‘Subtopias of Good Intentions’: Everyday Landscapes in Postwar Britain

ABSTRACT This article investigates the cultural and political meanings of everyday landscapes in postwar Britain. Public discussions of these landscapes have moved beyond relatively narrow questions about the aesthetics or design of public space to consider broader issues of land use, national identity, historical tradition and the management of social change. They have fed into anxieties about postwar reconstruction and the spread of ‘subtopia’, national decline, and more recent concerns about conservation and heritage. The article argues that the recurrent fear that Britain is being colonized by standardized subtopian clutter has tended to ignore more subtle historical shifts, produced by changing relationships between government and commerce, public and private space, urban centre and suburban periphery.


In recent years, the fields of cultural history and cultural geography have seen ‘landscape’ not simply as a resource for the aesthetic contemplation of nature, but as a cultural phenomenon, the multi-layered product of complex historical interventions and metaphorical understandings. While drawing on some of these insights, this article focuses on those vernacular spaces that might not normally be expected to produce this kind of cultural-political meaning or historical reflection: the landscape of the everyday. This mundane, human-made landscape – made up of such elements as roads, houses, lighting, wires and public utilities – tends to be unnoticed and taken for granted, forming part of what Georges Perec calls ‘the infra-ordinary’, the sphere of daily life that lies beneath notice or comment.[1] The everyday is overlooked not simply because it is ‘the generic, the obvious, the given’, but because it has developed powerfully negative associations with banality and boredom.[2] In Michel de Certeau’s words, the everyday tends to ‘escape the imaginary totalizations produced by the eye’ because it has ‘a certain strangeness that does not surface, or whose surface is only its upper limit, outlining itself against the visible’.[3]

I want to focus on those moments in postwar Britain when this invisibility has been disrupted, particularly when the discussion of everyday spaces has moved outside the more specialized concerns of architects, surveyors and planners, and become part of public discourse. A recurring feature of these debates has been a lament about the ugliness of the everyday landscape, its excessive and intrusive visibility which spoils the ‘natural’ beauty and order of what it has replaced. These debates have often focused on quite small phenomena – such as road signs, railings, advertising hoardings, street furniture and other amenities – and grouped them together conceptually as part of an overall landscape of ‘clutter’, ‘squalor’ or ‘subtopia’. In doing so, they have drawn on earlier, interwar anxieties about untrammelled commercial development, while also articulating postwar concerns about the influence of politicians and planners; and they have moved beyond relatively narrow questions about the aesthetics or design of these places to consider much broader issues of historical tradition, national identity and the management of social change. 

I. Wartime Landscapes

During the Second World War and its immediate aftermath, there was unprecedented popular interest in the management and improvement of everyday public spaces. This is not surprising, since these spaces had been transformed by six years of bombing, physical neglect and government intervention into daily routines. There were makeshift air-raid shelters in many streets; unlikely patches of grass converted into allotments; buildings covered in grime and in need of repainting; and shop windows boarded up or bound with black tape. The obviously decrepit nature of the daily environment inspired a flood of books, pamphlets, exhibitions and public information films on planning and reconstruction.

In the unique circumstances of wartime, the most banal items of outdoor furniture were openly politicized. When the railings around London’s parks and squares began to be removed during the ‘scrap for victory’ campaign that began in summer 1940, for example, it triggered a debate about class, heritage and patriotism which lasted until the end of the war.[4] Many welcomed the scrapping of the railings on aesthetic grounds, as one would the removal of ‘an unbecoming pair of spectacles’ on ‘the face of a pretty woman’[5]; or as a democratic, egalitarian gesture, allowing access to squares which had been reserved for the well-to-do residents of the surrounding houses. Unsurprisingly, the inhabitants of the squares were less keen, believing that the removal of the railings threatened their property values, and presented an open invitation for the lower classes to play football, sunbathe or even have outdoor sex on their private property.[6] They pointed out that the scrap value of the railings was probably less than the cost of removal, and that less symbolically charged items, such as redundant tramlines, had not been uprooted.[7] Since tanks and spitfires cannot be made from cast iron, many rumours circulated that the railings proved to be unusable and had to be secretly dumped into the English Channel, the North Sea or a remote Welsh valley.[8]

In his Tribune column in August 1944, George Orwell praised the removal of the railings as a social experiment which had opened up more green spaces to ordinary people, allowing them to stay in parks until late without being ‘hounded out at closing times by grim-faced keepers’. He noted that, with the end of the war imminent, makeshift wooden railings were being erected around London squares so that ‘the lawful denizens of the squares can make use of their treasured keys again, and the children of the poor can be kept out’.[9] For Orwell, the resilience of England’s ‘keep off the grass’ culture was an acceptance of the legalized theft of land ownership, and a victory for the few thousand landowning families in England who were ‘just about as useful as so many tapeworms’.[10]

Orwell was using the railings controversy as a way of imagining what sort of society Britain would become after the war. If there was to be a true social transformation, he suggested, it would occur in the mundane spaces and practices of daily life, where inequities of money and class were naturalized. Orwell was not the only critic to suggest that an everyday landscape transformed by war could serve as a lodestone for social change. In the Architectural Review, Gordon Cullen and other critics first developed the concept of ‘townscape’ in articles about park railings, public squares and traffic roundabouts. One of their concerns was the needless restriction of access, the replacement of ‘Common Ground’ with an ‘Urban no-man’s-land, germ-free, hygienic but socially utterly sterile’.[11] Cullen’s first townscape piece was significantly titled ‘Westminster Regained’, and was a plan to reclaim this centre of administrative and political power for pedestrians.[12] He also criticized the ‘railing mentality’ that cordoned off public space and then compensated with a token gesture towards amenity such as a flower bed or rockery.[13]

These public interventions were concerned not only with how the modern could be harmonized with traditional elements of the landscape, but with how aesthetic concerns could be combined with social-democratic politics. In his study of the national politics of landscape from the interwar years to the 1950s, David Matless charts the development of two opposing schools of thought: ‘organicism’ and ‘planner-preservationism’. Organicists evoked an anti-urban ruralism which claimed an almost spiritual attachment to the land, and denounced planning as un-English. Planner-preservationists called for a managed modernity in which new elements would be integrated into the existing landscape. The Council for the Preservation of Rural England, founded in 1926, worked within this progressive ideology, believing that commercial development could be held in check by expert planning and design. The CPRE’s agenda influenced The Face of the land, the Design and Industries Association (DIA) Yearbook for 1929-1930, which argued that electricity pylons and arterial roads could be starkly beautiful if carefully designed.[14] By the end of the Second World War, this planner-preservationist vision was in the ascendant, assisted by the emergence of the profession of landscape architecture in Britain.[15] In the words of a leading figure in the Institute of Landscape Architects, Sylvia Crowe, the incorporation of modern features into the landscape would necessitate ‘a readjustment of people’s perception as to what was beautiful’.[16] 

Despite these discussions, the everyday landscape was low in the list of priorities for postwar reconstruction. Scarce funds and policy energies focused on more pressing needs such as restoring basic amenities; dealing with shortages of food, materials and housing; and increasing exports. The shabbiness of public spaces well into the 1950s was a visible reminder of the privations of wartime and the unevenness of postwar renewal. It was only as the Festival of Britain approached that politicians began to make more urgent reference to the need for an improved public realm. Aneurin Bevan, commending the War Damaged Sites Bill to the House of Commons in November 1949, spoke of the need for brighter colours for our towns and villages during the upcoming Festival, when ‘we do not want large numbers of people to come to Great Britain and to go away with the conclusion that we are bad housewives and are not looking after our public places properly’.[17] But the central issue for most ordinary people, even before the end of the war, was the housing shortage, often removed from more general issues of town planning and communal amenity. During public consultations, a characteristic complaint was: ‘Why don’t they build some dwellings on that bombsite? The town planning says it’s to be open space. What’s the use of open space? Isn’t there the doorstep and the street? What we want is homes.’[18]

