During the Second World War in Britain, while men were fighting and the war effort seemed to be paramount in people’s minds, in the background other politicians and civil servants were drawing up plans for important areas such as housing, health and education. This time it would be a ‘land fit for heroes’. In the event, prefabricated houses and schools were erected with a speed and in numbers never again seen and the National Health Service came into being.
A better housed, better educated and generally healthier population was the result. But planning can only go so far, as the Times Literary Supplement columnist Charles Morgan pointed out.
In all the plans that are made for the life we are to lead, how seldom is there evidence of any wish that life shall be enjoyed: that it shall be safe – yes; that it shall be instructed, equalised, rubbed smooth, supplied with dustless corners and chromium-plated taps; but that there shall be grace or charm or quiet or gaiety or sweetness or light in it, there is among the sterner planners neither hope nor desire. Utility and sameness are their guiding stars … Their ideal is to make of the art of life what a timetable is to a poem.1
He wrote, of course, from a position of privilege, and exaggerates in his last two sentences to make a polemical point. Certainly I have visited prefabs that have lasted nearly three times their planned lifespan, are light and airy, and well loved by those who have made their homes therein. And G.K. Chesterton considered timetables poetic; especially when they work! And what joy, post-war, when such things could be more or less relied on again!
Portsmouth, largely rebuilt after World War II
1Charles Morgan, Reflections in a Mirror, London, MacMillan, 1944, p.93.