Sunday, June 5, 2011
A recent post at The Dabbler dealt with plotlands, a form of development that became popular in the early years of the 20th century as a way of offloading unprofitable farmland. Estate agents and speculators parcelled up fields as small plots, on which people – often city-dwellers who wanted a place in the country – could build a home, knock together a chalet, or start a smallholding. Plotland houses were often self-built of timber; corrugated iron was frequently in evidence, too; some were even cobbled together from old railway carriages. Detractors referred to them as shacks, but they provided a rare opportunity for people with a tight budget to build (and in the days before the “property-owning democracy” own) a home – their buildings form a fascinating if unspectacular vernacular.
Probably the best known plotland developments were in Southeast England. Peacehaven in Sussex is a maybe the most famous. The Dabbler mentions Jaywick and other Essex plotlands. There are also examples in the Thames Valley and, as I was reminded yesterday when my travels took me through Bewdley, in the Severn Valley too. I knew about this particular development from a memorable film by Jonathan Meades, Severn Heaven (1990), part of his Abroad in Britain Series. Meades revelled in the rich bricolage that the owners of these houses had created, the melange of corrugated iron sheds, garden ornaments, chain-link fences, and boskage, both old and imported. Back in 1990 the houses themselves looked crudely but lovingly hammered together – now many have been replaced by slick tongue-and-groove structures that could almost be part of a pine-lodge holiday park. But some of the old houses remain. Here’s one, lovingly painted in green with fancy white bargeboards, clinging to the slope below the Severn Valley Railway, which swishes and hoots in the background.
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There’s more about this plotland development at the Liberal England blog.
Jonathan Meades’ film is available on DVD as part of The Jonathan Meades Collection, BBCDVD2601