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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There's a saying, you've heard it before,
"The Englishman's home is his castle."
Well, I suppose, in a way, it is.
PIANO INTRO TO: "Home, Sweet Home" by Nellie Melba
# 'Mid pleasures
# And palaces
# Though we may roam
# Be it ever so humble
# There's no place like home!
# Sweet home!
# There's no place
# Like home!
# There's no place
# Like home! #
The Celts in coracs crossed to Anglesey
What were they like who dug these holes for huts
Roofed them with boughs to keep the winter out?
What were they like, who lived in such a place?
The Ancient Romans, too,
who settled here at Rockbourne on the Downs
before the Saxons called them Hampshire, Dorset, Wilts.
..remains of hypocausts...
where never luxury was seen again.
Why did the Normans choose an Iron Age fort
To build the castle of Old Sarum here?
Why did the clerics, outlined in the turf
You see their old cathedral over there
Why did they go away?
Was it a water shortage or a feud
That drove them down to build in Salisbury?
We do not know...
But when, across the waves
From Ireland and the west
The shores of Wales
Rise mountainous along those mountains' feet
We see the castles of an English king
Edward the First
Oh, then the answer's clear
After defence, attack
Conquer, subdue and dominate the Welsh
With arrow, shot and battering ram and lead...
Harlech and Conway and Caernarvon
Three grey bastions guard the northern coast of Wales.
ROUSING ORCHESTRAL MUSIC PLAYS
A poet of the Welsh
Has thus translated from his native tongue
One night of tempest I arose and went
Along the Menai shore on dreaming bent
The wind was strong, and savage swung the tide
And the waves blustered on Caernarfon side...
But on the morrow, when I passed that way
On Menai shore the peace of heaven lay
The wind was gentle and the sea a flower
And the sun slumbered on Caernarfon tower.
Far over in England,
how peaceful are names
like Deeping St Nicholas, Deeping St James,
long strips of rich soil
and low houses of men
where slow flows the Welland
through Lincolnshire fen.
Villages, once Saxon or Danish,
grew rich on plough land.
The earth is the Lord's
And all that therein is
The compass of the world
And they that dwell therein.
Here at Chipping Camden in the Cotswolds,
the people prospered on the wool from sheep.
They built themselves small substantial houses
all along the market street.
And at Nun Monkton, in the flat West Riding of Yorkshire,
where roads and rivers meet,
at the village pond and green
is the picture people have of Merrie England,
with dancing round the maypole on the grass.
JAUNTY MUSIC PLAYS
But life could be nasty, brutish and short,
even for people at the top who lived in castles.
Berkeley Castle, Gloucestershire,
where the Berkeleys still live.
Here, on the night of September 21st, 1327,
Edward II was most barbarously murdered.
You'll remember how Thomas Gray describes that fearful fate
of the first Prince of Wales...
Weave the warp and weave the woof
The winding-sheet of Edward's race
Give ample room and verge enough
The characters of hell to trace
Mark the year and mark the night
When Severn shall re-echo with affright
The shrieks of death thro' Berkeley's roof that ring
Shrieks of an agonising King.
A castle then, a castle still,
but its walls are breached with windows
which look at the world outside.
A castle turning into a house,
the timbered gate lodge is almost ornamental.
Around the yard, the wall is only a curtain wall.
In that hall,
the lord of the manor eats at a high table above the salt.
In that overhung bit, he and his family sleep.
Across the hills
The borders of Wales are quiet...
And over everybody is the King.
Compton Wynyates in Warwickshire.
It was rebuilt by Sir William Compton,
First Gentleman of the Bedchamber and favourite of the King.
He dedicated that porch to "My lord, King Henry VIII".
Yet if His Majesty, our sovereign lord
Should of his own accord
Friendly himself invite
And say I'll be your guest tomorrow night
How should we stir ourselves
Call and command all hands to work!
"Let no man idle stand."
