29 October 2023

Neapolis in Cornubia, and the Elimination of Christendom

Sir Keir, leader of the party which currently looks likely to win the next General Election here in Blighty, has announced an ambitious plan of building 'new towns', so as to meet our housing shortage.

This could have interesting consequences. When Pam and I used to drive back from the West Country, we often passed a place called Poundbury. It looks for all the world like a diverse, organically evolved community. Most strikingly, it does not consist of stand-alone suburban units of accommodation, each surrounded by its twee and distancing 'garden'. On the contrary: as in older communities, houses adjoin each other; roads are curved within an irregular plan; building styles differ.

Poundbury is quite new; it was inspired by our present head of state (when he was 'Prince of Wales'), and designed specifically to look 'unmodern'; 'undesigned'; irregular and ... yes ... organic.

When just before the Pandemic we were last in Cornwall, near Newquay [let the reader understand], we found ourselves turning a corner in our car and there, facing us, was ... an Art Deco architectural complex the existence of which we had been totally unaware. 

The reason for our unawareness, of course, was that it was built, not in 1932, but in the 2010s.

Another initiative of Prince Charles.

New Towns could easily be great fun, both for those designing and building them, and those discovering them. An essential precondition for such enjoyment is going to have to be that the Developer doesn't shave every penny of expenditure off his creation. In my childhood, I lived near Frinton, where there was a comparatively small development, 1935, exemplifying all the styles of the Thirties, called 'Park Estate' (not even noticed by Pevsner).

Best known, of course, is the old 'Regency' New Town of Brighton. It was built to a formula, enabling pragmatic expansion and adaptation resulting in  Pevsner's judgement "the terraces of Brighton are on the coarse side, impressive to the hoi polloi [sic] rather than the connoisseur". I am deliriously happy to be one of the polloi. Brighton has grandeur ... and there is wit; consider such a hallmark detail as the 'ammonite' adaptation of the Ionic Capital, introduced by ... Amon Wilds! Visit Brighton and go round and spot them!

And another thing: Brighton's churches are fabulous ... agmen ducit Saint Bartholomew's, which must be one of the half-dozen most remarkable parish churches anywhere in the world. It has the second highest nave in Europe; one priest wrote "It was an unfailing joy to celebrate the High Mass beneath the great red and green baldachino ... The sheer scale of St Bart's was born in upon one when, having sung the Dominus vobiscum from the altar, one waited for several seconds for the response to come from what seemed to be the far side of the horizon but was in fact the choir high in the great gallery."

But each of Prince Charles's two 'royal' neapoleis has this oddity: that neither, I think, has a Church or chapel. 

Did you ever see an old, or an organically-evolved community which had no place of worship? And Prince Charles, Fidei Defensor, was ... is? ... Patron of the "The Prayer Book Society".

Realpolitik, of course, imposes its own constraints. At a time when most ecclesial communities are agonising about what to do with thousands of buildings which nobody wants to go and worship in, adding new ones to the list would need a fair bit of justification. But all the same ... such an absence is a massive inauthenticity; a sweet little chapel could surely ... where there's a will, there's a way ... have been tucked in somewhere. This scrapping of fifteen Christian centuries from our cultural history reminds me of when They tried to impose a 'European Constitution' which leapfrogged straight from Horrid Hadrian to Nasty Napoleon.

I feel a bit the same at Waddesdon. A fine Renaissance French Chateau, in Buckinghamshire, packed full of goodies ... but no chapel. The reason, of course, is that Waddesdon was built and furnished by a member of the extensive, immensely wealthy, Jewish, Rothschild family (time was, when that part of Buckinghamshire was known as Rothschildshire). It is fair to make an allowance.

Better, certainly, chapel-less Waddesdon than nearby Blenheim Palace, which does have a chapel of sorts. But that building is little other than another showcase for a big bit of Rysbrack, and  a soul-less mausoleum for Johnny Churchill, "First Duke of Marlborough", a shameless traitor who turned against his king, sided with invaders, and got the palace as his reward. A few years ago, this 'chapel' was the venue for a display of indecent 'art'.

