The Bus stops at Binham Lane

A lost classic of ‘thirties dormitory suburbia ?

When a comparatively recent book becomes hard to find one is tempted to wonder exactly why. If it isn’t a private press production in a limited edition, or wasn’t the victim of a fire that devoured most copies in a publisher’s warehouse, or wasn’t withdrawn from publication due to a law suit, or bought up by the author who didn’t want readers to buy it, then one is entitled to ask why it is so scarce . There is only one copy ( at some point there were two, but one was sold) of The Bus Stops at Binham Lane by Stacey W(illiam) Hyde, published by Jonathan Cape in 1936, on abebooks. This particular copy is in only fair condition and lacks its dust jacket, but the vendor wants a cool £29 for it. Does he know something about the book that we don’t ?

Perhaps he read a review of it by L. A. Pavey in the Winter 1936 issue of Now and Then in which the reviewer praises the author for a remarkably shrewd eye for the idiosyncrasies of a couple newly displaced from one established piece of suburbia into a brand new estate development built on fields and country lanes on the edge of a town. Hyde’s general theme is the effect on those who began their post-war life in the heart of the country but who ended up ‘ in a Calvary of estate development and jerry-building’ to a place with (to quote Hyde himself)

‘homes strung out interminably along the white skewers of their concrete roads; there were no churches among them, no schools, no parks, shops only in isolated pairs, no pubs, no halls, no libraries, no cinemas—nothing to indicate that a people…had come to live among the immemorial quietudes of Binham fields’.

 If we put aside the town-planning issues temporarily and focus on the sociological ones, it’s possible to imagine why The Bus Stops at Binham Lane is regarded as an important record of how the displaced inhabitants of new housing estates were obliged to make the best of their ‘ bleak sort of wilderness ‘. If we return to the town-planning issues and perhaps view them with a sociological eye , the book could be read alongside such classics as William Clough-Ellis’s Britain and the Beast , C.E.M. Joad’s The Untutored Townsman’s Invasion of the Country (1946), or for that matter, the Shell Guides of the ‘thirties and their temporary replacements of the forties , the Murray’s Architectural Guides, which cast a baleful eye on the ribbon development and the new arterial roads that disfigured so many of  the outer suburbs of London. Needless to say, many of these issues were also addressed by John Betjeman in his early poems as well as in his excellent First and Last Loves. At a slightly later date, the late great Ian Nairn highlighted them in his pioneering Outrage and Counter Attack.  

In his book-length diatribe Joad discusses the rise of what he calls ‘ dormitory England’ and here he uses the same objections in 1949 as Hyde had used in 1936.

This ‘England of the factory and the spreading dormitory suburb’, Joad complains,

…is a lonely England and lacks almost all those places of meeting in which human beings have traditionally gathered, known their neighbours and felt the stirrings of civic consciousness. There are no assembly halls, no theatres, few churches, no civic centres; in many garden cities there are no pubs or very few. There are only those awful isolating cinemas where the inmates sit hand in hand, absorbing emotion like sponges in the dark…These spreading suburbs have no heart and no head…’   

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A Georgian Giles Coren (concluded)

Georgian eateries117Virginia, Newman’s Court, Cornhill.

This house is much frequented by ship carpenters, and ship brokers. Dinners are very well served up at 15d a head. Rural city merchants, that is, those who sleep in the country, generally dine here. The entertainment is good, and the charge moderate. As to the mistress at the bar, she is very obliging; she is as prolific in curtseys as a Frenchwoman, and as prolific in issue as a rabbit.1)

Mill’s, Gerrard Street, Soho

This house is remarkable for good red port, and good spirits. They dress dinners and suppers in style —and the breakfast are very comfortable. Several intelligent gentlemen, stricken in years, are it’s constant guests, and the conversation is both pleasing and instructive. The charges are indeed very reasonable, and the attention prompt and agreeable. It is celebrated for being the very first house that reduced the prices of wines and spirits, after the commencement of the French treaty. 2)

Batson’s Coffee House, near ‘Change.