Compton hid his house in a Warwickshire hollow,
to be out of the weather and not to hide from enemies.
Thomas Wolsey, a mightier man, Cardinal of England,
built his palace at Hampton.
Set me fine Spanish tables in the hall
See they be fitted all
Let there be room to eat
And order taken that there want no meat.
See every sconce and candlestick made bright
That without tapers they may give a light
Thus, if a king were coming, would we do
And 'twere good reason too
For 'tis a duteous thing
To show all honour
To an earthly king.
It was not enough for Henry VIII,
who deposed Wolsey
and took the palace for himself.
The rich Elizabethans built to please themselves.
Longleat in Wiltshire.
Longleat isn't a castle except in its square plan.
Look - its outside walls are mostly glass and stone.
The formal gardens are patterned
like tapestries that hang on the gallery walls inside.
And on the roof,
the rediscovered gods and goddesses of Ancient Rome,
Elizabethan fancy carved again.
Pleasure on the roof...
Pleasure in the garden...
Pleasure in the park...
Mythical beasts from the tapestries
Inhabit the waters and woods
Cars one pound
With children free, no dogs.
Harlaxton Manor, near Grantham, Lincolnshire,
the grandest Elizabethan house of all.
But look at the date -
But just as genuine-looking as the real thing
and, I think, as impressive.
This was about the last time
that a private, un-ennobled citizen,
Mr George Gregory, a landowner,
would be rich enough to build himself a palace.
He and his architect Salvin
were inspired by the Elizabethans...
..to earlier ages,
With no irreverent haste
Approach the mansion of a man of taste
Hail Castle Howard!
Hail Vanbrugh's noble dome
Where Yorkshire in her splendour rivals Rome...
Here the proud footman to the butler bows
But kisses Lucy when she milks the cows
Here the proud butler on the steward waits
But shares his mistress at the castle gates
Here fifty damsels list my lady's bells
And a whole parish in one mansion dwells...
Chef, housekeeper, and humblest houseboy
All in due gradation of the servants' hall
Dependent on the slightest frown or smile
Of him who holds the Earldom of Carlisle...
But what are wealth and pomp of worldly state?
To yonder mausoleum soon or late
Up those broad steps
Will go great Howard's dust
A journey no man makes
Before he must.
By now, the garden becomes more than a tapestry.
It's a place to walk in when the weather's fair.
The ingenious Monsieur Grillet in 1694,
at Chatsworth in Derbyshire,
with the aid of the first Duke of Devonshire,
turned the garden there
into something as remarkable as the house.
High on the moors was stored the water.
And he trained it to cascade downhill,
through planted woodlands...
..down to lesser ponds,
and thence to burst from a temple.
Step by step,
formal and straight,
it charged with rushing force
and burst as fountains in the vale below.
High to the heavens
Behold the silvery shower
A dancing tribute
To hydraulic power.
Big houses set the pattern.
First, formality was all the rage -
from the garden front at Melbourne Hall in Derbyshire,
windows looked out to straight and formal lines,
a vista made of shrubs and ordered beds.
The fashion had come from France.
Here at some fountain's sliding foot
Or at some fruit-tree's mossy root
Casting the body's vest aside
My soul into the boughs doth glide...
How could such sweet and wholesome hours
Be reckon'd but with herbs and flow'rs?
Formal on this side...
..and conscious wildness in the park beyond.
Too much formality?
"Nature abhors a straight line,"
said the 18th-century landscape gardener Capability Brown.
"I will make the Thames look like a small stream."
And so he did,
when he dammed the little River Glyme in a Cotswold valley
and turned it into a mighty winding lake
at Blenheim, Oxfordshire.
It was given by the grateful nation to the Duke of Marlborough
for his victories over the French in 1704.
As for Vanbrugh's splendid palace,
I think of the lines of Alexander Pope.
