An Ordinary Street in the London Suburb of Hanwell

by David Clayton on November 22, 2013

England 2013 - 86After the last view of Nashua, NH mainstreet here are some views of Hanwell in west London. They were taken over the summer when I was on my way to Heathrow airport.

When I teach the class on harmony and proportion in architect at Thomas More College, we do study the traditional principles as manifested in the great buildings of the past, but I am as anxious to establish in the idea also that this is not just something for cathedrals and grand civic buildings. Even the buildings that we use in everyday life – affordable mass housing, the shops, offices, businesses and factories  can conform to these simple principles and create a beautiful and livable environment. I believe that cities are where most of us are meant to live – the future is not, and nor ought to be, one of a new high-tech agrarianism. However, I do not believe that modern cities need be the inhuman places that we tend to think is inevitable. This is where the consideration of the beauty of ordinary things and places becomes so important.

HanwellI stopped at a roadside cafe for an English breakfast on my to catch my plane home and it was a sunny morning. What was interesting to note was that the basic structures of the all the buildings conformed to traditional harmonious proportions. I am guessing they were built around the turn of the last century. As you look at each one you can see the triple layered proportion with each storey a different size in the traditional manner. These were never grand buildings, just ordinary high street buildings built for every day use. Even though the modern businesses that occupy them have made no attempt to accentuate or conform to the harmonious proportions in their modifications, what remains still makes Hanwell High Street nice enough for the Big Bites Cafe to put tables outside so that patrons could enjoy the sunshine. I would always maintain that if they knew it, they would attract even more business if only they would take this into account. The beautification of the high street is one of the main ways that towns seek to preserve the town centres and fight against the out-of-town malls to maintain a community feel. This is known, but rarely is this aspect of how it might be done understood.

For the curious I have included a photo of the menu, I chose the Tradition English complete with B. Pudding, ie Black Pudding…ah how I miss England.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Matthew Livermore November 25, 2013 at 6:44 am

Ah, good old Hanwell! That was a beautiful sunny London day – feels like an age ago now in dreary November. Good choice on the black pudding! I’d have had the same!

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John Bodman November 25, 2013 at 6:38 pm

David,
I hope you enjoyed your brief visit to Hanwell. For your information, the café you visited was originally a Sainsbury’s store (now a huge chain of supermarkets, as you know) – approximately one hundred years ago.
Another interesting fact about the town – the picture of the blue car at the traffic lights – the photograph shows a shop in the distance called Microcentre. Just above the door, to the left is a blue plaque. This commemorates that Jim Marshall (inventor of Marshall Amps) opened his first ever store in that parade of shops back in the 60′s.

I hope this is of interest.

John Bodman
Founder – Hanwell Rugby Football Club

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David Clayton November 25, 2013 at 9:33 pm

I did enjoy it and your wonderful comment has only added to the pleasure of the memory! Thank you John

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Nicola Gaughan November 26, 2013 at 4:03 am

Keats is another lovely cafe to visit. You can just see its awning in the photo of the traffic junction above :-) I’ve lived in Hanwell most of my life :-)

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David Clayton November 26, 2013 at 1:00 pm

I had no idea that so many people from Hanwell read The Way of Beauty! Perhaps I’ll visit Keats the next time I fly out of London…how is their black pudding?

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Eugene Diamond December 11, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Hi David,

In the second paragraph, you wrote:

“I believe that cities are where most of us are meant to live – the future is not, and nor ought to be, one of a new high-tech agrarianism.”

When you write that cities are where most of us are meant to live, do you mean that cities, as opposed to suburban and rural areas, provide a setting in which people are most likely to become fully human and flourish, or do you mean that most of us should live in the cities if the alternative is living in places where new high-tech argrarianism is practiced, or do you mean that cities, as opposed to the suburbs, are were most people currently do live, or do you mean something entirely different? I am interested to learn more about your thoughts, especially the contrasts between rural and urban living, particularly in the U.S. where in most places both rural and urban settings seem to be lacking beauty and the important elements of a humane existence.

Eugene Diamond

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David Clayton December 11, 2013 at 10:18 pm

Hi Eugene, what I mean is that by nature man is a social animal and is meant to associate with others. I am not saying that everyone today should move to the cities as they are today, what I am saying is that the ultimate end for man is city life. Aristotle thought so, and looking at the book of Revelation, it reads as though our final end is the City of God, the New Jerusalem. We should strive therefore to make our cities the places that they ought to be. There is an idea today that cities are intrinsically bad. I do not think that. They may be bad places in some instances, but that is because man today does not know how to build places of beauty and of community. One answer is to move out and live in the land, and that might even be a temporary approach , but ultimately the better answer is to make cities beautiful communities.

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Eugene Diamond December 16, 2013 at 11:31 pm

Thanks very much for your thoughtful response, David. Perhaps you have addressed the answer to my next question elsewhere on The Way of Beauty, but are there particular cities in America that you believe exemplify the beauty and community of which you write?

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David Clayton December 17, 2013 at 2:49 pm

This is a difficult one. First, I am not American and not hugely travelled so I don’t know all the cities. The first thing I would say is that what makes community is the actions and interactions of the people, so if those are there then the buildings and the layout will gradually move towards what people do. As a rule, nowhere is perfect, and most places are not as bad as they are made out. Many Americans I know speak whistfully of European cities, but there is very little built in the last 60 years on both sides of the Atlantic that is good, its just that
I love New York City of the big cities I have seen, even many of the skyscrapers are built in the first part of the last century and not without consideration of traditional proportion in mind. The churches and cathedrals are beautiful too. Of smaller towns I like Frederick, MD!

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