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?