Cars have changed forever the way that England looks. Because of them, we view towns and the countryside differently. Roads and the needs of traffic have arguably become a more important part of the landscape than buildings and people. New roads have changed the way we move around towns and cross the country, and new types of buildings that didn’t exist a century ago have been created to serve the needs of cars.
Older buildings, meanwhile, have sometimes suffered by being seen as out of date, built for a world of simpler technology. The destruction of historic buildings across England in the past century has often been caused by the increasing demands that cars have placed on our towns and villages. It was widely assumed for most of the 20th century that ample car parking and broad roads were more important to the economic success of England than historic buildings and streets.
To address these issues, English Heritage embarked on The Car Project. The project dealt with the impact of the car on places and buildings throughout England, from the 1890s to the present day.
In particular, it examined how established urban centres and neighbourhoods were adapted to accommodate the car, and how this affected their appearance and character. It studied the response of 20th century planners and architects to the requirements of the motor car, both in reshaping older communities and creating new ones. In addition, it traced the evolution of the building types specifically invented for cars and assessed the extent of survival of these buildings.
Building for Cars
Cars have been with us for well over one hundred years. As they became commonplace, they led to a whole range of new building types being developed: car showrooms, repair garages, filling stations, domestic lock-up garages, car parks, roadhouses, motels and drive-through restaurants, among others. As some of these buildings pass their centenary, they are increasingly under threat.
To give three examples: the success of supermarket petrol retailing now brings about the closure of around 600 filling stations per annum – in the 1970s, there were over 70,000 filling stations in Britain, today there are fewer than 10,000; secondly, the complexity of car mechanics/electronics is driving many small-scale maintenance garages out of business, leaving gaps for residential development on the edges of town centres; and thirdly, domestic garages (motor houses) built before 1970 are usually too small for modern cars and are thus highly vulnerable to conversion/demolition. At the same time, car showrooms are relocating from expensive and cramped city centre sites to business parks on ring roads.
In new towns such as Milton Keynes, we can see an example of how entirely new communities were created with the needs of the car paramount in the minds of the planners. Here, we see how every building, not just those specifically related to the car, was designed to facilitate car-based movement around the city. On the edge of many established towns and cities, meanwhile, are the ‘shopping sheds’ and acres of surface car parking that have sprung up along ring roads in the last twenty years, creating a wholly new landscape that is dependent entirely on the use of cars.
Because the car has been such a great influence on both landscapes and on the way we live, it is important that we understand the significance of these car-related buildings and structures. We need to put them in context and develop criteria for assessing their significance. This enables decisions relating to designation and the future role of these buildings to be properly informed and based on sound research.
Cars and the Landscape
Cars themselves pose a threat to the historic environment in a number of different ways. In the countryside, land is swallowed up under airport car parks and motorway widening schemes whilst in suburbs the increasing occurrence of restricted kerbside parking has meant that front gardens are being destroyed by the practice of laying hard standing.
Major national issues also have important implications for the future of motoring. The increase in population and splintering of family units in England means a greatly increased number of cars. So too does the government’s policy of encouraging much expanded house building in the south-east. How will these extra cars be accommodated? The continuing threat makes this a good time to assess the impact that the car has had on the historic environment, before the pace of change accelerates to a point where a clear assessment can no longer be made.
Carscapes is the culmination of this fascinating project. Published at the end of 2012, this book looks at the car's impact on the physical environment of England, from the arrival of the first motor car in 1895 to the modern motorway network. It considers in detail the many different types of buildings designed for the construction, sale and accommodation of cars and to provide facilities for their drivers: factories, showrooms, garages, filling stations, car parks, roadhouses and motorway service areas. It also examines the development of roads, bridges and signage, how the motor car has influenced the planning of cities, towns and countryside and its impact on the buildings in which we live, work and shop.
ISBN 9780300187045 £40.00
Work undertaken for the Car Project has identified a number of significant motor-related buildings that have been listed during the course of the project. They include:
- Sir David Salomons' motor stables, Broomhill, Southborough, Tunbridge Wells, Kent (c.1900)
- Morris Garage, 21 Longwall Street, Oxford (1909-10)
- Continental Tyre & Rubber Co, 230-244 Brompton Road, London (1909-16)
- Savoy Garage, Blackpool (1914-15)
- Duff Morgan & Vermont, Flood Street, London SW3 (1919)
- West End Garage, Tunastone, Herefordshire (1922)
- Penshurst filling station, Kent (converted from forge c.1965)
- Macy's Garage, Balderton Street, London W1 (1926)
- Much Marcle Garage, Herefordshire (1926)
- Colvin Brothers filling station, Flimwell, East Sussex (1926)
- East Sheen filling station, Richmond, Surrey (c.1926)
- Colyford filling station, Devon (1927-8)
- Wellingore Garage, Lincolnshire (1933)
- Rootes, Maidstone, Kent (1938-9)
- HA Saunders, Worcester (1938-9)
- Markham Moor filling station canopy, Nottinghamshire (1960-1)
- Dawnier Motors, Ewell, Surrey (1961)
- Tower Garage, Alderley Edge, Cheshire (1962)
- Pennine Tower restaurant, Forton Services, Lancashire (1964-5)
- Canopies at Leicester filling station (c.1971)
England's Motoring Heritage from the Air
An additional book, England's Motoring Heritage from the Air, by John Minnis, will be published by English Heritage in autumn 2013. Drawing upon the Aerofilms collection of English Heritage, it shows how England changed to accommodate the car from 1920 to the mid 1970s. It also includes other forms of road transport, looking at bus stations and garages, tram depots and other aspects of motoring not covered in Carscapes, such as motor sport.
For further information, please contact
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Cambridge CB2 8BU
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