Love Where We Live?

This week was the last week to support or object the proposed plans for our town centre in Southborough, the so-called ‘Hub’ (I just can’t bring myself to use the word).

The planning application involves the demolition of the Royal Victoria Hall and the erection of unsightly, unsympathetic building clad in polycarbonate. The campaign to save the hall was given an unexpected boost this week with support from renowned architect, Ptolemy Dean:

‘I think it is a shame that the replacement scheme is so poor when something more thoughtful and careful might have been created that incorporated the existing building, which would have still satisfied the council’s brief, but enabled something of the old character to survive.’

It was so pleasing that it made front page news locally, you can read the whole article here.

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After a few late nights this week writing our planning objections and then reading through over the other comments on the planning portal, we decided we needed to get out and get some fresh air.  Perfect weather for a walk into Tunbridge Wells, passing the beloved hall on the way.

My previous post here has more detail about the campaign to save the hall and Southborough News has excellent and up to date coverage of the development.

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This is the old Fire Station, parallel to the Council Offices, currently used as a groundsman store. Built with local High Brooms brick. This could be a beautiful building for a market, artist studio….

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St John’s church were having a ‘Party on the Green’. 

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We had been in Amadeus Antiques a few times but in the last year or two it seems to always be closed. The building’s exterior remains largely unaltered, it has beautiful ironwork, a generous balcony to the front and side and all original windows.

Sadly the side of one front bay window is slowly rotting away and the ledge is now detached from the window, leaving a wide gap. This is a property on my wish list! Oddly the  four Regency period shops are listed buildings. This one isn’t – I can’t think why.

Alastair Hendy are you looking for a project in Tunbridge Wells?

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Views from Mount Ephraim…

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The old Homeopathic Hospital.

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Pretty hand painted signage from the old Rose Hill school site on London Road – almost gone.

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Lovely little garden/homeware shop, Le Petit Jardin, near the Pantiles. It boasts the largest sash window in Tunbridge Wells.

 

Arriving back home after the walk, I looked again at an old postcard and a photograph of the Royal Victoria Hall taken almost one hundred years ago. What happens when we have destroyed everything that gives our sense of place? When a town becomes a commuter dormitory and a quick fix housing quota?  Ian Nairn, the melancholic Architectural Review writer, was eerily prophetic when in 1955 he railed against substandard town planners and anonymous buildings:

“The Outrage is that the whole land surface is becoming covered by the creeping mildew that already circumscribes all of our towns … Subtopia is the annihilation of the site, the steamrollering of all individuality of place to one uniform and mediocre pattern.”

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We are so fortunate to live in a town and borough with such a rich architectural heritage, writing in Country Life in 2010, Ptolemy Dean hits the nail on the head:

‘By placing no value on its civic buildings and what they represent, the authority is about to perpetrate an attack on the very civilization of the town, which these public buildings, for all their stuffiness, serve to uphold admirably. If there can be any doubt about the extent of local official ignorance of the true values of urban living, then this was proved six months ago, when road signs were introduced onto the main routes into the town that proclaim: ‘Love where you live.’ One is tempted to add: ‘…before your elected local authority entirely destroys it.’

 

Six years on – are the powers that be,  ready to listen?

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Nick and I had originally been slightly over ambitious planning to visit Petworth House with a quick detour through Arundel on the way. A very slow moving tractor on the journey meant that Petworth House had to be jettisoned and we spent the afternoon in Arundel instead.

We really knew little about Arundel prior to our visit except that poem by Philip Larkin and its reputation for inspirational (if not affordable) antique shops. And a rather grand castle.

How lovely is Arundel? A real working high street, lined with bunting and full of independent traders, a riverside arts festival and good food. Kim’s Bookshop is particularly worthy of a visit. With stacks of mid-century titles heavy on illustration and graphic design and, to my personal delight, a wide range of cookery and photography books. We grabbed some lunch at Pallant of Arundel and devoured it sitting on a park bench in front of the castle gate. Then set about searching for treasure.

Which is how we spent most of the day, with our last visit being to the magnificent Spencer Swaffer Antiques. If you had the money you could spend a small fortune in this shop – I never knew how badly I wanted a collection of French enamel jugs, 19th century carpet bowls and a marble glazed ceramic canister!

The space is rather disorientating with objects, furniture, artwork and mirrors adorning every square inch of each room, stairwell and landing. At the rear of the shop is a walled garden that was bathed in sunshine. You step out into a sunken courtyard with plants of towering height Phormium, Miscanthus, Euportorium and Rudbeckia and then a series of smaller former spaces with box hedging, rose adorned arches and legions of dark stemmed dahlias.

Plenty of ideas to take back to our embryonic garden (albeit on a more modest scale)…

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Postcards from Perth (Part 1)

I have been back in my home town this month spending time with family and catching up with friends. Winter in Perth is usually much like summer in England, sunny and not too cold, although this year it has been hotter in the UK and Perth has had one of its wettest winters in thirty years.

Perth is one of the most isolated cities in the world and after living in the UK for seven years now it really feels like it! Although, the solitary feeling when wandering in the landscape is a good thing, I have missed the newspapers, the BBC and being able to walk to the cornershop when you run out of milk.

A place I love to visit is Bells Rapids, about a ten minute drive from my sister’s place. The wet winter it has meant the Avon river is much more rapid than usual.

Bells Rapids flows west from the Avon River in the Avon Valley and winds through National Parks to the east. Just before Bells (as the locals refer to it) the river becomes the Swan River, which continues all the way past Perth’s CBD and then flows in to the Indian Ocean at Fremantle. Every year it is used for a white water rafting race, the Avon Descent, which brings in hundreds of competitors in canoes and kayaks to complete the 124 kilometre race.

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The quality of the light is so changeable at this time of year, it can go from a brooding sky to the brightest blue within minutes. The photographs above and below were taken within less than half an hour of each other.

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The softness of the fountain grass, pennisetum setaceum, contrasts with the harsh landscape and they become illuminated when the sun hits them at the right angle.

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The stump of a native grass tree (xanthorrhoea pressii, or balga; its Indigenous name) and the bark of an old dead jarrah tree (eucalyptus marginata).

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My niece enthusiastically encouraged me to jump over the mud and rock pools to get closer the edge of the water, only slightly twisting my ankle several times.

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Pennisetum sataceum with a scrambling annual herb (fumaria capreolata) in flower.

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I used to think the west Australian landscape was not very attractive; harsh, dry and drained of colour but I recently have started to see it differently. Particularly at dusk, the soft light transforms the landscape and the colour palette changes completely, from burnt oranges, browns and deep azure blue skies to muted grey, brown, mauve and cream.

The landscape back home in Kent is so predominantly green, coming back to Perth has made me appreciate the colour differences and has heightened my awareness of smaller details. Looking more carefully you start to notice examples of the unique flora, like the burnt reddish black tips of native herb flowers and the masses of tiny, bright orange orchid like flowers amongst the grasses.