1947: England and a past and future beauty


In the last decade or so it seems people have realised the huge debt we owe Penguin and Puffin books. We can buy boxes filled with postcards of their immaculate book covers, while the iconic orange and white originals are available on tea towels, mugs and even deck chairs. And that’s just the look of it all: pick up any of the titles that turn up from the middle decades of the 20th century and you could disappear forever into second-hand bookshops, charity shops or attics, as lost a cause as any Victorian gentleman or woman consigned to the opium den or brothel.

Town and Village dates from around 1947, the paper fairly rough and uncoated, which makes the artwork appear as fresh as some lovingly-crafted linocut.

Village and Town, cover

There are two covers, so can you choose from a utopian future or an idyllic past.

Villages and Towns, Puffin

Inside, there are beautifully-designed diagrams, and this one provides a colour-coded map of the United Kingdom to show how local materials shaped the built landscape. Even more valuable now than then.

Village and Town, Puffin 2

There are images of the idealised English village, carefully illustrating how the past builds layer upon layer and lives side by side.

Village and Town, Puffin 3

But this is no misty-eyed wallow in the ‘scepter’d isle’ imagery of the war years. This is also about the future, one that accounts for everyone and gives them light, air and space. Turn the page and the ugly truths are revealed.

Village and Town, Puffin 4

There is no beating around the bush here, as S R Badmin continues…

Village and Town, Puffin 5

He’s in full flow now – you can’t get more damning than ‘fancy dress houses’. And I can’t help wondering how many of the slums or industrial buildings are now the facades of ‘luxury apartments’ for the affluent of today.

Moving on to the brave new world, our author is more than comfortable with the shock of the new. But it’s a careful argument, taking the reader by the hand from the past into the future (which, marvellously, he tells us will involve ‘plastics such as Bakelite’). He wants everyone to move beyond the Tudorbethan, mock-Tudor sentiment of the pre-war years. (It’s often overlooked how little impact the stylised art-deco movement had on everyday homes: many preferred barley-twist oak, stained glass and olde-worlde brass.)

Village and Town, Puffin 6

Be sure that if a building is well-designed for its purpose, without trying to be new-fashioned or old-fashioned, it will fit into its surroundings just as all the buildings do in the villages we love.

Perhaps not a bad design for life, that one, with endless applications… as long as he doesn’t mean a bland compromise, which I don’t think he does. Although his definition of the English style of building as ‘solid, suitable and not fussy in appearance’ sounds a little joyless.

The last page is given over to the S R Badmin manifesto, which I imagine involved clambering atop the table, waving spectacles and going all-out for a full-on Robert Hardy thespian workout:

We could keep the country as real country, for farming and holidays, instead of eating it up with bungalows. We could do all that and more if we made plans in advance, instead of muddling along as we do now, allowing people to build more or less what or where they fancy, whether it is ugly or not. Is it possible for planning to be carried out when so many people own so many pieces of land?

Village and Town, Puffin 7

As a child, I imagine you might return this to the library believing that the war had changed everything, and feel, as the National Health Service began, the first warm rays of utopia.

Until you realise the unpredictability of the British weather.


3 thoughts on “1947: England and a past and future beauty

  1. Wonderful post! What a great investigation into the tone, outlook and ‘Robert Hardy thespian workout’ character of this time capsule of a book (your descriptions make me feel as though I’m turning its pages with my own hands!) What gems the old Puffin books are… Definitely lures for disappearing into attics, with the danger of never being seen again!

    Seeing the page about the future is really poignant. Here we are in ‘the future’ – and still ‘muddling along’!

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