Saturday, April 01, 2006

A Victorian view

click photo to enlarge
In England the built legacy of the Victorians is not hard to find. However, each year there is a little less. The major individual buildings, by and large, survive. Take the churches: many continue to offer a place for worship, though now with congregations that rattle around in them. Churches that have outlived their usefulness can often find a role, perhaps as an arts centre, as flats or even as an individual house. In Nottingham I have seen a church turned into a pub, and on more than one occasion, as an outlet selling antiques. But each year Victorian churches face the demolition hammer, and are gone forever. Consider the mills and warehouses. Again, some continue to do what they have always done, though usually housing a different business from that which they originally held. But, here too the adaptability of the buildings has lead many to be converted into flats, hotels, offices and more, and, whilst some are swept away each year, the future of many seems assured.

Victorian housing is widespread. Those houses that were well-built, and have been well-maintained have a lot of life left in them, and continue to be desirable. But, many cheaper terraces - often of a sort that were "thrown up" in the nineteenth century - are bulldozed each year, frequently, as in East Lancashire, because they are unsaleable. So, we can still see and admire much that the Victorians built. However, what is harder to see is complete areas that retain their Victorian character. Places like the factory village at Saltaire near Bradford have had their character conserved deliberately. But elsewhere, unless planning legislation has been deliberately used, Victorian streets, squares, and areas have been changed irreversibly by subsequent building.

I took this photograph of the churchyard at Haslingden because I felt that something of the qualities that our Victorian ancestors saw remained visible here today. The rows of gravestones among the cropped grass, the stark trees, the buildings reaching into the smoky skies among the hills, all suggested an earlier time. Or was that just my romantic imaginings? The original shot wasn't much, but I've worked hard to rescue something that I saw the day I took it. I like this photograph for its slightly grim, hazy, painterly qualities. This is helped by the contre jour winter light, but also by the relatively untouched legacy still visible in this interesting, but overlooked, part of England.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen