John Betjeman goes to Hunstanton by train

11 August 2007 | blog, comment

This British Transport Film from the 1960s enlivened by John Betjeman takes a trip from King’s Lynn through the wide, flat fields of Norfolk to Hunstanton and the sea.

It sums up a quality of insight and commentary on towns and countryside which has all but disappeared. Betjeman’s holistic approach blends history, poetry and design with people’s lives and the towns and countryside in which they live and work. It’s a refreshing and engaging approach which contrast sharply with the single issue linear thinking of much commentary today. It is gentle and humble – though smug and perhaps medieval too. It seems implicit that this environment should not change.

Interestingly, Betjeman was travelling to the home of Alison and Peter Smithson’s Hunstanton School which was completed in 1956.

Alison and Peter Smithson’s Hunstanton School, 1956

Alison and Peter Smithson were fiercely intellectual and proselytised the cause of Modernism throughout the 1960s and 1970s. They were unafraid to criticise the prevailing orthodoxy or bring new ideas to the Modernist blueprint. The school is one of the most celebrated buildings of mid 20th century Britain.

Since the 1950s and 60s the UK has largely adopted a sort of modernism as the de facto style for interiors – the battle with chintz has been won – although the exteriors of new houses are likely to be Georgian or Tudor. The UK can also welcome individual buildings in a ‘modern’ design (well sometimes…) but is less inclined towards extensive areas of new building in a contemporary idiom. The message is that towns and countryside should be old but buildings can be modern …maybe.

Perhaps in reality Betjeman and the Smithsons got on.

open2.net link to Hunstanton School, From Here to Modernity

open2.net link to Alison and Peter Smithson, From Here to Modernity

Willie Miller, the founder and principal of WMUD, died on 12th January 2021 after a short illness. Willie was a much-loved husband and father and had a huge circle of friends  and professional colleagues. He was a multi-talented urban designer whose work had a major impact on hundreds of cities, towns and neighbourhoods throughout the UK and over the past 25 years. He also worked in Ireland, the Channel Islands and the USA.

Ines Triebel has been with WMUD since 2005, and she will continue the practice, drawing on her skills as a planner and designer. Ines has worked on place strategies, masterplans, policy guidance, regeneration and development frameworks, and the design of public realm and streetscape projects. She has extensive experience of working with communities, including charrettes.

WMUD will continue its long-standing strategic partnerships with Benton Scott-Simmons, Nick Wright Planning, Kevin Murray Associates, icecream architecture, yellow book and others. Please direct inquiries to Ines at [email protected] or contact any of the practices named above.