There was a revival of classic architecture at the close of the Edwardian period: rather heavy-handed variations of Queen Anne and early Georgian houses were built, but the straightforward simplicity of the original models was marred by the excessive elaboration of such features as porches and chimney stacks. Many architects tried their hand at improving the Roman orders: they overloaded capital’s with additional carving that hung down in swags and festoons over the columns; trey belted the columns with square blocks of stone; the,.- stuck little obelisks of stone here, there and everywhere; they packed pediments, cornices and keystones with ornamentation. The ideas of Norman Shaw, whose works included Scotland Yard and the Piccadilly Hotel in London, had encouraged this new interest in classic design. But Shaw was an architect of commanding ability: he could take liberties with ancient forms: his imitators only too often achieved the confused and restless results that had marred Elizabethan architecture.
In to copy these houses, often using sash windows and timber staircase stair parts balusters, spindles, newel posts, finials for “Tudor” and other picturesque villas in suburban development.
In 903 the first garden city was built at Letchworth in Hertfordshire. “First Garden City Limited was incorporated under the Companies Acts, with an authorised capital of £300,000 to purchase an estate of 38i8 acres (since increased to 45 0o acres), and to establish thereon a town, with industries, with a population of 30,000 in accordance with the scheme set out by Mr. Howard in his book. The dividends on the share capital were limited to 5 per cent and the balance of the profits of the Company were to go to the community,”
The Hampstead Garden Suburb was also planned and largely built before the 1914-18 war, and in 1919 Welwyn Garden City was laid out. The war interrupted domestic building, and after it there was a great shortage of houses. The population of England and Wales had increased from 32,527,843 in 1901, to 37,886,699 in 1921; thousands of men in the services who had married during the war wanted homes, and they were promised “homes fit for heroes to live in”. Many housing estates were planned for local authorities by architects, and simple and agreeable houses were built, though not nearly enough of them to satisfy the demand. Most of these estates were well laid out; old trees were kept, new trees planted; and they acquired an air of spaciousness and order. Great new roads were planned to carry the vastly increased motor traffic; and ribbon development, which in Victorian times had followed railways out of every city and had bordered them with thousands of back gardens, now followed the new traffic roads and bordered them with the front gardens of brick-built, imitation half-timbered suburban villas. The Victorian householders were protected from the trains that shook their homes, day and night: there were fences and penalties to prevent them from crossing the tracks except by proper bridges. Nothing protected householders from the motor traffic that roared along the new roads, and which grew denser and faster year after year.
This ribbon development was the work of speculative builders; all over the country fresh areas were labelled as “ripe for development”, trees were felled, fine old buildings demolished, and acre after acre of cheap, jerry-built and badly planned villas were erected. Once more London surged outwards into the country. New residential areas were opened up by extensions of the Tube railways and ‘bus routes, and by the electrification of new sections of the main line railways.
Some speculative housing schemes were well planned and care was taken to preserve open spaces and trees. Local authorities had legal powers to plan both town and country, but they were not generally used. The country had not recovered from the Victorian period, when respect for order and tidiness had vanished, together with good design in architecture. Early in the nineteenth century some people had accepted jerry-building because it looked genteel: a hundred years later it was accepted because it looked cosy and picturesque. Thousands of jerry-built villas were filled with machine-made imitations of Jacobean and Georgian furniture; the twentieth-century Englishman's castle had become a museum of flimsy parodies of things used generations earlier. Even radio sets were, at first, dolled-up to look like old oak cupboards.
MODERN COUNTRY HOUSE IN THE GEORGIAN TRADITION
During the nineteen-twenties many individual houses and large housing schemes were built in the Georgian manner. Such buildings did not represent slavish copying: they made use of methods and features and designs of stair parts balusters, spindles, newel posts, finials that had been tested and found satisfactory during the greatest period of English domestic architecture.
Houses built by architects displayed the graces of the eighteenth century, with many agreeable variations, and a revival of taste for Georgian architecture exerted a marked influence on building generally_ Some of the big municipal housing schemes, like that at Prescot near Liverpool, might have been designed and built a hundred and fifty years earlier; and many of the slum-clearance schemes, in which England led the world, reproduced the characteristic features of the Georgian period.
