The Englishman's Home Bird's Eye View


The Englishman's Home

First transmitted in 1969, British mansions, castles, houses and gardens through the centuries are viewed from a helicopter, with commentary by Sir John Betjeman.


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BBC Four Collections -

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specially chosen programmes from the BBC archive.

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There's a saying, you've heard it before,

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"The Englishman's home is his castle."

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Well, I suppose, in a way, it is.

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PIANO INTRO TO: "Home, Sweet Home" by Nellie Melba

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# 'Mid pleasures

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# And palaces

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# Though we may roam

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# Be it ever so humble

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# There's no place like home!

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# Home!

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# Home!

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# Sweet

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# Sweet home!

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# There's no place

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# Like home!

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# There's no place

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# Like home! #

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The Celts in coracs crossed to Anglesey

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Pre-Christians

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Early Christians

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Irish Celts

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What were they like who dug these holes for huts

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Roofed them with boughs to keep the winter out?

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What were they like, who lived in such a place?

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The Ancient Romans, too,

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who settled here at Rockbourne on the Downs

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before the Saxons called them Hampshire, Dorset, Wilts.

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Patterned floors...

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..remains of hypocausts...

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..luxurious life,

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where never luxury was seen again.

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Why did the Normans choose an Iron Age fort

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To build the castle of Old Sarum here?

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Why did the clerics, outlined in the turf

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You see their old cathedral over there

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Why did they go away?

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Was it a water shortage or a feud

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That drove them down to build in Salisbury?

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We do not know...

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But when, across the waves

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From Ireland and the west

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The shores of Wales

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Rise mountainous along those mountains' feet

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We see the castles of an English king

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Edward the First

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Oh, then the answer's clear

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Attack, defence

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After defence, attack

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Conquer, subdue and dominate the Welsh

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With arrow, shot and battering ram and lead...

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Harlech and Conway and Caernarvon

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Three grey bastions guard the northern coast of Wales.

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ROUSING ORCHESTRAL MUSIC PLAYS

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Peaceful today

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A poet of the Welsh

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Has thus translated from his native tongue

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One night of tempest I arose and went

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Along the Menai shore on dreaming bent

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The wind was strong, and savage swung the tide

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And the waves blustered on Caernarfon side...

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But on the morrow, when I passed that way

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On Menai shore the peace of heaven lay

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The wind was gentle and the sea a flower

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And the sun slumbered on Caernarfon tower.

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Far over in England,

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how peaceful are names

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like Deeping St Nicholas, Deeping St James,

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long strips of rich soil

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and low houses of men

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where slow flows the Welland

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through Lincolnshire fen.

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Villages, once Saxon or Danish,

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grew rich on plough land.

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The earth is the Lord's

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And all that therein is

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The compass of the world

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And they that dwell therein.

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Here at Chipping Camden in the Cotswolds,

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the people prospered on the wool from sheep.

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They built themselves small substantial houses

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all along the market street.

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And at Nun Monkton, in the flat West Riding of Yorkshire,

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where roads and rivers meet,

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at the village pond and green

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is the picture people have of Merrie England,

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with dancing round the maypole on the grass.

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JAUNTY MUSIC PLAYS

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BUGLE CALLS

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DOGS BARK

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But life could be nasty, brutish and short,

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even for people at the top who lived in castles.

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Berkeley Castle, Gloucestershire,

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where the Berkeleys still live.

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Here, on the night of September 21st, 1327,

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Edward II was most barbarously murdered.

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You'll remember how Thomas Gray describes that fearful fate

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of the first Prince of Wales...

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Weave the warp and weave the woof

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The winding-sheet of Edward's race

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Give ample room and verge enough

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The characters of hell to trace

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Mark the year and mark the night

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When Severn shall re-echo with affright

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The shrieks of death thro' Berkeley's roof that ring

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Shrieks of an agonising King.

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A castle then, a castle still,

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but its walls are breached with windows

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which look at the world outside.

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A castle turning into a house,

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Stokesay, Shropshire,

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the timbered gate lodge is almost ornamental.

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Around the yard, the wall is only a curtain wall.

