Monday, 13 August 2018

As others see us ......... Well Hall in the summer of 1966 by Ian Nairn

The thing about guide books is that they date so quickly.  

But that can be what makes them so intriguing and that pretty much sums up Nairn’s London.*

It was published in 1966 and I picked up my copy over 20 years later from Brian the Book.

And that is a tale in itself given that Brian’s bookshop on Beech Road in Chorlton-cum-Hardy is 214 miles from Well Hall where I grew up.

Nor is that all for the original cover price was eight shillings and sixpence and I bought it for 40p.

The publisher warned that “some of the entries are already disappearing; so go and see the rest quickly.”

That said it is reassuring that the places in Well Hall and Eltham visited by Mr Nairn are still there, although not all are described in that fulsome and respective manner of most guide books

So in writing about Eltham Lodge he comments, “nothing great, but worth at least a sentimental journey to see this grandfather of all Georgian brick Boxes.”

But I am pleased my own estate fared not only better but also was described with a little affection.

“Well Hall Estate, Eltham Sir Frank Baines and others, 1916

This extraordinary place was designed in seven days as a rush job to house war-workers for Woolwich Arsenal.  It seems an odd recipe for one of the best housing estates near London.  

Perhaps the architects imply did not have time to air their preconceptions, and the local officials their disastrous application of bye-laws.  

Comfortable, cottagey design, slate and stucco, taken out of the rarified atmosphere of the garden cities, always trying to see streets as entities rather than collections of units.  

The best part is Ross Way, running from Well Hall Road at the junction of Rochester Way.  

This curves round a gentle slope with a raised footpath and uses every possible trick of gables and end walls.  

Half way along, footpaths run off under archways as part of a fairy-tale composition which by an irony is more like a German village than anything else.”***

It is a long time since I have looked through the book but with a wet weekend ahead I think I shall spend a few hours crossing London courtesy of Mr Nairn.

And as the publisher promised the book is the first of a series with one planned for the Industrial North, which sadly was never written which is a shame because  having said some nice things  about where I grew up I wondered if he would do the same for where I now live.

Well we shall see.

Picture; cover from Nairn’s London, 1966

*Nairn’s London, Ian Nairn, 1966

**ibid page 207

***ibid page 208

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