Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Historic Desecration: Potential Development in the Shadow of Anne Hathaway's Cottage

Anne Hathaway's Cottage, Shottery, Warwickshire, England, May 2002
(photo by author)

There exists a very appealing and attractive England of myth, legend, and nostalgia. There also exists a bustling England of 21st century reality. Most of the time these two Englands can and do coexist in peace and harmony. After all, their very lucrative tourist trade depends on it. At other times, however, the juxtaposition of these two Englands is disheartening, even for those, like I, who are fondly disposed to both. Such a time as the latter occurred this past week, when it was announced that Communities Secretary Eric Pickles had given permission to developers to build 800 homes, a 1.3-mile road, school, shops, business units, and a health center on land as close as 238 yards to the immaculately preserved childhood home of William Shakespeare's wife, Anne Hathaway.

On the one hand, I appreciate Britain's need for housing. After all, in the decade 2001-2011, England's population grew because of immigration and a mini baby boom by more than 3.8 million people to 53,013,000, an increase of 7.88%. With a land mass of 50,346 square miles (slightly smaller than Louisiana's 51,840, which support a population of only 4.57 million), England has a population density of 1054.1 people per square mile, just slightly less than America's most densely populated state, New Jersey [1189/sq mi]). Space is obviously a precious commodity and, by and large, the British have done an admirable job in preserving as much of it as possible in the face of the pressures of the modern world (remember Mitt Romney's ignorantly critical remarks about the size of Britain's housing stock and roads).

Nevertheless ... some places are too important to a locale's historical and cultural identity with which to tamper. And, I believe, Anne Hathaway's "cottage"  a marvelously picturesque example of 16th century Tudor architecture in all its half-timbered and thatched roof splendor  is certainly one of them. I am particularly sensitive to the indignities imposed upon historic places by the encroachment of philistine suburban development because of my upbringing in Philadelphia and current residence in Lancaster, PA. Through the years I have been galled by the desecration of Philadelphia's matchless Main Line (think of the Katharine Hepburn/Cary Grant/Jimmy Stewart classic "Philadelphia Story" here) by subdividing and/or demolishing (think Bryn Mawr's magnificent La Ronda here) many of the grand estates and the constructing of countless faceless "McMansions" that dot the landscape like so many expatriates of sterile Sun Belt cities. Almost as sad to me is the experience of driving around pastoral Lancaster County and viewing hideous suburban homes clad in vinyl siding and faux stone where rolling cornfields once stood. Unfortunately, I have no confidence whatever that anything better will be constructed in the shadows of the beautiful home where England's greatest author went to woo his bride. And make no mistake: the construction of this development will cause irreparable harm to one of England's most famous tourist districts.

Ten years ago the famous McMansion developers Toll Brothers likewise planned to build 62 "luxury" homes within the borders of Valley Forge National Historical Park just outside of Philadelphia. Such a development would have destroyed some of the park's beautiful vistas and compromised the park's historical integrity. Thankfully, they were rebuffed. One can only hope that the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, which opposes the development, will stand firm and refuse to sell the land on which the 1.3 mile road, necessary to the project, is scheduled to be built.

My friend Craig Wilbert walking in the cottage gardens
(photo by author)


  1. I thought Shakespeare was married to Alice Barnham. Still a tragedy though.

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