Thanks, sir, I cried
'Tis very fine
But where d'ye sleep
And where d'ye dine?
I find by all you have been telling
That 'tis a house but not a dwelling.
A country house is nothing without its setting.
In later Georgian days,
that setting had to be wild or changed to look wild.
"Nature abhors a straight line."
Curve of land and curve of groups of trees,
curves on the surface of a landscaped lake
in Bedfordshire, Woburn.
JAUNTY MUSIC PLAYS
MAJESTIC MUSIC PLAYS
The sun shines out,
no Mediterranean sun,
for this is Stourhead
where a chalky vale planted with trees
is turned into a scene
of temples, bridges, obelisks and rocks,
commanded by the 18th century taste
of a rich London banker, Henry Hoare.
Instead of Claude or Poussin on his walls
showing a ruin dark against the light,
his garden walks became his gallery,
the Temple of the Sun,
reflected in the water, seen through trees...
..a Wiltshire valley
changed to Italy.
On the shores of North Wales, overlooking Cardigan Bay,
what fair Mediterranean port is this
that stumbles to the sea?
The port of Merioneth -
It's the work of a living architect, Clough Williams-Ellis,
who has brought Italy and English eye-catchers to his native Wales...
..an architectural antique shop
of the open air.
The charms deliberately plaster deep,
colours are shown up by the grey Welsh skies...
..yet it looks no more strange or out of place
than must another such Italian dream have looked two centuries ago
when first it rose -
an Italian villa from the banks of the Veneto...
..built by Lord Burlington and his architect William Kent,
copying much-admired Palladio
in what was orchard land of Middlesex.
Country houses joined together
to make the Royal Crescent, Bath,
ancient Rome in Somerset,
built in the mid-18th century by a father and son,
both called John Wood.
The Royal Crescent was a good address.
you built your rooms behind, as many as you could.
It didn't matter about the back. The front counted.
You and your family had to be in Bath for the season,
to attend assemblies and routs,
to take the waters and fall in love,
when the city of Bath was as smart as London...
..but all for a season, only a season.
Facades, facades, along the Somerset hills.
And the smartest of all was the circus.
..but Bath seems to me to be
in the crater of an extinct volcano.
I prefer a part of Bristol that copied Bath -
High up on the downs,
built in the 1790s,
a place to live in, not just to stay in for a season.
Where East India men returned from voyages.
In some of the vaults below these Clifton terraces and crescents
that hang above the Avon Gorge,
the Bristol merchants stored their pipes of port.
Bristol, the second city of England...
..Clifton, the fairest suburb of the West...
..Brunel's Suspension Bridge
poised like an insect across the Gorge.
And there along the Gorge,
the Avon winds by woods to Severn sea.
Seaside brings out the best in all of us.
When England left her inland spas for sea,
following royal fashion,
not able to travel to Europe because of the wars with Napoleon,
Brighton became what still it is -
the best-looking seaside resort we've got.
Those cheerful stucco squares and promenades,
those winding paths, romantic clumps of shrub,
all in the curving Georgian landscape style...
..an intended contrast with straight seaside fronts.
They were all the work of speculative builders
before spec building got its dirty name,
spec building of the Thirties - 1830s.
The pleasure-loving Regent, George IV,
liked Brighton better than his palaces.
His favourite architect, John Nash,
built for the king at Brighton an Oriental pavilion.
"It's as though St Paul's
"had gone down to the sea and pupped,"
said the Reverend Sydney Smith.
John Nash tried the cottage style with Blaise Hamlet,
a model village on the big estate of Blaise Castle,
so designed that every step you take when on the ground
gives another subject for a watercolour.
On the great estate of Chatsworth,
the sixth Duke of Devonshire in the 1830s
wanted to improve the rolling vistas of his park -
and glorious those rolling vistas are.
He was a sovereign lord in his domain.
He cleared away the old village that spoiled the view
and only left a single house of it.
