Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Stroud Special

Stroud is a quaint town about an hour and a half outside of London.  It is not a particularly captivating place except for the fact that you can purchase a ticket, the Stroud Special, from London Paddington to Stroud.  This ticket will cover travel, refreshments during the ride and discounts at the local shops.  This is an attempt by the locality to capitalize on the fact that trains run through Strroud at least twice a day  during the week when people commute to and from work.  The question that should be posed is whether or not this idea is worth the effort and money being invested in it.
While in theory this is an amazing opportunity for the town it is not the right place for such a venture.  It would be the opportune venture for a small town that had enough attractions to compete with a large city such as London.  This is, however, not the case with a town such as Stroud.  While it would make for  nice stop on a long trip it is not the type of place that one could spend an entire day.  There are a couple attractions such as the Dunkirk Mill and the town's high street.  The Dunkirk Mill is an eighteenth century woolen mill that has now been converted into flats.  A portion of the ground floor is still dedicated to the mill and offers tours.  There is also a brochure that can be purchased here by visitors and used to navigate the main attractions of the town.  The high street begins at the low point where the more affordable shops are and continues up hill to the high end shops.  There are a reasonable amount of shops that would appeal to people seeking shops that can not be found in other places, but there is nothing so extraordinary that it would compel people to travel out of their way.  About three quarters of the way up the hill there is a side street that has a restaurant that looks rather ordinary at first glance.  Once you enter the restaurant you can walk past the dining room and continue through an alleyway that leads to a culdesac of  shops where you can get kitchen supplies and other trinkets.
Nothing about Stroud sets it apart from any other English country town.  This is not to say that Stroud is not worth a visit if you happen to be going that way, but if is not a place to plan a trip around.  There are frankly better ways for the town to spend its money.  If they instead focused on improving and promoting the main attractions of the town it would take the pressure off the entire town to be something it is not.  This way the entities that naturally shine will have the opportunity to be seen and appreciated for their uniqueness.  This is the opportunity of the town to create an amazing destination, but if it focuses its energy into the wrong aspects it will end up where it started.  Looking for a special to draw the crowds.  

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace and Gardens
Last Monday for my course in 'Aspects of Architectural and Urban Development' we took a day trip to Hampton Court.  It is one of the many royal palaces here in England and is a must see for all interested in gardening/landscape practices of the sixteenth century to present.  The history of the palace itself may also be of great interest to those interested in architectural trends during those periods.  The property boasts multiple breathtaking gardens, but the must see attraction is the Privy Garden.  It is the most intricate and conversational part of the property.  Hampton Court has been open to the public since 1838 when Queen Victoria ordered that the palace should be open to the public without restriction and free of charge.  This not only changed the atmosphere of the property, but it also required that a much more careful eye be kept on the condition of the property.  Since then people have flooded to Hampton Court to partake in a piece of history that was once only privileged to royals and their guests.

While this is an amazing property, and one that lends to the overall character of England and its history, it is important that it be looked at for what it is.  Although the gardens are the main attraction for most people visiting the palace they are in fact the most unauthentic parts of the property.  While visiting it is easy to become entrapped by the beauty and forget that they are in their current condition yet another part of the lengthy and ever changing history of the property.  There is no guarantee that the next overseer of the property will not through research and other determining factors decide that this is not actually the most historically accurate representation.

So with this in mind one has to ask themselves what are the determining factors in what is the most historically intriguing period of the garden's history.  What is the precipice upon which they decide what should be represented?  What makes one period more worthy than another to be represented to the public?  These are a few of questions that a viewer of this and any other restored property might find themselves wondering.

It is an intriguing argument that could be presented as to what restoration really means.  A property like Hampton Court has undergone so many changes throughout the course of its history that one period becomes just as historically significant as the last.  Restoration really is done based on a matter of opinion because one person is not necessarily qualified to discount or determine the importance of one period over another.

It can sometimes seem as if in the effort to "restore" what actually ends up happening is the destruction  of current and although not original still very significant history.  It can be said that is the problem with historic preservation.  It is so focused on the past that it fails to recognize the recent as something that will one day be considered  historically significant.  The idea of preservation is not only to preserve what is old, but to remember the impact of each period of change and transformation.  Each period of change is not to be looked at as a blemish or scar on the original, but as an addition and extension to the original history.  Preservation is all about the recognition and appreciation of the preexisting.  Love it or hate it.