II. Counter-Attack Against Subtopia

After the war, government assumed unprecedented planning powers, particularly after the nationalization of land use rights in the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act. Towns and cities developed ambitious reconstruction plans which sought to do away with the unregulated development of the interwar period, although the shortage of funds meant that these plans took years to come to fruition. Within this new climate, critics began to comment not only on the dilapidated nature of the war-torn landscape but also on postwar attempts to transform it. ‘Planning’, usually awarded a capital letter in the 1940s and generally seen as a social good,[19] came slowly to develop associations with well-meaning incompetence, supplementing an older, interwar critique about the voraciousness of private developers. In 1952, a contributor to Town and Country Planning regretted that planners were being stereotyped as ‘humourless highbrows, intent on such alien activities as “social engineering”, or, in plain English, “pushing people around”’.[20]

Almost exactly ten years after the end of the war, there was a polemical entry into this debate in the form of ‘Outrage’, the June 1955 issue of Architectural Review. After this issue achieved a short-lived notoriety in national newspapers, it was re-issued as a book and followed by another special issue, Counter-Attack against Subtopia, in December 1956. Almost all the first volume, and more than half the second, was written by Ian Nairn, a young critic who, unlike many other contributors to the Architectural Review, was neither an academic nor a trained architect. Nairn proudly identified himself as a generalist, believing that town and country planning was increasingly dividing into sub-specialisms which were losing sight of what should be the overall aim to ‘maintain and intensify the difference between places’.[21]

Nairn coined a word that immediately entered the language: ‘subtopia’, a conflation of ‘suburb’ and ‘utopia’, defined as ‘making an ideal of suburbia … the universalization and idealization of our town fringes’.[22] Nairn includes a photograph of rolling English countryside at the beginning of Outrage as ‘a reminder of what we are squandering with all the means at our disposal, confident that there will always be some left over’, and describes the argument that follows as ‘less of a warning than a prophecy of doom’.[23] But this invocation of a dystopian future, also signalled by the use of the word ‘subtopia’, is essentially a rhetorical strategy: the emphasis is on Britain in the mid-1950s, not a few decades hence. Outrage is primarily an account of the landscape observed by Nairn and Gordon Cullen on a drive between Southampton and Carlisle, mostly on the A34. The ugliness of this landscape is conveyed through Cullen’s crowded illustrations full of subtopian outrages, a series of unflatteringly dark and smudgy photographs, and Nairn’s browbeating prose style. His most common verbal flourish is simply to list disparate, uncoordinated elements in the landscape:

isolated oases of preserved monuments in a desert of wire, concrete roads, cosy plots and bungalows … a limbo of shacks, bogus rusticities, wire and aerodromes, set in some fir-poled fields …. posters, wire, disused petrol pumps, car parks, conifers, institutions for the insane, cement works, sanitation plants, generator stations, the wreckage of wars and War Departments …. airfields, wholesale afforestation, military camps, wire jungles and ‘out-county’ estates.[24]

While these lists give the impression of clutter thoughtlessly thrown together by the indifferent forces of modernity, it is clear that they are made up of quite different aspects of the everyday environment: the softwood planting of scientific forestry, spec-built and local-authority housing, roadside amenities, power lines, street furniture and remnants of wartime militarization. None of the examples Nairn cites, except perhaps the unspecified ‘bogus rusticities’, is inspired by the idealization of suburbia. This is a landscape still recovering from war, and with much of its interwar infrastructure intact, rather than one transformed by postwar planning.

Nairn’s writing does not generally concern itself with suburbia in the most common sense of ex-urban residential development. Instead, the use of the term ‘subtopia’ makes a suggestive connection with a critique of the suburbs as spaces of homogeneity and vulgarity which had been a commonplace of British cultural criticism since at least the interwar period.[25] In everyday idiom, ‘subtopia’ has evolved to mean ‘the sprawling suburban housing estates built to satisfy the town workers’ desire for country surroundings without relinquishing the amenities of the town’.[26] But Nairn makes only fleeting reference to housing. He is more concerned with street furniture, describing subtopia as ‘often largely a matter of trim’.[27] This discussion of ‘trim’ deals directly with the idealization of suburbia when it dismisses the ‘municipal rustic’ of ornamental planting in be-railed mini-gardens or roundabouts with flower displays.[28] But it primarily focuses on the ‘unwitting agents’ of subtopia that are simply ‘treated by their authors as though they were invisible’,[29] such as wireless masts, wire fencing, park benches, bus-stop poles and road signs. Nairn often expresses the fear that this ‘ugly’ or ‘unsightly’ development will simply become invisible: ‘Part of the trouble is that as a nation we do not really want it; our eyes are dim and our conscience dull. We do not realise what is happening.’[30] This theme – that everyday ugliness is not always immediately apparent but is something that one has to be trained to see – recurs in Nairn’s later work and in other literature of this period on landscape.

Nairn’s writings on subtopia thus combine two distinct arguments. First, Britain is a small, crowded island whose countryside is being devoured by subtopia, which is described with the use of invasion metaphors such as ‘gaseous pink marshmallow’, ‘creeping mildew’ and ‘amorphous destroyer’.[31] Second, small elements come together to create this ‘world of universal low-density mess’.[32] In this dual-pronged attack, Nairn drew on a tradition of interwar critics who wrote about the despoliation of the landscape in terms of an accumulation of individual abuses which were ‘averaging England out into a dull uneventfulness whereby one place becomes much the same as any other’.[33] Clough Williams-Ellis’s England and the Octopus (1928) concludes with a ‘devil’s dictionary’ which lists a series of individual outrages such as aerodromes, broadcasting masts, bungalows, golf courses, petrol pumps and railings.[34] Critics of the human-made landscape in the interwar period, like Williams-Ellis, tended to focus on particular outrages – pylons, advertising hoardings, concrete kerbs, petrol stations and semi-detached housing. As David L. North argues, the interwar critique of suburbia often conflated it with the broader problem of commercialized blights on the rural landscape, and combined preservationist, aesthetic, moral and social questions in a polemical way that failed to acknowledge the diversity of the new, human-made landscape of this period.[35]

In the 1940s, other critics sought to move beyond this scattergun approach by seeing the everyday landscape as a totality.[36] Writers such as Thomas Sharp and John Piper argued for a notion of ‘landscape individuality’, where the variety of particular places could be defended against the uniform intrusions of planners.[37] The Architectural Review’s editor, Hugh de Cronin Hastings, wrote (under a pseudonym) that

it is not only the decay of rurality, it is the waste, in the towns and outside them, the clutter, the vast areas of No-Man’s-Land. We foul our nest. The contemporary world is a kind of visual refuse heap, if not insanitary, inelegant, with the shameless utter inelegance of an upset dustbin.

