Wednesday, 25 October 2017

A Day in Buckinghamshire

Waddesdon House
After attending a friend's funeral in the home counties, we had the following day to explore a part of the country that I had not visited for over forty years. I had lived on the Buckinghamshire/Oxfordshire border for a year early in my career. Apart from playing for the local football team in the then Southern League, the area had few attractions. Flat villages in a flat landscape without the vibrancy of life that I had known during school and university life.

We decided to explore within a 90-minute drive of Luton airport so headed from Amersham to Aylesbury. The narrow country roads seemed to host hundreds of isolated houses and small villages. Few of which had any shops or pubs or people. Every now and again there would be an incongruous commercial development. Along one minor road was an Aston Martin dealership with 15 Aston Martins visible as we drove past.

We briefly considered sampling what Aylesbury had to offer but the High Street had that vibe that shuns any desire to stop and explore the town. It was home to franchised shopping chains, parking restrictions and few interesting buildings. I despaired as we drove on past swathes of new commercial developments with endless car showrooms and supermarkets and then a batch of design-free new housing estates. They were high density brick offerings with little architectural merit, no nudge to the vernacular and lacking the pleasing symmetrical features of many of the post-war council house schemes, the ones before system built houses and high rise flats.

We drove on having realised that we were close to Waddesdon Manor, one of the many Rothchild properties in the Buckinghamshire area. The house was designed as a French Chateau and built in the 1870's at the top of a hill in what is now landscaped parkland. Although the house was closed, there was access to the wine cellars and various exhibitions. The school October holidays meant that the place was buzzing with children. An exhibition of by Platon H, an abstract artist who has used the Rothchild natural history collection to produce collages of digital images, was the highlight in the absence of the house being open.

Despite the efforts of the Rothchild family in entrusting the safeguarding of the estate to the National Trust, it had that slightly ossified and stale look. In many ways representing the decline in ambition and upkeep that afflicts much of the UK nowadays. It is used more for corporate entertainment and to harvest tourists than to engender new ideas or promote development. The absence of care for the built environment was echoed as we meandered back to Luton through the pleasant but unspectacular Buckinghamshire countryside that was the scene of the great train robbery. Drowsy villages that are now commuter homes, crowded roads, a pylonscape, unsightly commercial parks and new roads that dissect the landscape. As will the HS2 rail line in the near future. It made me realise that leaving the home counties in 1972 was a perspicacious move.

Empty bottles and a French Renaissance Chateau
Decorative pillars 
One of the many statues that inhabit the grounds
A bum view of the Waddesdon pile
Platon H collage using elements from the Rothchild natural history collection
Waddesdon parkland

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