If I have to choose between a Jewish banker with superb artistic taste, and a venal English Traitor, I know where my preference lies. 

My pen has wandered. But the whole concept of a New Town is, surely, like it or not, exciting, and its challenges intriguing? What do you think?


PDLeck said...

If Labour win the next general election and stick to their promises (always significantly doubtful) and new towns are built I suspect two things will happen. First, they will be built on greenfield sites rather than brownfield ones. Secondly, I suspect any new towns will be more à la Milton Keynes than à la Poundsbury.

Stephen v.B. said...

As far as Poundbury in Dorset is concerned: that does contain a religious building of some sort, namely the 'Poundbury Oratory', designed by Quinlan Terry - a rectangular brick chapel, very restrained at the back and sides, with a rather nice tympanum and Corinthian pilasters at the front, and a 'Gibbsian' door frame. But lest the word 'Oratory' lead one astray: it was designed to be 'non-denominational' and seems to have become even more so since its opening. The building is now called 'The Quiet Space' and "is available for church and community groups to book for appropriate activities". (One wonders what might and what might not be appropriate.)

Quite sporting of the Supreme Governor of the Church of England to have founded what is, in effect, a Dissenters' Chapel.

In the other New Town, Nansledan, the local Methodists are planning to build a church (or 'centre'), but they seem to have abandoned an earlier plan to do so in a historical style.

Deimater said...

Using the expression "head of state" to designate the sovereign is, of course, American political terminology. The King is the very embodiment of the state. To say that he is the head of himself is, therefore, quite ludicrous.

Jhayes said...

I have visited Poundbury twice, with several years between visits. I agree with you about the use of terraced rather than detached houses. My regret is that, in accommodating cars, important streets are too wide in proportion to the height of the houses, particularly those where cars park facing the pavement

There are two churches within the boundaries of Poundbury. One, a non-denominational Christian church was opened by Prince Charles about five years ago. The other, a Pentecostal church, occupies a rather old looking building but, in Poundbury, it is hard to know if it is old or new.

Since Poundbury is a westward extension of Casterbridge/Dorchester, they may have felt there were enough churches in the existing city to meet the needs of the new residents.

Fr Edward said...

At Poundbury there is a yellow ochre building with great Prince of Wales Feathers on the front, called ‘The Quiet Space’ (dread name). It may be used by Church and community groups (natch) “for appropriate activities”. I bet they involve corn dollies and pan pipes (are they still a thing?).

Now there’s no reason, I suppose, why TQS can’t be booked for a Viennese orchestral High Mass every now and again (Sundays for example) as an appropriate Church and community activity (think local choirs and cups of coffee). Straight after the Quakers’ slot would be handy, as there wouldn’t be too much stage set to shift.

Perhaps if the smiling vergers (called ‘Companions’ - creepy or what!) think this isn’t really quiet enough for TQS, they will be reassured that the clergyman will conduct the service in but a murmur, a whisper, a gentle breeze from his lips.

Pretty good compromise, if you ask me.

Genji said...

Certainly the challenges are intriguing. But not half as intriguing as the New People you so elliptically allude to.

Methinks your glorious adulterous King and Defender of Their Faith will be rather more inclined to provide this New People with Mughal Architecture and Lal Baghs -- Rose Gardens, no less. How quaintly English. At your expense, of course.

As for churches... Well I've always wanted to visit Shiraz and Qom. Besides Brighton Pavilion is already a bit 'exotic' innit?

Jhayes said...

The Quiet Place is not the “non-denominational Christian church” I mentioned as being opened by HRH the Prince of Wales. It is run by an ecumenical group including trustees from Church of England, Catholic and several other churches in Dorchester.

On its website it lists its “Regular Bookings”
* Prayer group, weekly
* Craft group, monthly
* Christian Meditation, weekly, Thursday evening
* Music group
* Tai Chi, weekly
* Sports Injury gentle exercise classes, twice weekly
* Tea and company, monthly
* Community Choir, weekly
* Holy Communion service, Celtic service, all welcome, monthly 
* Discussion group monthly, 
* Third Order Franciscans, monthly

PseudonymousposterJohn said...