Hastings’s article introduced the notion of ‘townscape’ which sought to incorporate a ‘modern conception of Landscape as the field of vision wherever and in whatever position one happens to be’.[38] Nairn has a similarly inclusive notion of landscape, arguing that there is a ‘spreading Subtopian blight’ in which ‘minor thoughtlessnesses are beginning to agglomerate into a major disaster’.[39]

Nairn’s rather nebulous concept of ‘subtopia’ became something of a rallying cry for cultural critics on both left and right who felt uneasy with the consequences of rising affluence, particularly its associations with a more Americanized, consumerist society.[40] The term was popularized by the Duke of Edinburgh, who in a speech at the Royal College of Art in July 1955, said that ‘we have a new word now – subtopia – which is proof of a new awareness. There seems to be no excuse for unattractive design.’[41] A 1957 Times editorial argued that ‘there is a limit to the amount of our green landscape that we can allow to be eaten away by the spread of what has come to be called subtopia’.[42] The vagueness of the term ‘subtopia’ allowed it to become journalistic shorthand for all the ugly paraphernalia of a supposedly uncaring and philistine modern society. The concept of ‘subtopia’ connected with ideas of national decline which began to influence social commentary from the mid-1950s onwards, and which often searched beyond immediate economic and political contexts to suggest a deep-rooted collective malaise. For Nairn, subtopia is not simply a problem of planning and policy, but a mass psychosis grounded in the fatalistic acceptance of mediocrity. Our ‘whole existence as individuals is at stake’, threatened by ‘a miasma rising from the heart of our collective self’:

The environment is an extension of the ego, and twentieth-century man is likewise busy metamorphosing himself into a mean – a meany – neither human nor divine … he is removing the sharp edge from his own life, exchanging individual feeling for mass experience in a voluntary enslavement far more restrictive and permanent than the feudal system.[43]

Nairn continued to suggest connections between subtopia and national decline in his later work. A 1964 discussion of the poor design of a new Bristol housing estate ends with the ad hoc, and by then rather dated, comment: ‘No wonder there are Teddy Boys.’[44]

Nairn shares a particular bête noire with W.G. Hoskins, another critic who voiced his fears about the destruction of the countryside to a non-specialist readership: they both detest the landscape formed by unplanned ribbon development along the arterial roads built in the interwar period. ‘Is there anything uglier in the whole landscape’, wrote Hoskins in the same year that Outrage was published, ‘than an arterial by-pass road, except an airfield?’[45] Hoskins’s classic The Making of the English Landscape shows the landscape to be the product of complex historical interactions between the human and natural, the urban and rural, and the local and national. In its nostalgic last chapter, however, the past is more straightforwardly evoked against the present. Contemplating the ‘England of the arterial by-pass, treeless and stinking of diesel oil, murderous with lorries’, Hoskins urges his readers to ‘turn away and contemplate the past before all is lost to the vandals’.[46] Ironically, both Nairn and Hoskins were writing at the moment when this A-road landscape was about to be transformed by the arrival of the first motorways, which had much more stringent building restrictions and design codes. Arguments among landscape architects and engineers about the design of these new roads focused on what form their distinctive facilities and roadside furniture would take, usually in a more temperate language than Nairn’s or Hoskins’s.[47] Crowe’s The Landscape of Roads, for example, criticized some of the new roadside furniture but admired the way in which new roads ‘penetrat[e] swiftly into the heart of the landscape’.[48] 

In an essay on motorway ‘road style’, Raymond Spurrier decried the nondescript banality of Newport Pagnell, the first service station to open on the M1 in 1960. Like Nairn, he attacked visual clutter, the ‘usual subtopian results’ produced by unrestrained commercial development and policy drift. Unlike Nairn, however, he called for more centralized coordination, using ‘the town and country planning discipline of recrystallizing a fragmented environment into a more logical, organized pattern’. Spurrier hoped that the arrival of motorways would allow for more careful management of the human landscape, and the development of a distinctive ‘motor car aesthetic’ which might feed back into the design of the rest of roadside culture.[49]

One obvious opportunity for such cross-fertilization was the road signs. In Britain, as in other countries, the construction of the motorways was the primary impetus for the standardization of traffic signs. The 1949 Geneva Protocol on Road Signs and Signals had recommended an international system with relatively uniform colours, shapes and symbols. The new British road signs, designed belatedly along these lines, were formalized in the Anderson report on motorway signage (1962) and extended to other roads through the Worboys report (1963).[50] The design team, led by Jock Kinneir, drew on scientific research about reading signs at speed, stimulated by the postwar roadbuilding programmes in Britain, Europe and America. The Anderson committee took five years to report its findings, and during this period Kinneir’s provisional designs – white, lower-case, sans-serif lettering on a blue background – generated considerable discussion, conducted in newspapers and journals like the Architectural Review, Design and The Geographical Magazine.[51] The Council of Industrial Design sponsored a colloquium in 1959 to air these debates. The main disagreement was over the use of lower-case rather than block capital letters, which many designers believed would lead to unnecessarily large signs with little gain in public safety. One architect complained about ‘these vast signs cutting holes in the landscape’[52]; another commented that they were ‘crudely coloured and overpoweringly large’ and ‘give an impression of having been designed for lunatic drivers’.[53]

Whatever people thought about the new signs, however, it would have been difficult to argue that they were ill-considered subtopian ‘clutter’. As late as 1964, Nairn was attacking the ‘British disease’ for putting everything into words, exemplified by excessively literary road signs that turned ‘the whole landscape into a legal document’.[54] But this was precisely the problem that the Anderson and Worboys committees were trying to solve by following the Geneva protocol, with its emphasis on replacing letters with symbols wherever possible, and placing any lettering inside symbols so that words and icon met the eye simultaneously.

In a twenty-year retrospective on Outrage written in 1975, Nairn conceded that the motorway landscaping which had developed since the late 1950s was ‘one of the few genuinely collective and genuinely hopeful parts of design in Britain’.[55] Hoskins, meanwhile, criticized motorways but rarely without qualification, dismissing them as a ‘ghastly infliction’ that ‘creep[s] inexorably over unravished landscapes’ while admiring their ‘magnificence of line and design’.[56] This ambivalence reflects a particular tension evident in both Nairn’s and Hoskins’s work, between their critique of the soulless homogeneity of postwar planning, and their actual dislike for the more improvised development typified by the interwar arterial roads.[57] In fact, postwar planning had left much of this pre-war landscape intact. After the Conservatives returned to power in 1951, they largely re-established Britain’s laissez-faire planning tradition. Planning powers were reinvested in local councils rather than national government, and generally concerned pragmatic questions of land use rather than ambitious public projects.[58] Nairn’s and Hoskins’s equation of planning with a steamrollering ‘modernity’ belied a more complex political situation – within which others, like Spurrier, could critique the absence of sufficient coordination rather than excessive control.

III. Landscape, Affluence and Decline

Outrage was a plea to the ‘man in the street’ to break the habit of not noticing trivial blemishes to the landscape because ‘above a certain density it ceases to work’.[59] But there was little evidence that ordinary people were so environmentally sensitive, at least once the most basic problems of postwar reconstruction had been surmounted. The promise of a better life in the 1950s became more focused on housing and living standards than on public, shared space. If people did not much like green fields being eaten up by new roads and housing estates, they did like the increased opportunities for leisure and mobility provided by the car, which had become a symbol of the end of austerity and the promise of an affluent society[60]; and they approved of the ambitious housing targets set by politicians like Anthony Eden and Harold Macmillan, who often exploited the sod-turning and ribbon-cutting photo-opportunities provided by the completion of new homes.[61]

One of the few politicians writing about the need for more pleasant public space at this time was the Labour MP Anthony Crosland. In The Future of Socialism, he called for a ‘change in cultural attitude’ which would make Britain ‘a more colourful and civilised country to live in’: ‘We need not only higher exports and old-age pensions, but more open-air cafes, brighter and gayer streets at night, later closing-hours for public houses … statues in the centre of new housing-estates, better-designed street-lamps and telephone kiosks.’[62] Crosland argued optimistically that material wealth would soon be at such a level that ‘marginal changes in the allocation of resources will make little difference to anyone’s contentment’. At the same time, he claimed, ‘we shall grow progressively less indifferent, or so it is to be hoped, to the question of town and country, and architectural, planning’.[63] Even if it was to be hoped, it did not happen. Rising living standards neither eliminated poverty nor reached a level at which the majority of the population was satisfied. Instead, as the growing statistics industry developed more sophisticated ways of measuring the relationship between inflation and wage increases, living standards became a crucial political battleground, exemplified by Macmillan’s ‘never had it so good’ speech at Bedford in July 1957.[64]

In other ways, Crosland was more pessimistic. Writing a year after the publication of Outrage and citing Nairn’s work, he detected a more general ‘melancholy’ in the loss of faith in postwar planning. While it had been obvious to many in the 1930s that unchecked commercial development had uglified the landscape, some were now questioning the ‘brave new world’ promised in the 1940s as well.[65] One of the recurring themes in Nairn’s work, for example, is that subtopian outrages are ‘masquerading as Improvement, Progress or Amenity’ and are being committed by well-meaning officials ‘in your name – without even the human excuse of wanting to make a profit’.[66]

