Sunday, June 5, 2011

Bewdley, Worcestershire


Bewdiful

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 Back in 1990 the houses themselves looked crudely but lovingly hammered together – now many have been replaced by slick tongue-and-groove structures that could almost be part of a pine-lodge holiday park.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

16 comments:

Hels said...

Excuse my ignorance but what did these families live off? Did they have enough land around their plotland houses to farm?

Philip Wilkinson said...

Hels: Most of the plots were small - but I've seen some with bigger plots that would have generated some income, not much. Otherwise, they lived off a mixture of jobs, I guess. I'm going to do more research on this - I've just ordered a book on the history of plotlands - and hope to report further.

The Vintage Knitter said...

I have a soft spot for corrugated iron buildings; this one is particularly lovely with its green paintwork.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Vintage Knitter: Yes! I like corrugated iron too. I found another little corrugated-iron building a few minutes after looking at these plotlands - stand by!

DC said...

You were here almost exactly two years ago.

What is the book, please?

Philip Wilkinson said...

Well spotted DC! I was here, but across the on side of the Severn, looking across.

The book is Dennis Hardy and Colin Ward, Arcadia for All. I'm already an admirer of Colin Ward's Cotters and Squatters, which is mostly about squatter settlements. The Arcadia book covers plotlands.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Across the OTHER side of the Severn, I meant to write above.

DC said...

Ha! My grandparent's 'chalet' at Stourport (which I posted about when you last covered this subject) was even called Arcadia!

worm said...

Hi philip great post as ever! And I am detecting a pattern in your posts involving corrugated iron...(preferably green)

There's a lovely description of plotlands housing in the book i'm currently reading - Weeds by Richard Mabey, in which he likens plotland housing to weeds, which seems very apt when you think about it

Philip Wilkinson said...

Worm: Many thanks for your comment. I certainly seem to be coming across a lot of corrugated iron at the moment, but the next example will not be painted green!

Richard Mabey is a fascinating writer. I'm very fond of one of his early books, The Unofficial Countryside, in which he first gets to grips with the territory he also covers in Weeds. The Unofficial Countryside was one of the books that encouraged me to start looking at unregarded buildings in obscure corners. The other inspiration in this direction was Peter Ashley, of the Unmitigated England books and blog.

worm said...

the unofficial countryside is one of my favourite books too Philip! We tried to get Richard Mabey to write something for The Dabbler when Weeds was launched by he was too busy which was a shame, he's a great writer

I might nab a copy of arcadia for all too!

Wartime Housewife said...

"unspectacular vernacular" - surely a post punk synth band.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Worm: Yes Richard Mabey is terrific. He's usually very busy and does immerse himself in projects when he's writing - and this is clearly a strategy that works, as far as the books are concerned!

Philip Wilkinson said...

Wartime Housewife: Oh very good!

Jon Dudley said...

I don't know! I turn my back for just one minute and there's an outcrop of corrugated iron! Super post Philip, and you also manage to bring New Anzac on Sea into the picture under its modern name of Peacehaven. I can only echo your comments about 'Arcadia for All'...it's a good and comprehensive book on the subject of plotlands although I'm not sure if it's still in print.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Jon: Good to see you've caught up with the current iron-fest: I was hoping you would see these posts. Arcadia for All is, as far as I know, out of print, but copies are available secondhand through Abebooks.