A History of England in 100 Places: Irreplaceable is a unique history of England chosen and told by the people who live there. This Historic England book makes a great gift, and is currently 50% off in our winter sale. To celebrate this, author Philip Wilkinson has selected one place from each of the ten sections of the book to create a list of places which helped to mould the collective identity of England.
Science and Discovery: Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire
Until the 1980s, few people realised the importance of Bletchley Park to the outcome of World War II. This Victorian country house, surrounded by an array of unassuming huts, was the top-secret home to government code-breakers, men and women who broke supposedly uncrackable German codes, had a major impact on campaigns such those in North Africa and the D Day landings, and probably shortened the war by two years. The world’s first programmable, electronic, digital computer, Colossus, was developed at Bletchley, and the activities of Bletchley code-breakers, scientists and engineers prepared the ground for the development of computers in the post-war period, transforming the modern world.
Travel and Tourism: Clevedon Pier, Somerset
John Betjeman called Clevedon Pier ‘the most beautiful pier in England’. Built to provide a landing stage for ferries across the Severn estuary, it became a noted pleasure pier when the ferry traffic declined, and is now a much loved landmark and tourist attraction. It stands as evidence of the ingenuity of Victorian engineers, who fashioned its framework out of recycled rails from the South Wales Railway; its structure is also a tribute to workers who had to brave the Severn’s enormous tidal range to build the pier, and is a lasting testimony to more recent engineers and campaigners who restored the pier when part of it collapsed in 1970. Clevedon Pier’s elegant and resilient structure shows that Victorian piers – once thought outmoded – can have a future.
Homes and Gardens: Post-war prefabricated bungalows, Moseley, Birmingham
Prefabs – ingeniously constructed houses made of materials such as aluminium or asbestos – were one answer to filling urgent housing needs after the bombing of World War II. Their modern bathrooms, fitted kitchens, and often spacious gardens proved hugely popular with residents, but most prefabs were only designed to last around ten years. As a result, many have been demolished, but a few survive, and the ones in Birmingham’s Wake Green Road are still intact and have been maintained in their original, largely unaltered state. Still much liked by those who live in them, they are now listed, to ensure that at least a few post-war prefabs survive as reminders of a point in British history when the country emerged from war and began to rebuild, creating homes that were fit for modern life.
Sport and Leisure: Tower Ballroom, Blackpool, Lancashire
Blackpool’s Tower Ballroom opened in 1899 as the centrepiece of the booming seaside resort. Its huge and breathtaking interior was designed by Frank Matcham, best known as a prolific and talented designer of theatres. Matcham poured all his theatrical flair into the Tower Ballroom, providing it with a magnificent sprung floor for dancing and an opulent decorative scheme in the baroque style, festooned with cherubs, caryatids, onion domes, scrollwork, and lavish gilding. In this extraordinary room, holidaying workers from Britain’s northern industrial towns could dress up and enjoy a fantasy come true – a few nights’ luxury in an atmosphere as far removed as could be from the conditions of the mills in which they worked.
Music and literature: Jane Austen’s House, Chawton, Hampshire
This modest house, with its red-brick walls and tiled roof, fits perfectly in the Hampshire countryside. It also fits into the world of the novels of Jane Austen, who wrote much of her fiction here in the early-19th century. Writing was not thought a respectable occupation for a young woman from a middle-class family in late-Georgian England, so Jane Austen worked discreetly, tidying away her notebooks when visitors called. But she observed the habits, values, and mannerisms of her friends and family, and these observations fed directly into works such as Pride and Prejudice and Emma. Now Jane Austen’s house is a fascinating museum, where her admirers can come and absorb the milieu in which this great novelist lived and worked.
Loss and Destruction: Whitby Abbey, North Yorkshire
Perched high on a cliff on the North Yorkshire coast, Whitby Abbey is beautiful in its fragmentary state – the archetypal Romantic ruin. However, this site is about more than beauty, as its history goes back to the 7th century and it was the scene of successive waves of destruction and renewal. The original Anglo-Saxon monastery was destroyed in the 9th century (probably by the Vikings) and was rebuilt around 1225, in the Gothic style, producing the pointed arches we can still see today. After a further building campaign in the 15th century, the abbey was destroyed after it was dissolved by Henry VIII. So Whitby Abbey draws visitors through its striking appearance, its literary links (Whitby is the setting of Bram Stoker’s Dracula), and a story that embraces over 1300 years of history.
Faith and Belief: Brick Lane Jamme Masjid, Spitalfields, London
The mosque in Brick Lane is an image in bricks and mortar of 300 years of varied religious history, and of the rich multicultural heritage of this part of London. Place of worship successively to French Protestant immigrants (Huguenots), evangelical Christians, Methodists, Jewish weavers, and Muslims (many of whom arrived from Bangladesh in the 1970s), the mosque has a more varied history than most British religious buildings. It has undergone alterations as a result, and now sports a striking modern minaret, but the architecture of the original Protestant church is also still evident. This is appropriate, since part of the work of the mosque is to promote interfaith understanding.
Industry, Trade and Commerce: The Piece Hall, Halifax, West Yorkshire
There is no other building like the Piece Hall. Opened in 1779, the enormous structure was built as a cloth market, where ‘pieces’ (lengths) of cloth were sold. This commercial hub, where hand-loom weavers came from the surrounding area to sell their products, is a memorial to a large and vigorous trade that was once vital to Halifax, and its grand classical architecture signals its importance. After the textile trade moved to large factories, the Piece Hall lost its function, and became a food market in the late-19th century. It has now been restored to house shops, cafés, an art gallery, and a heritage centre, and the quality of the restoration work does this very special building full justice.
Art, Architecture and Sculpture: The Angel of the North, Gateshead
The Angel of the North, the vast 65-foot metal statue near the A1, has become world-famous. It was designed by Antony Gormley and built using local manufacturing skills and labour, and it has become an outstanding example of the way a work of art can embody the spirit of a place. The Angel is set on the site of a former coal mine, but leads the eye away from the dark, underground workings towards the heavens. It has thus become symbolic both of Gateshead’s history and of its hopes for the future. Thousands of people notice the Angel as they pass by on the major road, and still more come specially to see it. A key part of a larger project to create public sculpture in the area and to regenerate Gateshead Quays, it is a powerful symbol of the way art can improve our cities – and our lives.
Power, Protest and Progress: Cable Street, Whitechapel, London
The Cable Street Mural commemorates an event in 1936 that became known as ‘the Battle of Cable Street’, when the antisemitic British Union of Fascists tried to march through London’s East End, which was then home to a large Jewish population. Local people bravely resisted the marchers, who were forced in the end to turn back. Their actions led to a new awareness of the dangers such fascist and racist views bring and the importance of protecting people who face persecution. The 50-foot mural, designed by Dave Binnington and painted by him and several other artists, has itself been vandalised several times, and the damaged sections have been repainted. That such repairs need to be done shows dramatically that the mural’s message about standing up to fascism is still as vital as ever.
Ninety more remarkable English places can be discovered in the full book which is currently 50% off until 16th December 2019. Use discount code LUP50 at the checkout.
Please note: The 50% discount code is valid for all books except the Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment series.