Once people were less broadly agreed about the value of coordinated planning, the discussion of the mundane environment began to be linked more nebulously with a deeper issue of cultural and moral decline. Nairn had liked the ordered design of the new towns, praising ‘the absence of shouting signs and hideous shop-fronts’ in Harlow New Town.[67] But in a 1956 Encounter article about Harlow, subtitled ‘Reflections on Subtopia’, Tosco Fyvel argued that ‘the monotonous look of the new suburbia and the mechanical content of the new popular culture’ are part of the same ‘Subtopian outlook’, in which unimaginative planning and a vulgarized culture feed off each other:

While [high] culture languishes, sub-culture, or let’s call it Subtopian culture, flourishes merrily, bringing to its public ever more inflated journalese, louder radio crooners, lower-plunging necklines on the 17-inch screen, even bigger Treble Chance Pools and lusher magazine fiction printed as adjuncts to brassière ads.[68]

In a July 1963 special issue of Encounter on the ‘suicide of a nation’, Malcolm Muggeridge complained: ‘Each time I return to England from abroad the country seems a little more down than when I went away; its streets a little shabbier; its railway carriages and restaurants a little dingier.’[69] This was a strange statement to make about a country emerging slowly out of a war that had ravaged its buildings, public spaces and infrastructure. But if there was no longer a general consensus about the need for political intervention to improve public spaces, then these spaces were more likely to evoke a general sense of retrenchment and defeat which could be employed in the service of a hazily formulated declinism.

Gordon Cullen’s book, Townscape (1961), draws on his earlier pieces for Architectural Review dating back to 1947, but is also partly a reflection of this post-optimistic era. Unlike Outrage, Cullen’s book was about good practice in urban design, ranging over different periods and countries in its search for examples that might be used by contemporary architects and planners. But he often sets these good examples against the ugliness of modern, planned landscapes. Like Nairn, Cullen condemns the subtopian blurring of difference between places so that ‘all we get is a form of porridge which will maintain life only if one can refrain from vomiting it up’, a suburban gloop which ‘resembles nothing so much as a disturbed ant-hill with brightly enamelled ants moving rapidly in all directions, toot-toot, pip-pip, hooray’.[70] But Cullen’s work, like Nairn’s, focuses less on large-scale commercial and residential development than on minor features of the landscape: intrusive lamp standards, pylons, railings and sans-serif traffic signs which represent ‘functionalism without feeling’.[71]

Nairn’s and Cullen’s fears about a ‘land grab’ or suburban ‘explosion’[72] were surely exaggerated, since there was much greater control over land use after the war. Their work was simply the continuation of an argument being conducted throughout the postwar era, between proponents of high-density urban development and advocates of controlled dispersal into suburbs and new towns. What was unarguable, however, was that streetscapes had become more cluttered in the 1950s and 1960s, with the growth and increased regulation of the outdoor advertising industry creating permanent billboard sites or ‘advertisement stations’; a greater emphasis on road safety leading to Zebra crossings, flashing Belisha beacons, improved street lighting and guard rails to discourage jaywalking; and a new science of traffic engineering, imported from America, producing complex road markings, one-way systems and parking meters. In 1957, the Conservative minister, Duncan Sandys, formed the Civic Trust, partly in response to the work of Nairn, Cullen and others at the Architectural Review. The origins of the Trust can be traced to a speech that Sandys made to the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1955, shortly after Outrage appeared, when he called for a combined effort to ‘uphold and create beauty and declare war on ugliness’.[73] The aim of the Trust, he argued, was to challenge ‘the characterless urban sprawl which is disfiguring both town and country’.[74] In one of its first projects, Magdalen Street in Norwich was repainted and divested of clutter in order to show how the everyday environment could be improved at modest expense.[75]  

While many landscape architects were pointing to this ‘staggering profusion’ of ‘corporate clutter’,[76] most of them argued for the employment of stricter design codes (as developed by the Council of Industrial Design, for example, from the early 1950s), or the manufacture of modular, integrated street furniture (as pioneered in the new towns).[77] For Cullen, however, the promotion of townscape as an art tended to detract from these questions of policy detail. As might be expected of two critics associated with the Architectural Review, Nairn and Cullen tended to criticize commercial developers and planning officials rather than architects. They wanted site-specific design to replace the rigid codes imposed by planning committees and by-laws. Townscape was designed not as a copybook but as ‘an aid to a particular kind of visual sensibility’.[78] What was needed was not some kind of controlling political direction, but a more profound shift in what Nairn called ‘visual thinking’.[79] 

Street furniture also proved a rallying point for the emerging conservationist movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Its most high-profile advocate was the well-known poet and architectural critic, John Betjeman, who wrote an appreciative review of Outrage in the Spectator.[80] In fact, three years before the publication of Outrage, Betjeman was already claiming in Nairnian terms that we ‘have ceased to use our eyes … Beauty is invisible to us,’ and evoking the bogey of ‘suburban man’ whose ‘indifference to the look of things is catching’.[81] Alongside his more famous campaigns against the destruction of the Euston Arch and the construction of the London motorway box, Betjeman called for old lamp standards and manhole covers to be retained,[82] and wrote protest letters to the Times about the construction of pylons in picturesque areas, or ‘the present craze for erecting lamp posts like concrete gibbets with corpse lights dangling off them in old country towns’.[83] He employed Nairn’s arguments against subtopian uniformity for a more explicitly conservationist agenda, arguing that ‘England is far too varied and delicate in her building materials to have standardised designs plumped down in her towns regardless of local scale, colour and texture’.[84]

The inner-city gentrification that began in London in the early 1960s provided a major impetus for the movement to preserve the traditional streetscape. Middle-class gentrifiers were a powerful force behind the amenity societies, sponsored by the Civic Trust, which emerged in urban areas in the 1960s.[85] The Barnsbury Association, formed by middle-class Islingtonites in 1964, for example, persuaded the local authority to pay for tree planting, restoring cast-iron streetlamps and railings, and granite setts to give the roads a cobblestone look. Under the Civic Amenities Act of 1967, local authorities could create conservation areas and award grants for the repair of listed buildings and public spaces.[86] Using the provisions of this act, there were successful campaigns in the mid-1970s to retain the original gaslights in London’s Covent Garden, and in the prosperous suburb of Egham, Surrey.[87]

The proponents of townscape had never been conservationists in this narrow sense, being sceptical of what Nairn called ‘a travel-poster Merrie England of beams and tracery’.[88] In a new introduction and afterword to the abbreviated 1971 edition of Townscape, Cullen attacked the ‘superficial civic style of decoration’ of bollards, cobble-stones and pedestrian precincts inspired by conservationism.[89] The everyday landscape had deteriorated, he argued, because ‘the environment gladiators have cast lots for it and parted it amongst them. On the one hand it has devolved into cobbles and conservation, and on the other it has hived off into outrage and visual pollution.’[90] Cullen thus connected the two distinct threads in ‘townscape’ criticism – the first about subtopian development, the second about the poor design of street furniture and other amenities – by arguing that they were the product of the same neglect of the integrated art of townscape. 

  1. Thatcherism, Privatization and Heritage

Another attack on ‘planner-preservationism’ came from a different quarter – former members of the Independent Group (1952-55), an alliance of artists, architects and critics who fully embraced mass consumerism and new technology. In a 1968 New Society article on the British motorway service station, former IG member Reyner Banham challenged what he saw as a prevailing national climate of preservationism. For Banham, the planning regime in Britain had not kept pace with increased individual mobility and consumption of the postwar era. He complained that ‘our motorways and their ancillaries are the product of the way we are now: a mixed economy, a primarily preventive body of planning law, the arable-land-is-sacred lobby … a belief that advertising is inherently offensive, and a whole gamut of other Island Attitudes’.[91] A champion of American freeways and roadside culture, Banham saw the heavy constraints on the building, operation and signage of Britain’s service stations as a case study in the mean-spirited nature of its public services and the grudging acknowledgement of them as part of the landscape. These roadside amenities could only be made truly beautiful, he suggested, when they were accepted for what they were rather than built to be concealed or blend seamlessly into the environment.

