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A masterclass in English architecture: Alec Clifton-Taylor’s ‘Six English Towns’ revisited

Why these towns? Well, says Clifton-Taylor in his introduction, we wanted rather small towns and we also wanted places that were visually attractive and part of the English tradition. These are not guide-book programmes. Our main concern will be with buildings and especially with houses. Looking at the changing styles and fashions and at the traditional building materials of England stone, brick, wood, plaster.

Alec Clifton-Taylor (1907-1985) was a renowned English architectural historian, writer and broadcaster. He wrote a number of books including ‘The Pattern of English Building’ (1962), ‘The Cathedrals of England’ (1967), ‘English Parish Churches as Works of Art’ (1974) and of course the books based on the much-loved television series on English towns broadcast on BBC 2 in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s: ‘Six English Towns’ (1978), ‘Six More English Towns’ (1981) and ‘Another Six English Towns’ (1984).

He chose the following:

Six English Towns

Chichester (West Sussex), Richmond (Yorkshire), Tewkesbury (Gloucestershire), Stamford (Lincolnshire), Totnes (Devon) and Ludlow (Shropshire).

Six More English Towns

Warwick (Warwickshire), Berwick-upon-Tweed (Northumberland), Saffron Walden (Essex), Lewes (East Sussex), Bradford-on-Avon (Wiltshire) and Beverley (East Riding of Yorkshire).

Another Six English Towns

Cirencester (Gloucestershire), Whitby (North Yorkshire), Bury St. Edmunds (Suffolk), Devizes (Devon), Sandwich (Kent) and Durham (North East)

Though now over thirty years old, the television series remain a masterclass in not only documentary making but of ‘looking’, that is, looking up, looking closely and looking around with an inquisitive eye and really noticing the buildings of our towns. In the programs he extolls the well-founded virtues of using local materials and local styles and, full of wit, erudition and charm, Clifton-Taylor is refreshingly opinionated on a subject that needs it and, luckily for us, they are the right ones.

I have been lucky in that I have a thorough experience of two of the towns included in the series, having grown up firstly in Bury St. Edmunds and, secondly, now residing in Lewes; his knowledge of English buildings and patterns have been instrumental for me in appreciating and learning more about this subject and no doubt this has been true for countless others in similar circumstances.

In a style that is clear, calm and accessible it will change the way you view and experience these towns before you visit and allow you to look upon familiar subjects, such as I have done, with a new insight, consciousness and enjoyment. His choices remain excellent picks and are certainly a great starting point for those wishing to explore and learn more of England’s provincial towns. Each episode is accompanied by an excellent musical score including the famous introduction music: Symphony No. 2 in F major by Thomas Arne.

A charming series and well worth a watch and read.

Links:

To purches the Book you can click here

To purchase the DVD’s you can click here

Or to watch an episode on YouTube you can view the episode on Lewes below

 

Another excellent programme is Alec Clifton-Taylor’s appearance on Desert Island Discs broadcast on Tue 3 Oct 1978 which can be viewed by clicking here

 

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