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Saturday, 19 June 2010

All the Young Dudes

We've finally taken the plunge. After much deliberation and soul searching we've joined The Victorian Society.(VS).  I'll not say much about it - that's why the link's there, but what I can say is that it's like coming home.

The postman (what a fabulous Victorian invention) yesterday delivered a huge package from the VS. Our first fix of unadulterated Victorian. Instantly, on opening the package we were enveloped in Gothic detail, terracotta and cast iron. Steam trains came belching out of elaborate tunnels with female passengers screaming and holding onto their hats. Remember, Queen Victoria and her consort had an extremely healthy sex life. After the slow decay of the late Georgian and Regency period (Trafalgar and Waterloo notwithstanding) - the Victorians burst on the world stage to enliven and delight.

Actually it wasn't like that at all. Queen Vic's first years at the helm were pretty fraught but hitching up with Francis Albert Augustus Charles Emmanuel, known to you and me as Albert, Prince Consort seemed to send a shiver through early Victorian society. The Industrial Revolution shifted up a gear, mercantile expansion was taking place with the countryside emptying as people streamed into the new industrial and commercial centres with the arrival of the  railways ( with female passengers screaming as they .....).

It was a time of huge change and huge confidence. In the 1840's all those doyens of settled Victorian supremacy were in their youth. Pugin, Tenneyson, Dickens, Carlisle and Darwin were in their thirties or slightly older. The new Parliament buildings were being constructed and the explosion of steam saw the building of hundred of railway stations where imagination ran riot. And this was just the start.

It was the energy and sheer dearing do of the Victorians that amaze. Despite the huge changes in society and technology much of what still surrounds us was laid down by those money and land grabbing, opportunistic   Victorians. Most of Inner London is Victorian - despite the efforts of Hitler and the developers.

The Victorian terrace, whilst not as elegant as the Georgian town house, is the almost perfect solution to high density family living. London stock bricks, baked on site from London clay, are warm and welcoming; so different from the harsh machine made red brick that now defaces much of London's town scape.

We live in an end terrace Victorian house, two up, two down with an extension.  Built in the 1870's by one of the first Building Societies in London, the Tower Hamlets Building Society. They were thrown up - no foundations, the front sash windows were made of seasoned wood, those in the rear were green - it didn't matter. The brick work and detail on the street facing elevation is reasonable. The back is built with any sort of brick. Yet here we are - loving its quirkiness.

John Betjeman should be canonised ( except he's too C of E). When London was being buggered by the builders and developers he sung the praises of Euston Arch and St Pancreas - which now has been wonderfully restored. He sought out the unusual and neglected Victoriana and opened our eyes to the fabulous skills and thought involved in their execution.

Before we clear a terraced street to build eco-friendly modern, future proofed dwelling space: just look at the detail built into the humblest of dwellings and raise your hat to the master builders of the Victorian age. We owe them more than we appreciate.

1 comment:

Tenon_Saw said...

Ah John Betjeman. "Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough...". Great.