During the 1950s, in post-war Britain, housing redevelopment appeared to be leading to huge waves of suburban sprawl across the country.
Writing in the Architectural Review in 1955, architectural critic Ian Nairn expressed his outrage at this type of development which he christened “Subtopia”. His powerful article is still available to read in the Architectural Review’s archive.
There seems little doubt that Nairn’s article and plans for suburban developments such as the Orchard Park estate in Hull (see below) led to the formation of the Civic Trust in 1957. The Civic Trust's prime purpose was to improve the quality of new and historic buildings and public spaces, and to help improve the general quality of urban life.
Orchard Park, for 10,000 residents, under construction on the outskirts of Hull
Orchard Park, a later aerial view
Momentum was kept up into the 1960s by the increasing use of flat-roofed redevelopments in High Streets and brutal concrete buildings often dedicated to the car rather than people. A typical example of the latter was the Tricorn Centre built in Portsmouth in the 1960s, voted the 3rd ugliest building in the UK in 2001 and demolished three years later.
The Tricorn Centre, Portsmouth
The Civic Trust operated from two main offices, in London and Liverpool, and supported the development of a national network of civic societies such as ours. These were local groups in which volunteer members helped to improve their surroundings. Many such societies have been formed over the years – normally as a reaction to threat or decay, or out of a desire to improve the quality of life within a community.
In support of the national network, the Trust provided a template of standard objectives to help embryonic civic societies to develop. The Bishop’s Waltham Society adopted this template for its own Constitution.
In 1967, as a result of work done by the Civic Trust, the UK government passed the Civic Amenities Act. This was:
“An Act to make further provision for the protection and improvement of buildings of architectural or historic interest and of the character of areas of such interest …
for the preservation and planting of trees …
and for the orderly disposal of disused vehicles and equipment and other rubbish.”
Over 50 years later, there is still work to be done!
For the particular background to the Bishop’s Waltham Society, please look at Our History.
Should anyone be interested, in 1959 Ian Nairn also wrote a powerful article about plans for Hampshire’s Green Belt.