Banham’s essay on the service station anticipated his 1969 ‘non-plan manifesto’. Devised jointly with New Society editor Paul Barker, the academic geographer Peter Hall and the architect Cedric Price, this manifesto criticized the class-based, preservationist roots of a restrictive British planning system. It drew on the work of American cultural landscape studies, inaugurated by John Brinckerhoff Jackson in the 1950s. Jackson wrote positively about trailer parks, parking lots, strip malls and filling stations, arguing that these everyday, generic environments form part of an ‘accessible landscape’ which challenges older forms of territoriality and fosters new forms of community, ‘a kind of sodality based on shared uses of the street or road, and on shared routines’.[92] The non-plan manifesto also anticipated the celebration of unplanned commercial landscapes in Robert Venturi, Denise Brown and Steven Izenour’s Learning from Las Vegas (1972). Banham and his co-writers similarly admired American out-of-town and strip retail development, which they called ‘the living architecture of our age’.[93] Arguing that the ordinary landscape should reflect the rapid obsolescence and visual gaiety of popular culture, the non-plan manifesto was illustrated with suitably garish signs for drive-in cinemas, petrol stations and supermarkets.

The non-plan manifesto had clearly heeded Crosland’s call for the left to ditch its Fabian-style Puritanism. It associated authoritarian planning with both Nazism (suburban estates being described as ‘concentration camps’ and Harlow New Town as the ‘final solution’) and Soviet command economies (‘Stay in Moscow and you end up yearning to see an Esso sign’).[94] It ended with a simultaneous dismissal of nostalgic preservationism and orthodox Marxism:

Britain shouldn’t be a Peter Pan Edwardian nursery. Let it at least move into the play school era: why should only the under-sevens be allowed their bright materials, their gay constructions, their wind-up Daleks. In that world, Marx [a now defunct American toy company] is best known as the maker of plastic, battery-driven dump trucks. Let’s become that sort of marxist.[95]

Other New Left critics were also anticipating Margaret Thatcher’s later promotion of ‘the great car economy’ in the planning deregulation of the mid-1980s, which led to a proliferation of retail parks, superstores, hotels and other commercial buildings on the outskirts of towns.[96] Writing an account of what she could see from her car on a journey from London to Wiltshire in her Citroën DS in 1972, the architect (and also former IG member) Alison Smithson argued that the protean view from the car windscreen, and the visual excitement of roadside environments, showed how much the discussion of landscape was ‘encumbered by established English sensibilities … we have in front of our eyes almost a pre-formed vision, the where-with-all to relive the whole spirit of the English picturesque’.[97] 

‘Planner-preservationism’ was by then under more sustained attack, however, from a much stronger trend towards rural conservation and general anti-modern sentiment. Philip Larkin’s poem, ‘Going, Going’, commissioned by the Department of the Environment in 1972 for a report on ‘the human habitat’, and later broadcast on BBC television, voiced by the suitably lugubrious Paul Schofield, reflected this shift in public mood.[98] Larkin’s poem laments the creeping influence of subtopia, with its references to the ‘spectacled grins’ of the planners who approve ‘some takeover bid’ and usher in a world of ‘concrete and tyres’.[99]

The 1975 issue of Architectural Review commemorating the twenty-year anniversary of Outrage included an anonymous introduction, ‘Through a Glass, Darkly’, which again raised the issue of national decline, blaming it primarily on the misplaced idealism of bungling planners:

By any standards, these have been terrible years, which have seen the destruction of our country as a force for good, the erosion of our institutions – and continued physical devastation. With the steady intention of doing everything for the best we have – so it seems – done almost everything for the worst.[100]

It is unclear whether Nairn himself would have endorsed this blanket view. He was often prepared to embrace modernity in its ‘proper’, urban setting, writing several articles for the Listener in the 1960s praising inner-city ring roads, shopping precincts and high-rise buildings.[101] But Nairn also wrote a long 1966 article in the Observer, ‘Stop the architects now’, in which he railed against planners ‘stamping over the landscape in jackboots’.[102] By the 1970s, the ‘failure’ of postwar planning evoked a whole repertoire of stigmatic imagery: the concrete immensity of the tower block or multi-storey car park; the deserted open spaces of the 1960s shopping precinct; the dead zones underneath elevated urban motorways; dimly-lit subways adorned with spraygun graffiti. In Lionel Esher’s words, the belief that ‘anything new is worse’ in the built environment had become ‘a national psychosis with obvious political connections. Deeply humiliated by their decline from greatness, the British look around their society and do not like what they see – and they take it out on what has always been the mirror of society: its architecture.’[103]

The public spaces created in the long period of reconstruction from the 1940s to the 1960s, then, began to convey a popular idea of recent British history as an era of decline and mismanagement. In this sense, they offered a visual reinforcement of Thatcherite ideology, with its promise to reverse national decline through the abolition of top-down planning and the vigorous promotion of a more privatized, entrepreneurial culture. Thatcher herself spoke to the Conservative Party conference in 1987 about the ‘arrogant’ postwar planners who had ‘cut the heart out of our cities’:

They swept aside the familiar city centres that had grown up over the centuries. They replaced them with a wedge of tower blocks and linking expressways, interspersed with token patches of grass and a few windswept piazzas, where pedestrians fear to tread … they simply set the municipal bulldozer to work. What folly, what incredible folly … The schemes won a number of architectural awards. But they were a nightmare for the people.[104]


What had been a relatively limited critique about particular elements of the human-made environment in the immediate postwar period had now broadened out into a wide-ranging objection to state ‘planning’ and modernist building. The simplicity of this attack meant that little attention was paid to the ways in which public space was being more subtly transformed by a fundamental shift in the relationship between government and commerce. In his book A Journey Through Ruins (1991), the cultural historian Patrick Wright explored this new dynamic in his account of the morphology of the British telephone box.[105] When the privatized British Telecom was formed in 1982, it greatly accelerated the phasing out of the classic K6 Jubilee Kiosk designed by Giles Gilbert Scott in the 1930s, which had been taking place slowly since the 1960s.[106] BT claimed that the new glass and aluminium kiosks were less easily vandalized, offered better access for elderly and disabled people and presented a clean, corporate image.[107]


Perhaps the most significant aspect of the new kiosks, however, was that there were different types installed in different areas, with some models dispensing with doors and the most primitive having just a simple canopy. One of BT’s marketing directors said neutrally that it was offering ‘a range of complementary designs … to provide good payphone facilities in every conceivable environment’.[108] For Wright, though, the new kiosks were


BT’s humble contribution to growing social polarisation … the better your area the more kiosk you could expect to find. Users in respectable neighbourhoods and well-policed thoroughfares would still be offered a roof, some walling, and a choice between cash and cardphone. The new underclass, meanwhile, would have to settle for a sawn-off metal stump with an armoured cardphone bolted into it.[109]


Conservationists called for the K6s to be preserved as classics of industrial design and ‘symbols of our country’.[110] For some right-wing critics, the disappearance of the red telephone box embodied an unresolvable tension between traditional conservatism and Thatcherism’s more aggressive neo-liberalism. Roger Scruton used the arrival of the new ‘barbarous concoctions of steel and aluminium’ to dismiss the whole ‘tyrannical pursuit of novelty’ since the Enlightenment. It did not matter what type of phone box there was in Birmingham ‘where modern architects have already done their work’, he argued, but ‘it still matters on a village green, a hillside or a moor’.[111]