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The Red Priest and the Architect

It might perhaps be guessed that Conrad Noel (1869 - 1942), the 'Red Priest' of Thaxted, whose Socialist views once outraged the Tory faithful of his North Essex parish, would be sympathetic to the Art and Craft movement, whose guru was the Socialist poet and designer William Morris. But an inscription, dated April 1906, in a copy of The Country Cottage, presented to him from its co-author, George Llewellyn Morris, confirms it.

Amazingly, I found this inscribed copy of the little book, a hymn to the virtues of both the humble thatched labourer’s cottage and its much more sophisticated Arts and Crafts imitations in brick, plaster and tile, profusely depicted in photographs, in 2006 among the trashy novels in the ten pence box outside a well known bookshop in Saffron Walden. The book had been given to Noel four years before he became Vicar of Thaxted, and it had somehow found its way from here to that bookshop, just 12 miles away, in the intervening years.

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The Tragedy of Copped Hall

The effects of the First World War were wide and long lasting, not just for those who were directly involved in it, one way or another , but for the architectural heritage of Britain. The deaths of so many sons of the upper class meant that estates that had been run so successfully up to 1914 were plunged into uncertainty. Great mansions were sold off or demolished. A different fate befell one great house and its astonishing gardens in Essex, as some clippings found among the papers of the late Peter Haining, who must have passed the site regularly on his route to and from his Essex home, tell.

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Boozing with the Victorian Society in Crouch End, Hornsey and Harringay

Found in a box of books is this photocopy of a typewritten guide to a ‘pub crawl’ (walk no 41) of various late Victorian ‘gin palaces’ in North London arranged by the Victorian Society on 16th September 1966. The guides were two architects-- Roderick Gradidge and Ben Davis—both of whom had designed interiors for Ind Coope. Judging by their descriptions of the pubs they planned to visit, both were also passionate and knowledgeable fans of late Victorian architecture and design. The grand plasterwork of the ceiling cornices and Art Nouveau stained glass is pointed out as being of special interest. But the two men also emphasised the ways in which Victorian pub architects tried to make   their interiors both glamorous and homely as a way of getting their (mainly) lower middle class drinkers (mention is made of Mr Pooter’s ‘raffish’ friends) to spend hours away from their more humble abodes, much (we might add) in the way that the designers of Music Halls and northern shopping arcades  (one thinks of Frank Matcham ), and grand hotels, were doing in the same era. Here are the guides admiring the combination of grandeur and intimacy found in the Queen’s Hotel, Crouch End (below):

All the way round there were through views, glimpses of the other bars, and as a result one was able to feel that one was standing in one part of a single large space, large enough to tolerate the considerable height without become vertical. Since the space was so well subdivided…one could feel secluded in a sufficiently small and enclosed space, but since the proportion of the greater space was horizontal a feeling of repose was retained which could not have belonged to tall, restricted vertical rooms. This method of subdividing an area into small bars by means of partitions, which were half-glazed  with semi-obscured glass, and were not much above six feet high, was peculiar to Victorian pubs, and goes a long way to explaining the incomparable drinking atmosphere they provide...

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Sir John Betjeman’s last poem

Found - a broadside poem poem of twenty lines in honour of the famous old central London church St.Mary-le-Strand. It dates from about 1980 and is signed by John Betjeman in what one cataloguer calls his 'frail hand of old age'. It was published from his address at 29 Radnor Walk, SW3 and was part of the campaign to raise funds for the restoration of this masterpiece of baroque.

This copy came with a letter from the church to a professor at Ilorin University, Nigeria. The secretary of the trust, a Ms Anne Butters, thanks him for his £20 donation and informs him  that JB's publisher, John Murray, says that this was the last poem he ever wrote. So far unknown to 'go ogle' (as he may have called it) and not in any major UK library, it is decidedly scarce...
A single sheet of imitation parchment paper, printed in black on recto only. 296 x 206mm.


Shall we give Gibbs the go by
Great Gibbs of Aberdeen,
Who gave the town of Cambridge
The Senate House Serene;
Every son of Oxford
Can recognise he's home
When he sees upon the skyline
The Radcliffe's mothering dome.
Placid about the chimney pots
His sculptured steeples soar,
Windowless he designs his walls
Above the traffic's roar.