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In that hall,

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the lord of the manor eats at a high table above the salt.

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In that overhung bit, he and his family sleep.

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Across the hills

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The borders of Wales are quiet...

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And over everybody is the King.

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Compton Wynyates in Warwickshire.

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It was rebuilt by Sir William Compton,

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First Gentleman of the Bedchamber and favourite of the King.

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He dedicated that porch to "My lord, King Henry VIII".

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Yet if His Majesty, our sovereign lord

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Should of his own accord

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Friendly himself invite

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And say I'll be your guest tomorrow night

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How should we stir ourselves

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Call and command all hands to work!

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"Let no man idle stand."

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Compton hid his house in a Warwickshire hollow,

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to be out of the weather and not to hide from enemies.

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Thomas Wolsey, a mightier man, Cardinal of England,

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built his palace at Hampton.

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Set me fine Spanish tables in the hall

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See they be fitted all

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Let there be room to eat

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And order taken that there want no meat.

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See every sconce and candlestick made bright

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That without tapers they may give a light

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Thus, if a king were coming, would we do

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And 'twere good reason too

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For 'tis a duteous thing

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To show all honour

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To an earthly king.

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It was not enough for Henry VIII,

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who deposed Wolsey

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and took the palace for himself.

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The rich Elizabethans built to please themselves.

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Longleat in Wiltshire.

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Longleat isn't a castle except in its square plan.

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Look - its outside walls are mostly glass and stone.

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The formal gardens are patterned

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like tapestries that hang on the gallery walls inside.

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And on the roof,

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the rediscovered gods and goddesses of Ancient Rome,

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Elizabethan fancy carved again.

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Pleasure on the roof...

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Pleasure in the garden...

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Pleasure in the park...

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Mythical beasts from the tapestries

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Inhabit the waters and woods

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Cars one pound

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With children free, no dogs.

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Harlaxton Manor, near Grantham, Lincolnshire,

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the grandest Elizabethan house of all.

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But look at the date -

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1837.

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Victorian-Elizabethan.

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But just as genuine-looking as the real thing

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and, I think, as impressive.

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This was about the last time

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that a private, un-ennobled citizen,

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Mr George Gregory, a landowner,

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would be rich enough to build himself a palace.

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He and his architect Salvin

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were inspired by the Elizabethans...

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..to earlier ages,

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earlier inspiration.

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Stay traveller!

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With no irreverent haste

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Approach the mansion of a man of taste

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Hail Castle Howard!

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Hail Vanbrugh's noble dome

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Where Yorkshire in her splendour rivals Rome...

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Here the proud footman to the butler bows

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But kisses Lucy when she milks the cows

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Here the proud butler on the steward waits

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But shares his mistress at the castle gates

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Here fifty damsels list my lady's bells

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And a whole parish in one mansion dwells...

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Chef, housekeeper, and humblest houseboy

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All in due gradation of the servants' hall

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Dependent on the slightest frown or smile

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Of him who holds the Earldom of Carlisle...

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But what are wealth and pomp of worldly state?

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To yonder mausoleum soon or late

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Up those broad steps

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Will go great Howard's dust

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A journey no man makes

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Before he must.

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By now, the garden becomes more than a tapestry.

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It's a place to walk in when the weather's fair.

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The ingenious Monsieur Grillet in 1694,

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at Chatsworth in Derbyshire,

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with the aid of the first Duke of Devonshire,

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turned the garden there

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into something as remarkable as the house.

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High on the moors was stored the water.

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And he trained it to cascade downhill,

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through planted woodlands...

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..down to lesser ponds,

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and thence to burst from a temple.

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Step by step,

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formal and straight,

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it charged with rushing force

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and burst as fountains in the vale below.

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High to the heavens

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Behold the silvery shower

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A dancing tribute

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To hydraulic power.

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Big houses set the pattern.

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First, formality was all the rage -

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from the garden front at Melbourne Hall in Derbyshire,

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windows looked out to straight and formal lines,

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a vista made of shrubs and ordered beds.

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The fashion had come from France.

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Here at some fountain's sliding foot

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Or at some fruit-tree's mossy root

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Casting the body's vest aside

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My soul into the boughs doth glide...

