Bungalow Minds

They are cutting hay in the Haymarket.  A woman is laying out clothes to dry on the grass of Aldgate, and stags patrol where St. James’s Park will be one day, staring in puzzlement at the vast abbey protruding above the willows of Westminster.  It is London as delineated by Ralph Aggas circa 1590, reproduced in a six-foot-long Victorian print now on the wall of my cottage.  It is a captivating vision of a city that has not yet escaped its Roman circumvallation—a compact conurbation traversable in 30 minutes, where the sound and scent of cattle could infiltrate the stateliest salons.

The remotest places on Aggas’s map—Hampstead in the Middlesex hills, King’s Cross beside the Battle Bridge, St. Giles-in-the-Fields—have long since been subsumed into London, becoming exurbs, then suburbs, and ultimately “inner-city.”  Beyond these early ingested hamlets now lie almost 100 square miles of suburbia, where often the only reminders of what lies beneath are relict medieval churches and street names commemorating what was there before the speculators came—Meadow Close, Lark Rise, Manor Park, Tilt Yard.

Yet the ideal of the manageable city is undergoing a revival, espoused both by countryside campaigners and metropolitans who insist on being near the Tube and Tate Modern.  These unlikely yokemates share a disdain for London’s sea of villas, semis, terraces, tower blocks,...

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