New towns are evil. And like so many other things that are, they started out seeming like a good idea. The political party proposing it now must be desperate, not but what they are going to win the next election. They cannot possibly promise a better future than the current government because the country is broke. So all on borrowed money I expect.
Evil you say? Sure about that? I would say so.
They destroy farmland – which considering the rise in population and need for food production seems a bad idea, but see the globalist policies in operation in Holland and Ireland for what is planned.
Housing everyone on the flat in little houses usually with too little space is still wasteful.
Only if you build up is there the space for the five to six bedroom needed so that people could raise a normal family with four to six children. Think about that, any less than four and your kids’ work and taxes don’t even pay for your four decades of retirement pension.
People are apparently perfectly happy to live in a ten story high rise in a city with the cultural pull of London, Liverpool and Manchester, preferably not within fifteen minutes. Most people find they are bored to tears living in endless suburbs with no centre or focus. This has resulted in television which is an evil in itself.
I had family and professional dealings with some new towns in the past. I was staggered by the poor quality of the properties, many of which were nothing but slightly more modern slums, but then they were all thrown up in a hurry. When it was fashionable.
One of the last businesses that still functions in this country is construction – roads, houses, other infrastructure. Some will make profits by trashing the countryside.
Some one always pops up and says ‘quality of design’ about now. You won’t miss those hedgerows and trees because this time we’ll make such nice housing estates. Big lie. And after the gloss has worn off everyone notices because they look as bad as they were always going to.
The one successful one was always said to be Milton Keynes, named after the man who thought government should always borrow more in a crisis – which has now been the case for every government since he said it. The crisis seems to be permanent. If it is still true that people like it, it is really just an out of town dormitory suburb for several successful other places somewhere else you could go work – more than fifteen minutes away in most cases... In the diocese of Oxford is it not?
And it has been a communications hub probably since before the railways. Bletchley has been subsumed into MK. Should be the other way round and we ought to acknowledge it as the Bletchley Extension Garden Suburb. I would demolish everything except the houses, including that stupid pan ecumenical concrete framed church.

It was always sadly a kind of utopianist dream – with the greatest possible apologies to Saint Thomas – that old cities and towns were a mess, in some way, so obviously what you needed to do was create new messes. I don’t like my life, but I feel certain I would like it more if I were somewhere else probably with different people... Maybe it was mixed in with a kind of longing for the Victorian seaside resorts that were clearly new and had represented fun. but they were artificial places you went to once a year or so and if you did insist on retiring there at last they had sea views.
Real towns grew up over centuries because there was a genuine reason for them to be there. Not by politicians’ fiat because they wanted a wheeze to win an election.
Where did they start, Bedford Park was it? The anglicans built a very dodgy church in ‘Queen Ann’ style on the proceeds of the sale of the sites of City churches. Started a trend. In sales. Elsewhere, they just gave up trying to set up parish churches. There’s simply no future in anglicanism without tithes. At Poundbury I seem to recall there is a building shaped a lot like a church, but nothing Christian happens within (eikon basilike?), so they have concerts. How nice.

PseudonymousposterJohn said...

(part ii/2)
I always rather liked Hampstead, but it feels odd, something’s a bit off. Poundbury is nicer than most dormitory suburbs, so it might last longer, but it cost a great deal of money and effort to make the illusion on a small scale, and there is simply not that much money for the appropriate creation of anything that careful on the larger scale being proposed now. Anything government does in future will be maximum profits and minimum benefit.
Time was the pressure for accommodation meant people demolished low rise and built up or at least denser in cities. People lived near where they worked and culture grew up accordingly. Including churches if people wanted them.

Dispersing people to anonymous ‘burbs that destroy green fields is just part of the atomization of society and nation that benefits few.

Arthur Gallagher said...

The problem with New Towns, whether they are built by Romanian communists, or by British municipalities, or even Charles III, is that they create social disruption. It would be far better to go back and fix what has been broken, wherever that is something left that can be fixed.