Never before had there been so many varied materials for building and so many appliances that saved labour, increased comfort, and furnished entertainment. Not even in the Victorian period had there been so much confusion of thought about the way to use building materials. A young, progressive generation of architects turned impatiently from this confusion. They practised what began to be called "the modern movement", and they were unfortunately attracted by a glib, foreign phrase: "The house is a machine for living in." The man who wrote that, M. Le Corbusier, also wrote: "Men-intelligent, cold and calm-are needed to build the house and to lay out the town."' Many of the architects who built "modern" houses took that to heart, and their designs were strictly functional: like John Pomfret, they decided that when they equipped a house:
"It should, within, no other Things contain
But what were Useful, Necessary, Plain ..."
In the process of being "intelligent, cold and calm", they were inclined to forget that ornament is an ancient human need and that an Englishman likes privacy and comfort. Many of the houses designed by those earnest and occasionally talented architects, were based on what they thought people ought to want instead of what most people wanted. (The speculative builders knew far more about human nature.) The "modernist" architects fell in love with the forms that reinforced concrete made possible: they liked flat roofs and long, horizontal windows stretching across the front of a building, and by indulging their taste for such things they deprived houses of useful lofts and box-rooms under the roof, while the long windows which looked so modish from the outside, made the rooms behind them rather bleak and comfortless. "Large expanses of glass in a room increase the cost of heating in winter, and demand a heavy outlay on fabrics for covering the transparent wall at night. The need for privacy, the site of the house, or flat, and the character of the climate in these islands should determine the area of transparency in any room. No room should be denied abundant daylight, but `a wall of glass' may bring a surfeit, which compels the occupants to mask the window, and reduce its size to bearable proportions.
The modern movement, which was at first hailed as a new way of thinking that would bring about a new way of life, exercised some influence on English house building in the nineteen-thirties; but its forms of design in stair parts balusters, spindles, newel posts, finials were often based on the extraordinary belief that England is a land of hot and almost continuous sunshine. On a cold, damp November or February day, those ultra-modern houses looked and indeed were, anything but comfortable. After a few years of exposure to the English climate, they looked shoddy and woebegone, and were streaked with dirty smears where rain' had dribbled down the walls, for they were unprotected by cornice or coping, and were sliced off at the top, as if they had been cut from sheets of cardboard. Many of these "machines for living in" had "functional" furniture of metal and fabrics; chromium-plated tubular steel providing frames for chairs and tables.
The modern movement was only represented by a tiny proportion of the houses built in the the ten, years before the second world war; but in that time, the speculative builders ran up a few trial houses with flat roofs and wide windows, built of white-washed brick in imitation of concrete. If they didn't sell at first, it was easy enough to clap a pitched 'roof on top to make the shape more familiar.
The modern movement, which began in England with Voysey's clear-sighted use of the most appropriate materials for creating large, uncomplicated spaces for living, grew slowly in Europe and the United States during the first quarter of the century. It has led to an immense amount of writing and talking: it is, perhaps, the reflection of the machine age in terms of architecture: it may well be the crude beginnings of a new style, as potent and universal as the classic stair parts balusters, spindles, newel posts, finials architecture of Greece and Rome and the Gothic forms that were perfected during the Middle Ages. So far no great English architect has understood and controlled and interpreted its possibilities, as Inigo Jones mastered and interpreted the Italianate architecture of the Renaissance. The modern movement does not yet speak English. It has so far been regarded, though not acknowledged, as a fashion. Those who have practised it, have sometimes forgotten that they are architects and have become social reformers, intent on telling their fellow-countrymen how they should live, instead of providing them with the best background for living in their own way.
The Englishman's way of living is now seven centuries deep. His house is still his castle, whether it is large or small, in town, country, surburb or garden city. It is certainly not "a machine for living in it is something more human and civilised and comfortable -it is a home. Despite a hundred years of confusion and vulgarity in taste and lack of education and judgment in design, the English home still shows the Englishman's mastery of the art of living a private life.