Scruton’s unconcern for Birmingham, which was radically rebuilt in the 1960s, raised a familiar question about subtopia: the complaint was partly about ugly street furniture per se and partly about its insertion in ‘inappropriate’ places. In a sense, as Cullen anticipated, the burgeoning heritage industry of the 1980s ‘solved’ this problem. In response to their threatened removal, English Heritage, formed in 1983, named up to 1000 of the oldest kiosks as listed buildings. Referring to this ‘kiosk mania’, John Delafons claims that ‘it must be doubted whether a more absurd undertaking has ever been known in the history of conservation’.[112] After this campaign by English Heritage, BT agreed to retain some of the K6s as working payphones, but only if they were located in tourist areas, within existing listed buildings, or in ‘attractive’ (usually upper- or middle-class) neighbourhoods.[113] Many of the decommissioned red kiosks were sold off at auction to be re-used as pub garden furniture or shower cabinets in private houses.[114] For Wright, this emphasis on heritage aesthetics neglected a more significant issue about the decline of public, shared space in the Thatcher era.[115] The K6’s disappearance also anticipated much broader changes in public amenities in the 1980s. As local authorities were forced by law to contract out their public services to private companies, street furniture diversified. Items such as bus shelters, litter bins and park benches increasingly became an adjunct of global outdoor advertising companies like Adshel and JCDecaux, which agreed to supply these items for ‘free’ in return for using their surfaces as advertising space. Since bus shelters could not be nostalgically recuperated in the same way as the K6, these significant alterations to the everyday landscape rarely formed part of public discussion.


Instead, the ongoing war against ‘clutter’ tended to focus on aesthetics rather than political economy. The Council for the Protection of Rural England’s 1996 pamphlet, The Cluttered Countryside, did not reference Outrage, but it echoed Nairn’s argument in two significant ways: first, in its suggestion that ‘ugliness, like beauty, often comes in small packages’ and that we were ‘abandoning the landscape to death by a thousand cuts’[116]; second, in its characterization of street furniture and lighting as ‘urban invasions’ or, worse, ‘imposing a shrill suburban accent’ on the countryside.[117] The CPRE may have been referring implicitly to the planning deregulation of the Thatcher-Major years when it suggested that the ‘urban fringe’ was now ‘more concrete corset than Green Belt’, locking towns and cities ‘within a charmless husk of bypasses, roundabouts, out-of-town superstores and petrol stations’.[118] But its main target was the proliferating furniture of traffic management: rumble-strips, pinch-points, chicanes, mini-roundabouts and speed humps.[119] In other words, ‘clutter’ was a sufficiently broad notion to incorporate the absence or excess of government controls; both could be criticized for creating the ‘ugly and sometimes unnecessary paraphernalia of an apparently uncaring modern society’.[120]


In 2004, English Heritage launched a similarly wide-ranging ‘Save our Streets’ campaign. While asking members of the public to carry out audits of streets infested with unnecessary signs, guard rails and litter bins, this campaign also called for ‘historic’ street furniture such as police boxes, post boxes and horse troughs to be saved.[121] The American travel writer and English Heritage commissioner, Bill Bryson, spoke of England’s rich heritage of ‘iconic’ street furniture and argued that ‘it is incumbent upon England to show world leadership in civilised streets’.[122] Other recent campaigns also echo the original Outrage manifesto. Paul Kingsnorth’s 2005 pamphlet for the CPRE adopts a Nairnian strategy of imagining a dystopian future thirty years hence: ‘Is this the future? It’s 2035 and it’s too late to say we’re sorry … those who can remember how things used to be look back uneasily. They find it hard to believe that it happened. But it did. It’s 2035, and the countryside is all but over.’ Kingsnorth also employs a Nairnian turn of phrase, using metaphors of the malfunctioning human body to describe the creeping influence of suburbia: ‘The varicose network of roads pervades all, ceaselessly coursing with traffic, from fat grey arteries to the writhing filigree of the cul-de-sac.’[123]


The contemporary war against clutter is clearly in the Outrage tradition: it tends to focus on both commercial development and on the well-meaning but misguided apparatus of road safety, utilities and other essential services, but with an emphasis on the latter. Britain’s public spaces are seen as ‘subtopias of good intentions’,[124] the product of ‘bad laws, cretinous officialdom, dim bureaucrats, philistine politicos and droning jobsworths’.[125] The crusade against ugliness thus tends to submerge its own politics, which have been redirected into a relatively narrow agenda of conservation and heritage. English Heritage, for example, has campaigned for the reinstatement of the railings in London’s parks and squares, many of which have still not been replaced after being removed in wartime. It has pump-primed replacement projects and sought matching funding from numerous other public and private agencies: the National Lottery, the London Mayor, residents’ committees, amenity societies, local councils, private companies and donors. Some of this funding is dependent on providing limited opening of the squares to the general public, but the involvement of interested parties such as private estates and frontagers has meant that aesthetic questions – the substitution of ‘traditional’ railings for ‘unsightly’ chainlink fencing and concrete posts – have been more important than issues of access and ownership. English Heritage now celebrates the railings as ‘a vital component of the public realm’[126] rather than, as Orwell and Cullen argued in the 1940s, a reinforcement of property values and private space.



In England and the Octopus, Clough Williams-Ellis called on the ‘great body of active sympathisers’ to his cause, who ‘have come to see that to go as you please is not always to arrive at what is pleasant’.[127] Postwar polemics about the everyday landscape have often concluded with a similar rallying call. During and immediately after the Second World War, critics used the decrepit state of mundane public spaces to raise explicitly political questions about land use, ownership and access. This brief period of the politicization of the everyday landscape ended because of the competing demands of reconstruction, housing and personal consumption. The design of relatively small elements of outdoor furniture began to inspire more nebulous anxieties about social change, cultural decline, planning, conservation and heritage. Political concerns were no less present in these discourses, but they became confused with aesthetic issues about the supposed ugliness and uniformity of the everyday landscape. 

Such aesthetic judgements are notoriously unstable: items such as telegraph poles, lampposts and fast-growing conifers, which provoked such condemnation in the 1940s and 1950s, now rarely excite comment, and have been replaced by other ‘outrages’, such as speed humps, mobile phone masts and roadside advertisements on farmers’ trailers. While the specific targets have changed, the general elements of the critique have retained a striking historical continuity: the preference for the local, particular and traditional against a more centralized modernity or globalized placelessness; a belief in the maintenance of clear distinctions between town, city and country; and a correspondingly deep disdain for the suburban, home of what Nairn called the ‘Little Man’.[128]

This critique also betrayed a fundamental confusion about whether to attack chaotically unplanned landscapes or overly planned, regimented landscapes. It often did both these things simultaneously, as it became focused on the encroachment of the urban on the rural, and the swamping of the native by the alien. Aesthetic considerations tended to outweigh more problematic questions about the role of the state in maintaining and modernizing the physical environment, and the politics of land ownership. The recurrent fear that the country was being colonized by standardized subtopian clutter ignored more subtle historical shifts, produced by changing relationships between government and commerce, collective and individual consumption, public and private space, urban centre and suburban periphery. Perhaps because it has been stronger on aesthetic and moral critique than practical politics, the call to take up arms against subtopia has remained unheeded. Nairn once earnestly stated that ‘your particular street corner, or the view from your window, or the roundabout down the road, ought to make you gasp with joy’.[129] But such everyday landscapes are now largely taken for granted as the unglamorous residue of daily life; they are rarely the source of political debate, still less ‘outrage’. In this limited sense, the fear of Nairn and others – that the everyday landscape would become invisible – has been realized.

[1] Georges Perec, Species of Spaces and Other Pieces, trans. John Sturrock (Penguin, London, 1999), p. 50.

[2] Michael Sheringham, Everyday Life: Theories and Practices from Surrealism to the Present (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006), p. 14.

[3] Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life (University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, 1984), p. 93.

