Monday, June 19, 2006


There a number of towns in England which have been kept meticulously "historic." I'm thinking, for example, of Stratford-upon-Avon, Windsor, Bourton-on-the-Water, and so on. There is a subtle formula that creates these towns: they can't be too large, because then the pressures of industrialization, need for housing, public transportation, etc., tend to have overriden any desire to maintain older buildings with consistency. But they also can't be too small, because it does take money to maintain all of that history. And of course, the most important part of the formula is tourism, which provides the money and energy to create systematic plans to retain the historic character of entire districts, rather than just individual buildings.

The thing is, of course, that all of these "historic" towns end up kind of looking the same. Stratford-upon-Avon looks a lot like Bourton-on-the-Water, which looks a lot like Windsor, which looks a lot like St. Albans. These towns are all in drastically different areas, and have very different histories, but they really do all blend together. I think it is because people, especially tourists but also the historic preservation industry, privilege certain historical architectural styles over others. We love timbered construction (what we call "Tudor" style in the U.S.), low ceilings, thatched roofs, wattle and daub walls, and so on. And so certain buildings get preserved, but not others--in the Cotswolds, for instance, there are lots of stories of people "renovating" Jacobean and Georgian structures by adding thatched roofs!

Anyways, I don't have any larger point here. Yesterday, Mary, Laura and I spent a very pleasant afternoon in St. Albans, which is only about ten minutes away from Barnet. It was the home of a famous abbey once upon a time, although post-Henry VIII all that remains now is a large gate. But there is also a funny little cathedral, and a really nice park that has some great Roman ruins. We had a leisurely lunch at Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, a very old pub that was once the pigeon house for the abbey. All day I'd had a hankering for British food, and I was pleased to be able get a Sunday roast with Yorkshire pudding. Delicious!

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