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How could such sweet and wholesome hours

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Be reckon'd but with herbs and flow'rs?

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Belton, Lincolnshire.

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Formal on this side...

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..and conscious wildness in the park beyond.

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Too much formality?

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"Nature abhors a straight line,"

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said the 18th-century landscape gardener Capability Brown.

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"I will make the Thames look like a small stream."

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And so he did,

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when he dammed the little River Glyme in a Cotswold valley

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and turned it into a mighty winding lake

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at Blenheim, Oxfordshire.

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It was given by the grateful nation to the Duke of Marlborough

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for his victories over the French in 1704.

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As for Vanbrugh's splendid palace,

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I think of the lines of Alexander Pope.

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Thanks, sir, I cried

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'Tis very fine

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But where d'ye sleep

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And where d'ye dine?

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I find by all you have been telling

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That 'tis a house but not a dwelling.

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A country house is nothing without its setting.

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In later Georgian days,

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that setting had to be wild or changed to look wild.

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"Nature abhors a straight line."

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Curve of land and curve of groups of trees,

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curves on the surface of a landscaped lake

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in Bedfordshire, Woburn.

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JAUNTY MUSIC PLAYS

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MAJESTIC MUSIC PLAYS

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The sun shines out,

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no Mediterranean sun,

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for this is Stourhead

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where a chalky vale planted with trees

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is turned into a scene

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of temples, bridges, obelisks and rocks,

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commanded by the 18th century taste

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of a rich London banker, Henry Hoare.

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Instead of Claude or Poussin on his walls

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showing a ruin dark against the light,

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his garden walks became his gallery,

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the Temple of the Sun,

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the Pantheon,

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reflected in the water, seen through trees...

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..a Wiltshire valley

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changed to Italy.

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On the shores of North Wales, overlooking Cardigan Bay,

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what fair Mediterranean port is this

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that stumbles to the sea?

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The port of Merioneth -

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Portmeirion.

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It's the work of a living architect, Clough Williams-Ellis,

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who has brought Italy and English eye-catchers to his native Wales...

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..an architectural antique shop

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of the open air.

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The charms deliberately plaster deep,

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colours are shown up by the grey Welsh skies...

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..yet it looks no more strange or out of place

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than must another such Italian dream have looked two centuries ago

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when first it rose -

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this...

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..Chiswick House,

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an Italian villa from the banks of the Veneto...

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..built by Lord Burlington and his architect William Kent,

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copying much-admired Palladio

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in what was orchard land of Middlesex.

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Country houses joined together

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to make the Royal Crescent, Bath,

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ancient Rome in Somerset,

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built in the mid-18th century by a father and son,

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both called John Wood.

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The Royal Crescent was a good address.

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Facade only,

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you built your rooms behind, as many as you could.

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It didn't matter about the back. The front counted.

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You and your family had to be in Bath for the season,

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to attend assemblies and routs,

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to take the waters and fall in love,

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when the city of Bath was as smart as London...

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..but all for a season, only a season.

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Facades, facades, along the Somerset hills.

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And the smartest of all was the circus.

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Bath led...

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..but Bath seems to me to be

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in the crater of an extinct volcano.

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I prefer a part of Bristol that copied Bath -

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Clifton.

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High up on the downs,

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built in the 1790s,

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a place to live in, not just to stay in for a season.

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Where East India men returned from voyages.

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In some of the vaults below these Clifton terraces and crescents

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that hang above the Avon Gorge,

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the Bristol merchants stored their pipes of port.

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Bristol, the second city of England...

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..Clifton, the fairest suburb of the West...

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..Brunel's Suspension Bridge

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poised like an insect across the Gorge.

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And there along the Gorge,

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the Avon winds by woods to Severn sea.

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Seaside brings out the best in all of us.

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When England left her inland spas for sea,

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following royal fashion,

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not able to travel to Europe because of the wars with Napoleon,

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Brighton became what still it is -

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the best-looking seaside resort we've got.

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Those cheerful stucco squares and promenades,

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those winding paths, romantic clumps of shrub,

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all in the curving Georgian landscape style...