[4] ‘Scrap for Victory’ was a scrap metal salvage drive launched in July 1940, and coordinated by Herbert Morrison, Minister of Supply, and Lord Beaverbrook, Minister of Aircraft Production. It had a strong morale-boosting and propagandistic element, incorporating radio appeals and exhibitions of scrap at London Underground stations. See ‘Scrap for Victory’, The Times, 16 August 1949; and Anne Chisholm and Michael Davie, Beaverbook: A Life (Pimlico, London, 1993), p. 391.

[5] ‘London Village’, The Times, 15 September 1944.

[6] Juliet Gardiner, Wartime: Britain 1939-1945 (Headline, London, 2004), p. 204; E.P.S. Lewin, ‘Iron Railings’ (Letter), The Times, 27 April 1940.

[7] Davidson, ‘Iron Railings’ (Letter), The Times, 10 May 1940.

[8] Paul Fussell, Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War (Oxford University Press, New York, 1989), p. 38; Diana Ross, ‘Squared Up’, The Guardian, 29 May 1988; Marcus Binney, ‘Railing Against the Philistines’, The Guardian, 10 December 1988.

[9] George Orwell, ‘As I Please’, in The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, Volume 3: As I Please 1943-1945, eds Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus (Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1970), p. 234.

[10] George Orwell, ‘As I Please’, in The Collected Essays, Volume 3, p. 241.

[11] Gordon Cullen, ‘Common Ground’, Architectural Review, 111 (Mar. 1952), p. 183. See also Gordon Cullen, ‘A Square for Every Taste’, Architectural Review, 102 (Oct. 1947), pp. 131-4; and Kenneth Browne, ‘Roundabouts’, Architectural Review, 111 (June 1952), pp. 388-92.

[12] Gordon Cullen, ‘Westminster Regained’, Architectural Review, 102 (Oct. 1947), pp. 131-34.

[13] Cullen, ‘Common Ground’, p. 184.

[14] David Matless, Landscape and Englishness (Reaktion, London, 1998), pp. 26, 52-4.

[15] See Alan Powers, ‘Landscape in Britain’, in Marc Treib (ed.) The Architecture of Landscape, 1940-1960 (University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 2002), pp. 56-81.

[16] Roy Strong, Country Life 1897-1997: The English Arcadia (Boxtree, London, 1996), p. 167.

[17] Parliamentary Debates (Hansard), 469 H.C. DEB. 5 Ser., 31 October-18 November 1949 (London: HMSO, 1949), 1067.

[18] Nick Tiratsoo, ‘The Reconstruction of Blitzed British Cities, 1945-55: Myths and Reality’, Contemporary British History, 14 (2000), p. 41.

[19] Lionel Esher, A Broken Wave: The Rebuilding of England 1940-1980 (Allen Lane, London, 1981), p. 42.

[20] J. Gloag, ‘Planning and Ordinary People’, Town and Country Planning, 20 (1952), p. 509, quoted in Tiratsoo, ‘Reconstruction of Blitzed British Cities’, p. 41.

[21] Ian Nairn, Outrage (Architectural Press, London, 1955), p. 451.

[22] Nairn, Outrage, p. 365.

[23] Nairn, Outrage, pp. 364-5.

[24] Nairn, Outrage, pp. 365-6, 393.

[25] For a summary of this critique, see Matless, Landscape and Englishness, pp. 34-6.

[26] Adrian Room, Brewer’s Dictionary of Modern Phrase and Fable (Cassell, London, 2000), p. 661.

[27] Nairn, Outrage, p. 372.

[28] Nairn, Outrage, pp. 386-7.

[29] Nairn, Outrage, p. 371.

[30] Ian Nairn, Your England and How to Defend It: A Cautionary Guide (Chatto and Windus, London, 1956), p. 30.

[31] Nairn, Outrage, p. 366; front flap, p. 363.

[32] Nairn, Outrage, p. 363.

[33] Clough Williams-Ellis, England and the Octopus (Portmeirion: Golden Dragon Books, 1975 [1928]), p. 21.

[34] Williams-Ellis, England and the Octopus, pp. 125-79.

[35] David L. North, Middle-Class Suburban Lifestyles and Culture in England, 1919-1939, thesis submitted to the Faculty of Modern History for the Degree of DPhil (University of Oxford, 1989), pp. 62-111.

[36] Esher, A Broken Wave, pp. 18-19, 72.

[37] See Andrew Law, ‘English Townscape as Cultural and Symbolic Capital’, in Andrew Ballantyne (ed.) Architectures: Modernism and After (Blackwell, Oxford, 2004), pp. 202-27.

[38] Ivor de Wolfe, ‘Townscape’, Architectural Review, 106 (Dec. 1949), 355, 362. See also H.D.C. Hastings, ‘Exterior Furnishings or Sharawaggi: The Art of Making an Urban Landscape’, Architectural Review, 95 (Jan. 1944): 1-8.

[39] Nairn, Outrage, p. 363.

[40] Dominic Sandbrook, Never Had it So Good: A History of Britain from Suez to the Beatles (Little, Brown, London, 2005), p. 116.

[41] ‘Artist-Engineers in Industry’, The Times, 9 July 1955.

[42] ‘Campaign against Squalor’, The Times, 5 July 1957.

[43] Nairn, Outrage, pp. 372, 367.

[44] Ian Nairn, Your England Revisited (Hutchinson, London, 1964), p. 77.

[45] W.G. Hoskins, The Making of the English Landscape (Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1970 [1955]), p. 247.

[46] Hoskins, Making of the English Landscape, p. 299.

[47] See Peter Merriman, ‘M1: A Cultural Geography of an English Motorway, 1946-1965’, unpublished PhD thesis, University of Nottingham, 2001; and Peter Merriman, ‘”A Power for Good or Evil”: Geographies of the M1 in Late Fifties Britain’, in David Gilbert, David Matless and Brian Short (eds), Geographies of British Modernity: Space and Society in the Twentieth Century (Blackwell, Oxford, 2003), pp. 115-131.

[48] Sylvia Crowe, The Landscape of Roads (Architectural Press, London, 1960), p. 33.

[49] Raymond Spurrier, ‘Road-Style on the Motorway’, Architectural Review, 128 (Dec. 1960), pp. 406, 408.

[50] [Ministry of Transport], Traffic Signs for Motorways: Final Report of Advisory Committee (HMSO, London, 1962); [Ministry of Transport], Report of the Traffic Signs Committee, 18 April 1963 (HMSO, London, 1963), p. 59.

[51] See Merriman, ‘A Cultural Geography’, pp. 213-15.

[52] ‘Which Signs for Motorways?’, Design, 129 (Sept. 1959), p. 28.

[53] Brenda Colvin, ‘The London-Birmingham Motorway: A New Look at the English Landscape’, The Geographical Magazine, 32 (1959), pp. 245-6.

[54] Nairn, Your England Revisited, pp. 60, 59.

[55] Ian Nairn, ‘Outrage 20 years after’, Architectural Review, 158 (Dec. 1975), p. 329.

[56] W.G. Hoskins, English Landscapes (BBC, London, 1973), pp. 95, 113, 89.

[57] This tension is also evident in Nairn’s evocation of the unplanned suburban sprawl of the United States, particularly Los Angeles, as a warning and prophecy of Britain’s future. See Ian Nairn, Counter-Attack Against Subtopia (Architectural Press, London, 1957), pp. 354-5; Ian Nairn, Your England Revisited, p. 11; and Ian Nairn, The American Landscape: A Critical View (Random House, New York, 1965), p. 11.

[58] Peter Mandler, ‘New Towns for Old: The Fate of the Town Centre’, in Becky Conekin, Frank Mort and Chris Waters (eds), Moments of Modernity: Reconstructing Britain 1945-1964 (Rivers Oram Press, London, 1999), pp. 215-16.

[59] Nairn, Outrage, p. 393.

