An Englishman’s Home 1

Great Britain

Alconbury_house-large_trans++EDjTm7JpzhSGR1_8ApEWQA1vLvhkMtVb21dMmpQBfEsOr 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.

15 comments on “An Englishman’s Home 1”

  1. Brooke Lynne says:

    Warning–not on topic. From earlier post about Game of Thrones. Hilarious review of the Martin’s writing and the “addictive” TV show by a writer who is binge-watching as respite from his chemo treatments. Given your views on the show– thought you might enjoy.

  2. Vivienne says:

    I see a car parked in front of one of the garages. Are even new ones too small for the average car? The house could at least be given a point or two for the brick decoration line, a nod at a porch and a reasonable front door. Have seen much, much worse.

  3. Helen Martin says:

    I’m with you, Vivienne. The brick one has a not too bad window downstairs but, yes, the upstairs must be very day-time dark and the back of the downstairs is windowless. We don’t know what the inside is like. It would take me a while to get used to living in Christopher’s type of flat, even though there are no overlookers, because it is so very wide open to the world. There’s no reason why I should imagine someone gazing through binoculars from St. Paul’s dome, though.

  4. John Howard says:

    Beginning to sound like the British enclaves of “Urbanisations” that are built in Spain….

  5. Peter Dixon says:

    I’m pretty sure that architects go to university to have any creativity beaten out of them. Its probably not their fault – property developers work on a ‘minimum becomes maximum’ rule i.e. the government sets down regulations for minimum sizes for things like door size, ceiling height, window sizes; the builders/developers then build everything to the minimum requirements because they don’t make money from building ‘over spec’. You end up with whole developments with all front doors the same size but in 3 different style choices.
    As for trying to find some alternative modern style you can give up.
    You can have any colour you want as long as its brick or render, panted roof or slate.

  6. Vivienne says:

    I am pretty sure that there is no architect involved in these houses. They are known as Design and Build. Architects are not highly valued, some of them sold out to developers who wanted maximum space with minimal extras

    Am just back from Palermo. Stayed at very inexpensive central hotel, but my room had a double door at least 10 feet high and the lobby outside would have been converted into another room in England. We seem content to accept squashed accommodation: maybe harking back to the time when only small rooms would be adequately heated by a small coal fire.

  7. Helen Martin says:

    Am reading Thrones, Dominations in which Peter Wimsey is described (in 1936) of developing land on the outskirts of London. He employed both builders and architects and “was aesthetically ruthless, so that features of the Wimsey Estate were the roomy comfort of its public houses, the exceptional splendour of its scullery sinks, and the landlord’s ferocious veto upon bungalows, galvanised iron, and bastard Tudor half timbering.”
    The word bungalow has been used to refer to such a range of structures that it is almost meaningless these days.

  8. Jan says:

    That’s the thing really Helen if you look at the criticism of the houses in “Metroland” when it was being built alongside the railway lines through Middlesex and beyond they sound just like the comments above. Now although not universally beloved this housing is accepted. A friend once said to me the housing around Rayners Lane was for people who had not quite made it in the mortgage stakes. That’s the essence of the problem massively inflated prices create a demand for housing practically anywhere in the south and east from where people can get into town. It’s easy to be sniffy about Alconbury and the like but with latest.estimates for couples trying to get on the property ladder in London needng an income of 100k …..

  9. Jan says:

    Just one other point I ‘ve worked in state owned Le Corbusier machine for living type multi deck access housing and paradise it’s NOT. Wander up the road half a mile or so Chris and ask yourself this if it wasn’t for the Fowler fortune coccooning you in the glass box would you be so keen on the Kings Cross environment?

  10. Helen Martin says:

    I’m interested in Chris’ response to Jan’s last comment.

  11. Jan says:

    Mr. F. May have well decided the answer is to take out a contract on me specially as I’ve studied the pictures,of him at his new book shindig and decided that the new hairdo that he,is sporting looks as if he’s parked a sporran on top of his head

  12. Helen Martin says:

    Thank you, Jan. I don’t have enough seniority to make that comment, but it is true. Either a sporran or some strange scrubbing brush. My No Name remark further down has to do with a fabulous female hairdo rather than Admin’s.

  13. Jan says:

    There’s no getting away from it – it is a funny old do. The only styles I’ve ever seen which are similar have been on the Bayeaux tapestry. I’m not pulling your leg the Norman militia who were William the Conqueror’s crack troops had some strange styles shaved very high at the back and at the sides (sounds like a good haircut name) and that’s what I reckon Chris has done.
    In fact I can picture him strolling into the barber’s with the big book of Bayeaux tapestry hairdos, Norman militia men their 20 favourite cuts and pointing out the one he,wanted. Explaining to the barber that it was like going bald back to front or like in reverse no comb overs,required but he always had the option if required to let the sides and back grown in a bit

  14. Helen Martin says:

    Saw a photo of the cast for a new filming of “Magnificent Seven” and one of them appears to be wearing it.

  15. Jan says:

    He’s probably renting it out whilst he’s declutterin

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