Something was missing. I was looking idly out of the car window at fields unfolding, wide skyscapes, then at the outskirts of a small town. New buildings were thrusting out into prime farmland. There’s a shortage of housing, but I can point out many brownfield sites even in this small town. More people are living alone. Modern phenomenon. Loneliness. Yes, we know all this. I stop and look more closely at the neo-Georgian façades. No more gaping Victorian plate glass windows. Georgian architecture is fashionable.
During the eighteenth and early nineteenth century reigns of four Hanoverian kings, all called George, the London squares spread out into the countryside. Built round a communal garden, the inhabitants could look out on trees, shrubs and grass, stroll out in good weather and exercise their dogs. Upmarket townhouses for the nobility stood near fashionable lodgings for the country gentry and professional classes who could afford them. Discreet and respectable, but with a definite touch of class.
They all have a fine front door with a fanlight above to illuminate the passage. One or two doors, on one side or both of the passage depending on the size of the property led to ground floor rooms functioning as office or study. The passage opened out into the staircase hall with elegant plasterwork: friezes embodying mythological figures or busts, or just fine plaster mouldings, as elaborate as one could afford. Up the carpeted stairs to the first-floor reception room, larger than the office below it as it spread over to include the passage space. It was above the clatter of the carriages and smell of manure, but close enough to observe who was arriving or departing. New-fangled sash windows with clear panes of glass in wooden frames that narrowed during the 18th century to let more light in, slid up and down at will, not outwards with the old-fashioned casement ones.
Why do people in the 21st century wish to live behind Georgian facades? A question of dignity? Of security in recalling past times of greater – what? Peace, calm or prosperity? History would hardly bear that out. Recalling past times of perceived elegance? A calmer, more dignified pace of life? Houses with a view of trees and grass? Having a chunk of time to spare, I wandered along a side road between two Georgian houses to what was, I suppose, meant to be a village green. Around a small mown patch of grass, dwarfed by a huge gaudy slide and swing, were new cottages with casement windows. Cosier, no view except across the green to identical cottages. Parking bays, no garages like their neo-Georgian neighbours. They seemed more manageable, practical even.
I looked around and thought – what have I missed? They have something in common – what is it? Then it dawned. No vertical emphasis. All lay flat on the land, horizontal oblong shapes with no vertical emphasis. No moulded iron fireplaces, one of the finest features in a Georgian house, the focal point of a room. No mantelpiece for a clock, china figures, and personal mementoes from an ancestor or holiday. Spotless, functional, low maintenance radiators and every clean modern comfort. So, of course, no chimneystacks.