[60] William Plowden, The Motor Car and Politics in Britain (Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1973), p. 341.

[61] Esher, A Broken Wave, p. 51.

[62] Anthony Crosland, The Future of Socialism (Jonathan Cape, London, 1956), p. 355.

[63] Crosland, Future of Socialism, pp. 357-8.

[64] Jim Tomlinson, The Politics of Decline: Understanding Post-war Britain (Longman, Harlow, 2000), p. 12.

[65] Crosland, Future of Socialism, p. 358.

[66] Nairn, Outrage, p. 367; Nairn, Your England Revisited, p. 9.

[67] Nairn, Your England and How to Defend It, p. 24.

[68] T.R. Fyvel, ‘The Stones of Harlow: Reflections on Subtopia’, Encounter, 6 (June 1956), p. 15.

[69] Malcolm Muggeridge, ‘England, Whose England?’, in Arthur Koestler (ed.), Suicide of a Nation? (Hutchinson, London, 1963), p. 29.

[70] Gordon Cullen, Townscape (Architectural Press, London, 1961), p. 57.

[71] Cullen, Townscape, p. 94.

[72] Nairn, Outrage, p. 399; Cullen, Townscape, p. 57.

[73] Quoted in ‘Industry’s Support for Trust’, The Times, 5 July 1957.

[74] ‘Tribute to British Landscape Design’, The Times, 31 August 1957.

[75] ‘Norwich’s Skilful Use of Colour’, The Times, 13 April 1959.

[76] Michael Middleton, ‘Lack of Direction Leads to Corporate Clutter’, The Times, 4 October 1961.

[77] Michael Middleton, ‘Clutter in the Streets’, Design, 166 (Oct. 1962), p. 47.

[78] Gordon Cullen, ‘Townscape Casebook’, Architectural Review, 106 (Dec. 1949), p. 363.

[79] Nairn, Outrage, p. 451.

[80] John Betjeman, ‘City and Suburban’, Spectator, 1 July 1955, rept. in John Betjeman, Coming Home: An Anthology of his Prose 1920-1977, ed. Candida Lycett Green (Methuen, London, 1997), p. 289.

[81] John Betjeman, First and Last Loves (Arrow, London, 1960 [1952]), pp. 11-12.

[82] Geoffrey Warren, Vanishing Street Furniture (David and Charles, London, 1978), p. 143.

[83] John Betjeman, ‘Ugly Lamp Posts’ (Letter), The Times, 16 August 1950; see also John Betjeman, ‘Pylons on the March’ (Letter), The Times, 31 August 1964.

[84] John Betjeman, ‘Lamp-Posts and Landscape’, Light and Lighting, Nov. 1953, rept. in Betjeman, Coming Home, p. 307; see also Bevis Hillier, Betjeman: The Bonus of Laughter (John Murray, London, 2004), p. 454.

[85] John Ferris, Participation in Urban Planning: The Barnsbury Case: A Study of Environmental Improvement in London (G. Bell, London, 1972), p. 14; Raphael Samuel, Theatres of Memory, Volume 1: Past and Present in Contemporary Culture (Verso, London, 1994), p. 149.

[86] Samuel, Theatres of Memory, pp. 68, 237.

[87] Warren, Vanishing Street Furniture, pp. 73, 11.

[88] Nairn, Outrage, p. 453.

[89] Gordon Cullen, The Concise Townscape (Architectural Press, London, 1971), p. 13.

[90] Cullen, Concise Townscape, p. 193.

[91] Reyner Banham, ‘Disservice Areas’, New Society, 23 May 1968, p. 762.

[92] John Brinckerhoff Jackson, A Sense of Place, A Sense of Time (Yale University Press, New Haven, 1994), pp. 9-10.

[93] Reyner Banham, Paul Barker, Peter Hall and Cedric Price, ‘Non-Plan: An Experiment in Freedom’, New Society, 20 March 1969, p. 443. See also Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour, Learning form Las Vegas (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1972).

[94] Banham et al., ‘Non-Plan’, pp. 440, 439, 437.

[95] Banham et al., ‘Non-Plan’, p. 443.

[96] Margaret Thatcher, Speech representing 1989 Better Environment Awards for Industry, 16 March 1990, in Christopher Collins (ed.), Margaret Thatcher: Complete Public Statements on CD-ROM (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1999).

[97] Alison Smithson, AS in DS: An Eye on the Road (University of Delft Press, Delft, 1983), p. 151.

[98] An abbreviated version of Larkin’s poem was reproduced in the prefatory pages of the Department of the Environment’s How Do You Want to Live? A Report on the Human Habitat (HMSO, London, 1972). See Matless, Landscape and Englishness, p. 278. ‘Going, Going’ was broadcast on BBC2 on 11 March 1976.

[99] Philip Larkin, ‘Going, Going’, in Collected Poems, ed. Anthony Thwaite (Faber, London, 1988), pp. 189-90.

[100] ‘Through a Glass, Darkly’, Architectural Review, 158 (Dec. 1975), p. 327.

[101] Ian Nairn, Britain’s Changing Towns (BBC, London, 1967), pp. 16, 77.

[102] Ian Nairn, ‘Stop the architects now’, Observer, 12 February 1966.

[103] Esher, A Broken Wave, pp. 279-80.

[104] Quoted in Tiratsoo, ‘Reconstruction of Blitzed British Cities’, pp. 36-7.

[105] Patrick Wright, A Journey Through Ruins: The Last Days of London (Hutchinson Radius, London, 1991), pp. 126-38; see also Patrick Wright, ‘On a Ring and a Prayer’, New Statesman and Society, 5 August 1988, pp. 21-3.

[106] David Bell, ‘Telephone Boxes’, in Steve Pile and Nigel Thrift (eds) City A-Z (Routledge, London, 2000) p. 255.

[107] Gavin Stamp, Telephone Boxes (Chatto and Windus, London, 1989), pp. 21-22.

[108] Richard Boston, ‘A Yellow Ribbon Around The Old Phone Box’, The Guardian, 2 April 1985.

[109] Wright, Journey Through Ruins, p. 132.

[110] ‘Red Phone Boxes “Must Be Saved”’, The Times, 6 February 1985.

[111] Roger Scruton, ‘Putting Heritage on the Line’, The Times, 29 January 1985.

[112] John Delafons, Politics and Preservation: A Policy History of the Built Heritage 1882-1996 (E&FN Spon, London, 1997), p. 146.

[113] John Ardill, ‘Only a Slim Chance for Vintage Phone Boxes’, The Guardian, 21 May 1987.

[114] Bell, ‘Telephone Boxes’, p. 255.

[115] Wright, Journey Through Ruins, p. 137.

[116] [Council for the Protection of Rural England], The Cluttered Countryside (CPRE, London, 1996), p. 2.

[117] [CPRE], The Cluttered Countryside, pp. 12, 11.

[118] [CPRE], The Cluttered Countryside, p. 14.

[119] [CPRE], The Cluttered Countryside, p. 10.

[120] [CPRE], The Cluttered Countryside, p. 1.

[121] See the ‘Save our Streets’ campaign pages at <http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/&gt; (site accessed on 4 July 2006).

[122] Oliver Poole, ‘Time to Give Our Streets a Facelift, Says Bryson’, Daily Telegraph, 15 October 2004.

[123] Paul Kingsnorth, Your Countryside, Your Choice (Campaign to Protect Rural England, London, 2005), pp. 2-3.

[124] Bob Jarvis, ‘Return to Subtopia’, Urban Design Quarterly, 69 (Jan. 1999), endpiece.

[125] Stephen Bayley, ‘Wrong Way, Go Back’, Independent on Sunday, 10 October 2004.

[126] [English Heritage], A Campaign for London Squares (English Heritage, London, 2001), p. 2.

[127] Williams-Ellis, England and the Octopus, p. 10.

[128] Nairn, Outrage, p. 365.

[129] Nairn, Your England Revisited, p. 9.

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