A view of a town
I have recently been watching an old television series called Six English Towns, written and presented by the architectural historian Alec Clifton-Taylor. This was a formative series for me when it first came out in the 1970s – it must have been one of the first things that made me look closely at the buildings around me.* It’s wonderful that these old programmes are available again, and I intended to say more about them.
Clifton-Taylor covers some of my favourite towns, and a lot of the buildings he describes are still there. Stamford in Lincolnshire is a particular favourite: a limestone town of extraordinary grace, once on the busy A1 road but now bypassed – and still bustling and thriving in spite of now standing to one side of this arterial north-south route.
Clifton-Taylor says a lot about stone, and a lot about the Georgian houses and other buildings in Stamford built of this material. One thing he noticed was the number of variations on the carved keystones above windows: the town really is an exhibition of the art of the keystone carver. Looking through my own photographs, one example struck me in particular: Stamford’s Town Hall, a building of the 1770s.
Clifton-Taylor mentions this building in his film, and shows many others, often just as interesting. His programmes are good old-fashioned TV† – no gimmicks, just a man talking about what he likes for half an hour in an informative way – and well worth watching.
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*There were a further two series, so he covered 18 towns in all, and he brought out books to accompany each series too.
†Very much of their time, these programmes show a middle-class, rather schoolmasterly Englishman unglamorously talking to camera – and showing off the buildings he discusses with relevant, informative footage. The sort of thing that’s sneered at too often as paternalistic, like Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation (another formative series for me). One shouldn’t let prejudice get in the way of their genuine insights.