Arise Modern Day Betjeman of Hull. Or, Eeee, What A Bloody Eyesore. Future is Yours to Choose

I despair of what is happening to architecture in my birthplace. The latest idea is to infill the foundations of the Beverley Gate, part of the location where the English Civil War kicked off. The current site is a bit scuzzy, true. It is an excavated target for cold chips and beery spew, a place to drink value brand cider and enjoy the sunshine. So why not make it nicer rather than fill it in? Perhaps build a garden around it, or a glass shell over it. No? Bit too much imagination involved? Danger of creating employment for some and enjoyment for others? Next, how about the precious few Victorian buildings that are still standing, those lucky enough to survive some of the heaviest bombing on any British city in World War Two? They are left to crumble and rot, coating the arterial roads into Hull like a shingles rash following a nerve. There are some who hope they will just collapse, problem solved, brown site without the dynamite. And it is not just our Victorian heritage which is left to implode under the weight of its own rotten beams, trees sprouting through glassless windows, as though some drunken triffids had broken in. Few cities have as extensive a range of post-war architecture as Hull. Predictably anything built in 1950,60, or 70 has to be decried as a “bloody eyesore,” (said through pursed lips and a disapproving grimace.) It is received wisdom that anything with concrete and Crittall windows is basically Satanic and must be reviled. But in recent years other cities have rediscovered their Modernist heritage. Bordeaux, home of much Corbusier architecture is keen to keep its legacy fresh and in good repair. Tel Aviv, once a shabby and soot-covered place is now gleaming, a UNESCO heritage site for Bauhaus buildings of the 30s. New York, formerly keen to smash much of its heritage down along with Penn Station, now is rightly proud of its previously reviled Art Deco. I remember a beautiful Art Deco cinema in Beverley. It stood on the corner, on my way to Walkergate School. They destroyed it. No reason really. What purpose does it serve to tear down old buildings? When we look back on architectural history it is seldom that we say to ourselves “Oh I am glad they destroyed all those buildings in the 1800s.” We will say the same in 30 or 40 years from now. “Oooooh, what a shame they let those lovely 50s buildings go.” Well, it will be too late. Occasionally some ancient piles become unfit for purpose. Few would wish to spend a night in a Victorian hospital or school, (or prison for that matter.) But so many of these derelict buildings could make fantastic shells, or facades or even have a new lease of life. Look at the Tate Modern. Look at the preservation of Victorian shells in Spitalfields in East London. Incorporate some of the old into the glass and metal of the new. It would look great. It is hard to believe that 1960s planners once wanted to tear down St Pancras Station in London. They nearly did too. And John Betjeman was so incensed it galvanised opposition to such destruction. Hull so needs a modern day Betjeman, a person who will shine the torch on our beautiful heritage whether it is Georgian, Victorian, pre-War or post, who will transform the charred and vandalised interiors of the Lord Line and Edwin Davies into sleek galleries or great flats or a new hotel. I am not holding my breath though.


2 comments on “Arise Modern Day Betjeman of Hull. Or, Eeee, What A Bloody Eyesore. Future is Yours to Choose

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