English Cities and Small Towns
I’ve stumbled on another fine book. This is a slim little volume, published in 1947 and for some reason retained by the Spokane Library for all these years since it acquired the book, apparently at about the time it was published.
It’s John Betjeman’s English Cities and Small Towns. It’s only 48 pages long and it’s subject is the simple appreciation of English places, an appreciation that Betjeman tells us he didn’t really acquire until he was away from England for a time during the war. (Absence, fonder heart, etc.)
The author tells us how to go about enjoying a town when we are a new visitor. Go immediately to the stationer and look at the post cards. You may discover something not well known but of great interest, like a folly in a local park, or an old church that has not been “restored” during the Victorian era to the point of unrecognizability.
He tells us what guide books to read, what architects’ names to look for, where the old alleys and streets are likely to be, how to appreciate churches and chapels from various periods. Walk down the alleys or mews behind the main street, he advises. The backs of the buildings will tell you about their origins and history.
He describes his delight with Whitby Church, the local museum at Scarborough, Market Hill in Sudbury. There are lots of line drawings and some colored plates of 18th or 19th century views.
And heading the first chapter is a quote from George Cragbe’s “The Borough,” which I suppose is the source of the title of Susan Hill’s first Simon Serrailler novel, The Various Haunts of Men:
Cities and towns, the various haunts of men
Require the pencil; they defy the pen:
Could he, who sung so well the Grecian fleet,
So well have sung of alley, lane or street?
Can measured lines these various buildings show,
The Town Hall Turning, or the Prospect Row?
Can I the seats of wealth and want explore
And lengthen out my lays from door to door?