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People Power Saves Historic London 'Village'
After many months of vigorous opposition from traditional shopkeepers and
local residents, the plan to bury the historic South Kensington tube station
under an 11-storey tower has been shelved. As many visitors to London will
know, the bookshops and cafes (such as the famous Daquise Polish cafe) close
to the station conjure a unique "village spirit" - making for a pleasant,
slightly bohemian and old-fashioned atmosphere. From here, you can walk
quite easily to the great artistic and scientific temples of
"Albertopolis" - the museums and halls so associated with Prince Albert and
Nearby is the Royal Albert Hall, the Albert Memorial, the V&A, the
magnificent Natural History Museum, and the Royal Collage of Music. Yet a
threat still lingers on the horizon... Even though the old tube station has
been saved, there is - astonishingly - a plan to demolish part of the
Victoria and Albert Museum, and replace its elegant architecture with a
hideous pile of metallic pyramids - the work of modernist architect, Daniel
Liebeskind. To defile a well-loved London landmark with such an out-of-place
atrocity is heartbreaking, and reminds one of Prince Charles's apt
description of suddenly seeing "a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a
well-loved friend". It is a mark of how thoughtless, detached and downright
arrogant our authorities have become that such "developments" are even
seriously entertained in the first place. And it is quite extraordinary that
anyone at the V&A - a place devoted to aesthetic visionaries, such as
William Morris - could have allowed Mr. Liebeskind to submit such crazy and
As the Architecture Correspondent of The Times put it: "It took a fight to
preserve the delightful streets of bookshops in front of the British Museum
from being flattened. A six-lane highway would have been bulldozed through
the centre of Covent Garden market, if planners and developers had had their
way. South Ken station stands in a conservation area protecting a
neighbourhood full of life and bustle... Such contrasts will always have to
be fought for against those who despise any cluster of lively small
businesses as tacky, and see them only as an opportunity for vast overblown
developments lacking any sense of place."
If only such sentiments had been more energetically aired in the early
1960s. This was the era when Harold Macmillan's supposedly "Conservative"
Government set about ripping the heart out of English town centres; with
shoebox offices and chicken-run estates replacing old residential streets
and marketplaces. For Macmillan, "the winds of change" were blowing through
Britain as much as they were through the continent of Africa. Historic,
established buildings were callously reduced to rubble in the name of
post-war "progress" - our politicians behaving like the East European
Communist rulers who bulldozed villages as part of their "collectivisation"
One of the most disgraceful episodes of Macmillan's tenure was the
demolition of the great arch at Euston Station. Anxious to prevent
conservationists from making this a full-scale political issue, ministers
rushed through the demolition order before anyone could block the
desecration. No doubt the present Government would love to do the same sort
of thing today, preferring their futuristic Domes and Norman Foster towers
to the elegant spires and Victorian grandeur of a once-great city.
Thankfully, "people power" is not yet dead, and we may still be spared the
indignity of living in a giant concrete shopping centre, flanked by car
parks and crossed by ring-roads.
Well done to the people of South Kensington and their many supporters and
petition-signers from all over the world!
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