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..an intended contrast with straight seaside fronts.

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They were all the work of speculative builders

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before spec building got its dirty name,

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spec building of the Thirties - 1830s.

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The pleasure-loving Regent, George IV,

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liked Brighton better than his palaces.

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His favourite architect, John Nash,

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built for the king at Brighton an Oriental pavilion.

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"It's as though St Paul's

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"had gone down to the sea and pupped,"

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said the Reverend Sydney Smith.

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Outside Bristol,

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John Nash tried the cottage style with Blaise Hamlet,

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a model village on the big estate of Blaise Castle,

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so designed that every step you take when on the ground

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gives another subject for a watercolour.

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On the great estate of Chatsworth,

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the sixth Duke of Devonshire in the 1830s

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wanted to improve the rolling vistas of his park -

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and glorious those rolling vistas are.

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He was a sovereign lord in his domain.

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He cleared away the old village that spoiled the view

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and only left a single house of it.

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But he built for his tenants

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a better-looking village further up the hill,

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a model village done in various styles,

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spelt "Edensor" and pronounced "Ensa".

0:37:260:37:31

And I can't see why this sort of thing

0:37:310:37:33

is any more inhuman

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than what a council does today.

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And in the Sixties, in the midst of it,

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Sir Gilbert Scott rebuilt the village church -

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uncompromising middle-pointed Gothic.

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And so's North Oxford.

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Cradle of individualism,

0:37:590:38:02

where professors,

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freed at last from the university statutes

0:38:030:38:07

which forbade them to marry,

0:38:070:38:09

bred families of first-class brains in all that gabled brick.

0:38:090:38:16

So many rectories

0:38:160:38:18

and not too close together.

0:38:180:38:21

Each house is slightly different from its neighbour,

0:38:210:38:25

a pleasant place of wide and shady roads -

0:38:250:38:29

humane, High Church and liberal.

0:38:290:38:33

It gave birth

0:38:340:38:36

to these - swim-pool suburbs,

0:38:360:38:41

far from industry.

0:38:410:38:43

The sort of house that everybody wants,

0:38:430:38:47

an acre and a garden and no cow -

0:38:470:38:51

the Keston Park Estate, near Bromley, Kent.

0:38:510:38:56

"We'll house our workers

0:39:170:39:20

"not in flats but farms

0:39:200:39:23

"and cottages their forebears might've lived in."

0:39:230:39:26

So thought the Lever brothers, who made soap

0:39:260:39:30

and built Port Sunlight outside Birkenhead,

0:39:300:39:33

a protest against northern back-to-backs.

0:39:330:39:37

They housed their workers in the Eighties here.

0:39:450:39:49

This was a very early garden village,

0:39:490:39:52

with each house different.

0:39:520:39:55

Work of each for weal of all

0:39:580:40:01

and the Nonconformist conscience turned to Art.

0:40:010:40:05

New Anzac-on-Sea, just after the First World War.

0:41:020:41:08

Eventually they called it "Peacehaven",

0:41:080:41:11

a garden suburb on the Sussex coast.

0:41:110:41:15

We were told to laugh at it in days gone by

0:41:290:41:32

as a dreadful example of urban sprawl and bungaloid

0:41:320:41:35

and all that sort of thing.

0:41:350:41:37

But there, you could still call your home your own

0:41:440:41:49

and plant your garden with the plants you choose.

0:41:490:41:54

The down-land air is laced with the scent of sea,

0:41:540:41:59

your house detached.

0:41:590:42:02

Others mayn't like it but it's what you like.

0:42:020:42:05

Harlow in Essex,

0:42:220:42:25

just after the Second World War,

0:42:250:42:28

a new new town.

0:42:280:42:31

And as the guidebook says,

0:42:310:42:33

"You've come to live in a newly-developed area of Harlow

0:42:330:42:38

"which incorporates the most up-to-date ideas and layout."

0:42:380:42:42

Indeed it does,

0:42:420:42:44

with sports facilities, pubs,

0:42:440:42:48

community centres, play areas and shopping precincts

0:42:480:42:52

and a string quartet

0:42:520:42:55

and public works of art and public woods and a church

0:42:550:43:01

and houses designed by the corporation architects,

0:43:010:43:05

privately owned or rented from the town.

