Last Wednesday I attended a meeting in central London, an hour away from home on the train. The meeting was held in a glorious old building in Westminster, inside which was a modern law firm. Getting there involved me walking past the Houses of Parliament. Whatever your opinion of what goes on inside it, the building itself is stunning. I walked past Westminster Abbey, which was also breathtaking. It was almost strange to see so many buses, taxis, cars and people plodding blithely past as though there was nothing to stop and stare in wonder at. Happily, of course, there were also plenty of tourists stopping and staring.
I’ve lived in the South East for many years, and been to London many times, but luckily I’m not yet at the stage where all the amazing ancient architecture is just some blargh background to my life.I was reminded on the way home that wonderful historic structures are not confined to London. Walking back from Rayleigh Station I passed “The Round House” which is indeed circular and is dated “1615”. And last weekend we drove through the Suffolk village of Somerleyton which seemed to consist of a handful of beautiful whitewashed thatched cottages set around a village green, and a large manor house in extensive gardens.
One thing which struck me in London as being different from, say, America, is that our historic buildings are still in use. The Houses of Parliament are the seat of government, religious worship still takes place in Westminster Abbey, The Round House is occupied by Fay Laflin who shows curious visitors round her home once a week, and Somerleyton has a thatched primary school (see picture). There has been a lot of fuss recently about the demolition of a village to make way for Heathrow’s eighteenth runway (or whatever, I can’t keep up). The village apparently includes a sixteenth-century pub. Can you imagine a sixteenth-century pub in America being razed to make way for an airport? But because sixteenth-century pubs are ten a penny here it seems that losing one doesn’t matter.
We take our history and gorgeous architecture very much for granted here, and we shouldn’t. One thing I really enjoyed about writing Easterfield was imagining how things would have looked; picturing what Westleigh would be like, or Easterfield village square where the story opens, or the grandeur of Easterfield Hall. As I drive through the glorious English countryside I occasionally see houses, villages, or simple church buildings which, were Speilberg (or Halestorm) to offer me a large advance for the film rights, I might suggest as perfect locations. So much of our land still looks as it did 200 years ago - even if the 1615 Round House does now have Wireless Internet and gas central heating.