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Britain's Lost Cities Hardcover – 1 Oct 2007
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About the Author
Gavin Stamp is an architectural historian and the author of Alexander 'Greek' Thomson, Edwin Lutyens: Country Houses, and Memorial to the Missing of the Somme.
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The book left me wanting to ask the question "Why all this destruction?" Britain seems to have gone through a period of collective self-loathing about its appearance in the middle of the 20th century (a fruitful study for a social psychologist rather than an architectural historian). The rebuilding of Plymouth comes in for particular criticism and rightly so. Such vandalism/philistinism is in marked contrast to the painstaking reconstruction of Dresden and Warsaw after the second world war. "Change is inevitable" concedes Dr Clamp in his introduction but his main message is that it did not have to be so drastic. The only crumb of comfort one can draw from the book is that many of the post-war developments have now themselves fallen victim to the ball and chain. The book is indeed a window into a lost world.
Your first impulse is to flick through the pictures and look at all the absolutely brilliant architecture and amazing places. You imagine that these old photographs depict locations (like Hull) that are now swarming with tourists and the pride of each of the listed cities. You then start skimming the text and captions and the true horror starts to dawn that pretty well everything shown in the book has been demolished. Finally, you discover that these cities were not destroyed by bombers, earthquakes or fire but by 20th century planners and insane `visionaries' who knowingly set out to annihilate the past and replace it with a new progressive future. Bear this book in mind the next time your hear about 'progress'.
The only thing missing is photographs showing what the depicted places look like now...but perhaps that would be too much to bear.
This is a pictorial history of some of the lost gems of British urban architecture. For obvious reasons, the volumes in black and white and goes through several key cities and shows how much they have changed.
Many are the as a consequence of the destruction during World War Two but one can't help marvel at the quaintness of cities such as Coventry which are subsequently rebuilt in ulgy modern styles.
I'm not one that just celebrates older styles, there are some gruesome examples of Victorian gothic in here as well.
The images are stunning and many include people just going about their business which adds to the context of the images. The text is authortative and well-laid out. The book is also over-sized so nothing is squeezed in. I found myself returning to this volume time after time to look at particular cities and view some of the lost sights.
A valuable addition for any one interested in buildings and history.
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