Now, I have a theory. I don't have them very often these days, wish I did. It's about modern housing development. We're currently hearing a lot about 'Garden Cities' (a term coined, one suspects, to make us feel better about massive development). Today some proposals may rise up challengingly before us, and it would be remarkable if they followed the same ideas and visual principles of places like Letchworth (above) and Welwyn Garden City (read about them all here) but I'm filled with foreboding. Particularly when you see the scrubby pyloned landscape around candidate Ebbsfleet in Kent, the infrastructure for a new city put in years ago with the high speed rail link. Two people discussed the idea of 'Garden Cities' on the Today programme this morning, a National Trust boss and a bloke who runs Next, and it was all about where the new 'Garden Cities' should be located. Somebody vaguely mentioned high standards and quality, but as in all these discussions nobody talks about the quality of house design itself.
Hence my theory: We'd all feel a whole lot better about housing development if the houses and the spaces in between were designed with some proper thought and care.Yes, it needs architects who can draw, but you never know.
Everybody runs about waving their arms in the air when the bulldozers start revving-up to clear the countryside for new homes, whether they're needed or not (developers and house builders will always tell you 10 million homes are needed by Christmas). And that's because of the paucity of quality in design. We all have concerns about acres of greenery being built over, but why can't the end result be something other than mediocre pastiches of past styles with eighteen inches between them and a few token shrubs? Even adding a decent height to chimney stacks and putting proper terracotta pots on them would help enormously. And I don't mean building toytowns like the one tacked on to Dorchester.
Great examples are out there to provide inspiration. The first garden suburb, Bedford Park in Chiswick, was planned around keeping as many existing trees as possible and employing people like architect Norman Shaw. And then there's the remarkable New Ash Green in Kent. Yes, that one would've looked a bit raw when it was first built, but the quality of house design, the planning of roads and cul-de-sacs and the keeping of essential trees and greenery means it has now matured into something almost unique in England. I do hope something similar starts to happen now, and not just in the new 'Garden Cities'.
I am a designer, writer and photographer who spends all his time looking at England, particularly buildings and the countryside. But I have a leaning towards the slightly odd and neglected, the unsung elements that make England such an interesting place to live in. I am the author and photographer of over 25 books, in particular Unmitigated England (Adelphi 2006), More from Unmitigated England (Adelphi 2007), Cross Country (Wiley 2011), The Cigarette Papers (Frances Lincoln 2012), Preposterous Erections (Frances Lincoln 2012) and English Allsorts (Adelphi 2015)
"Open this book with reverence. It is a hymn to England". Clive Aslet
"Enchanting...delightful". The Bookseller "Cheekily named" We Love This Book
The Cigarette Papers
"Unexpectedly pleasing and engrossing...beautifully illustrated". The Bookseller
"Until the happy advent of Peter Ashley's Cross Country it has, ironically, been foreigners who have been best at celebrating Englishness". Christina Hardyment / The Independent
More from Unmitigated England
"Give this book to someone you know- if not everyone you know." Simon Heffer, Country Life. "When it comes to spotting the small but telling details of Englishness, Peter Ashley has no equal." Michael Prodger, Sunday Telegraph