ownership. Bad memories of the wars still run deep. In the 1950s there was an acute housing shortage that created a new wave of slums, shared accommodations and boarding houses. Notting Hill and Islington went from being no-go zones to chi-chi portfolio properties for overseas bankers, but what remained was the infrastructure of the English house, front room, back room, passage, kitchen behind, bedrooms above, poky garden.
It’s a design that has remained constant for centuries. Furniture was not purchased but inherited, and while homes were passed down flats were for students and foreigners. In Harry Mount’s book, ‘A Passion For Windowsills’ there’s a wonderful explanation of why we’ve ended up with Christmas card homes as our ideal place to live.
Tomorrow; L’Esprit D’Escalier, Comunidad and other living concepts alien to the English home.