0:43:050:43:09

Do you think this is the way we ought to live?

0:43:090:43:12

Perhaps we should and do as we are told.

0:43:120:43:16

Or do you prefer to live a country life

0:43:330:43:36

with built-in urban joy?

0:43:360:43:38

If you're in plastics, or an account executive,

0:43:400:43:44

handling quality consumer durables...

0:43:440:43:46

..for the foreseeable future

0:43:480:43:50

New Ash Green,

0:43:500:43:52

a neighbourhood unit development in Kent,

0:43:520:43:55

is maybe what you need.

0:43:550:43:57

The terrace houses with car courts,

0:44:000:44:04

patios, and no loneliness

0:44:040:44:07

can be obtained from about 6,000 each.

0:44:070:44:11

A dream for some, for others, this is home.

0:44:140:44:19

In Dockland,

0:44:280:44:30

Germans bombed the little streets,

0:44:300:44:33

which had been homes for thousands.

0:44:330:44:35

After that, partly to keep the rates up,

0:44:350:44:39

partly to get as many as possible into a minimum space,

0:44:390:44:44

out of the devastation, slabs arose.

0:44:440:44:48

Sometimes they called them towers,

0:44:530:44:57

and these replaced the liveliness of streets.

0:44:570:45:01

Now new high densities in open space,

0:45:030:45:07

high rise and low rise, towers and terraces.

0:45:070:45:11

The planners did their best.

0:45:130:45:15

Oh, yes, they gave it all a lot of thought,

0:45:160:45:20

putting in trees

0:45:200:45:21

and keeping grassy rinds

0:45:210:45:24

and splendid views across to Richmond Park,

0:45:240:45:27

and landscaped streets,

0:45:270:45:29

and abstract sculpture.

0:45:290:45:32

Oh, Roehampton won the prizes!

0:45:320:45:35

It was all so well laid out.

0:45:350:45:37

Just so much space from one block to the next,

0:45:470:45:52

perhaps this IS the way we ought to live?

0:45:520:45:56

DRAMATIC MUSIC PLAYS

0:45:560:45:58

But where can be the heart

0:46:080:46:10

That sends a family

0:46:100:46:12

to the 20th floor

0:46:120:46:14

In such a slab as this?

0:46:140:46:16

It can't be right

0:46:270:46:29

however fine the view

0:46:290:46:30

Over to Greenwich

0:46:300:46:32

And the Isle of Dogs

0:46:320:46:33

It can't be right

0:46:330:46:35

Caged halfway up the sky

0:46:350:46:37

Not knowing your neighbour

0:46:370:46:39

Frightened of the lift

0:46:390:46:41

And who'll be in it

0:46:410:46:42

And who's down below...

0:46:420:46:44

And are the children safe?

0:46:450:46:47

CHILDREN SHOUT PLAYFULLY

0:46:470:46:49

What is housing if it's not a home?

0:47:020:47:05

Thamesmead is to be built on Plumstead Marsh.

0:47:100:47:14

Another town...

0:47:150:47:16

..how human will it be?

0:47:180:47:19

New towns, new housing estates,

0:47:360:47:39

new homes, new streets,

0:47:390:47:42

new neighbours, new standards of living,

0:47:420:47:45

new financial commitments, new jobs,

0:47:450:47:48

new schools, new shops,

0:47:480:47:52

new loneliness, new restlessness,

0:47:520:47:55

new pressures, new tension.

0:47:550:47:58

And people...

0:47:590:48:00

..people who have to cope with all this newness,

0:48:010:48:06

people who cannot afford old irrelevancies,

0:48:060:48:10

people who have to find a God

0:48:100:48:14

who fits in.

0:48:140:48:16

First transmitted in 1969, a helicopter trip over some of Britain's extraordinary houses provides us with a glimpse into the country's deep history. From Iron Age forts to gentrified seaside pavilions, this travelogue reveals Britain's changing face through time. Written and narrated by poet John Betjeman.


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