But he built for his tenants
a better-looking village further up the hill,
a model village done in various styles,
spelt "Edensor" and pronounced "Ensa".
And I can't see why this sort of thing
is any more inhuman
than what a council does today.
And in the Sixties, in the midst of it,
Sir Gilbert Scott rebuilt the village church -
uncompromising middle-pointed Gothic.
And so's North Oxford.
Cradle of individualism,
freed at last from the university statutes
which forbade them to marry,
bred families of first-class brains in all that gabled brick.
So many rectories
and not too close together.
Each house is slightly different from its neighbour,
a pleasant place of wide and shady roads -
humane, High Church and liberal.
It gave birth
to these - swim-pool suburbs,
far from industry.
The sort of house that everybody wants,
an acre and a garden and no cow -
the Keston Park Estate, near Bromley, Kent.
"We'll house our workers
"not in flats but farms
"and cottages their forebears might've lived in."
So thought the Lever brothers, who made soap
and built Port Sunlight outside Birkenhead,
a protest against northern back-to-backs.
They housed their workers in the Eighties here.
This was a very early garden village,
with each house different.
Work of each for weal of all
and the Nonconformist conscience turned to Art.
New Anzac-on-Sea, just after the First World War.
Eventually they called it "Peacehaven",
a garden suburb on the Sussex coast.
We were told to laugh at it in days gone by
as a dreadful example of urban sprawl and bungaloid
and all that sort of thing.
But there, you could still call your home your own
and plant your garden with the plants you choose.
The down-land air is laced with the scent of sea,
your house detached.
Others mayn't like it but it's what you like.
Harlow in Essex,
just after the Second World War,
a new new town.
And as the guidebook says,
"You've come to live in a newly-developed area of Harlow
"which incorporates the most up-to-date ideas and layout."
Indeed it does,
with sports facilities, pubs,
community centres, play areas and shopping precincts
and a string quartet
and public works of art and public woods and a church
and houses designed by the corporation architects,
privately owned or rented from the town.
Do you think this is the way we ought to live?
Perhaps we should and do as we are told.
Or do you prefer to live a country life
with built-in urban joy?
If you're in plastics, or an account executive,
handling quality consumer durables...
..for the foreseeable future
New Ash Green,
a neighbourhood unit development in Kent,
is maybe what you need.
The terrace houses with car courts,
patios, and no loneliness
can be obtained from about 6,000 each.
A dream for some, for others, this is home.
Germans bombed the little streets,
which had been homes for thousands.
After that, partly to keep the rates up,
partly to get as many as possible into a minimum space,
out of the devastation, slabs arose.
Sometimes they called them towers,
and these replaced the liveliness of streets.
Now new high densities in open space,
high rise and low rise, towers and terraces.
The planners did their best.
Oh, yes, they gave it all a lot of thought,
putting in trees
and keeping grassy rinds
and splendid views across to Richmond Park,
and landscaped streets,
and abstract sculpture.
Oh, Roehampton won the prizes!
It was all so well laid out.
Just so much space from one block to the next,
perhaps this IS the way we ought to live?
DRAMATIC MUSIC PLAYS
But where can be the heart
That sends a family
to the 20th floor
In such a slab as this?
It can't be right
however fine the view
Over to Greenwich
And the Isle of Dogs
It can't be right
Caged halfway up the sky
Not knowing your neighbour
Frightened of the lift
And who'll be in it
And who's down below...
And are the children safe?
CHILDREN SHOUT PLAYFULLY
What is housing if it's not a home?
Thamesmead is to be built on Plumstead Marsh.
..how human will it be?
New towns, new housing estates,
new homes, new streets,
new neighbours, new standards of living,
new financial commitments, new jobs,
new schools, new shops,
new loneliness, new restlessness,
new pressures, new tension.
..people who have to cope with all this newness,
people who cannot afford old irrelevancies,
people who have to find a God
who fits in.
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.