When ever you put stone on stone
You edified the scene,
Your chaste baroque was on its own,
Great Gibbs of Aberdeen.
A Tory and a Catholic
There's nothing quite so grand
As the baroque of your chapel
Of St Mary in the Strand.

London Night and Day 1951

London Night and Day, illustrated by Osbert Lancaster, edited by Sam Lambert (Architectural Press, 1951)

Surely one of the most entertaining of the plethora of books brought out in the wake of the Festival of Britain. The coloured cover illustrations and the vignettes in black and white were by Osbert Lancaster, a friend of John Piper—the same John Piper who is named in a section devoted to the Festival, to which he contributed, among other things, a superb semi-abstract panorama. If you hadn’t been informed that Lancaster had designed the cover, you would have attributed it to Piper, whose style of portraying shop fronts is showcased in Buildings and Prospects, which had appeared just a few years earlier. Lancaster’s style is identical. Was Piper concerned that he was being flagrantly copied by Lancaster? Probably, but according to his biographer Frances Spalding, the two men were friends.

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Duleep Singh—Prince of Suffolk

A rare find—a letter written in English from the last Sikh Maharajah of India. Duleep Singh (1838 – 93), came to power at the age of 5, with his mother as regent. When she was deposed and jailed, he was made a ward and finally was exiled to England in 1853 at the age of 15, having been converted to Christianity. On his arrival, he was lionised in the London salons and became a particular favourite of Queen Victoria. He lived in Roehampton and Wimbledon for a while and then bought estates in Yorkshire and Scotland, where he was known locally as the Black Prince of Perth. His mother having joined him in 1861, he was now firmly established as a country gentleman, with the reputation as the fourth best shot in the land. His final purchase was of a 17,000 acre estate at Elveden, near Thetford, where he proved to be an excellent landlord and a generous local benefactor. Though he later died in Paris, he chose to be buried here.

Elveden was an ideal purchase for Dukleep. Just eighty miles from London, its open situation in the heart of Breckland enabled him to pursue the life of a hunting and shooting squire while remaining in touch with metropolitan life. The deep forest may even have reminded him of the jungle he had left behind.

He continued to visit his Scottish estates at and it is from Loch Kennard Lodge that he wrote this letter, which is dated in pencil July 27th 1868 by its recipient, John Norton, the celebrated Gothic architect, who had just completed the astonishing Tyntesfield, near Bristol. It is characteristic of the ostentatious Duleep, then aged just 30, that he should engage one of the most trendy architects in the land to remodel the rather old fashioned Elveden Hall. In the letter Duleep acknowledges receipt of the latest plans of the proposed alterations to the Hall and asks Norton to send the earlier ones so that he can 'compare the accommodation and their costs '.

According to Pevsner, Duleep enlarged a Georgian building of moderate size into 'an Oriental extravaganza unparalleled in England'. Though the external style was Italianate, the interior incorporated  'a central domed hall with a glass lantern, with the walls, pillars and arches  covered with the closest Indian oriental detail, all made of white Carrara marble and carved in situ by Indian craftsmen'. Work was completed in 1870. In 1899 – 1903, following Duleeps’s death, Lord Iveagh of Guinness fame, enlarge the Hall still further. Today, Elveden Hall remains in the Guinness family, and though empty and a shadow of its former glory, it remains  a popular location for filming. Among the movies shot here was Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut.  [RMH]

The Politesse of Valdré

An interesting an uplifting anecdote of true impulsiveness found in John Julius Norwich's 1990 Christmas Cracker. Viscount Norwich was a jotter before jotting was invented - an Ur jotter. Respect. His Cracker booklets are sent to a few thousand of his closest friends and consist of information and wisdom culled from his library and also presumably sent to him by loyal correspondents.

Vincenzo Valdrati or Valdré (1742-1814) was an Italian painter-architect who came to England in the 1770s and designed, inter alia, several of the state rooms at Stowe before settling in Ireland where he became Architect to the Board of Works. From Howard Colvin's superb Biographical Dictionary of British Architects I learn that "while at Stowe he attended a wedding and when the bridegroom failed to appear, he was so moved at the bride’s distress that he chivalrously offered himself as a substitute – and was accepted."