I was concerned to hear in the news this week of the extent of heritage crime in this country, with English Heritage reporting that some 70.000 listed buildings were damaged last year, many of them significantly.
In the 20th century we seemed to have a patchy attitude to our history and the buildings that embody that history. Much of the centre of Newcastle upon Tyne was cleared in the 1960’s to be replaced by John Poulson‘s concrete boxes, but much of the UK will have had similar experiences. In Sunderland the story was the same, including the demolition of the magnificent Sunderland Town Hall, leaving in it’s place an empty space for some time (great planning there), eventually filled by more uninspiring concrete.
The Civic Centre, built at a different site, was highly functional and full of the design ideas of the moment. It’s multiple layers and swathes of steps and ramps was a disaster for anyone with mobility problems, and like anything that adopts the latest fashion it quickly looks tired and dated. I’m starting to sound like Prince Charles now, so back to the point!
Hearing the English Heritage news I was dismayed. In my travels around Europe I have loved developing my understanding of other cultures by seeing how their history has developed and how it has been reflected in their art and architecture. The UK has its fair share of castles and stately homes, but plenty of supposedly lesser buildings have not received the same care and attention. The National Trust’s decision to purchase and restore John Lennon‘s childhood home was refreshing development, that I hoped reflected a change of attitude in the national psyche.
My faith was restored this morning though with a short walk around Whitburn where I live. Its an environment filled with opportunity. The village itself has long been a place of beauty, winning awards from Britain in Bloom, but aside from planned displays, South Tyneside council’s decision to liberally disperse spring bulbs in roadside verges brings freshness and colour that lift the mood.
This was enhanced as I reached the Village Cafe where the proprietors were preparing for the day. Outside on each table was a small vase of yellow daffodils. There was no need for them to do this; the café’s clientèle are pretty loyal and enjoy the south facing aspect regardless of any flora, but the owners’ decision to bring this spot of colour to their tables created beauty for everyone who passed. Thank you Fran and Pete for taking pride in your environment – you made it better for us all.