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Nicholas Toke and Godinton Park

Nicholas Russell finds 17th-century conspicuous consumption in the Garden of England.

They are concreting over the Garden of England. Agrarian Kent has been losing a long, slow battle against suburbanisation for decades. Railways and the motorcar have inexorably turned its towns and villages into London commuter-land. Now the cherry orchards, that most potent expression of its horticultural heritage, are being grubbed up. Hop gardens are closing down as the licensed brewers of Continental lagers, which take an ever increasing share of the market for beer in Great Britain, are forced to use German hops, rather than the fruits of our own bines.

As compensation, the full force of the modern enterprise culture and our increasing pan-Europeanism is giving us vineyards in place of hop gardens and the biggest private construction project ever embarked on in this country, as the channel tunnelling machines eat their way through the chalks, clays and gravels beneath the sea to France. A great entrepot is planned at Ashford. Discussions over the placing of a high-speed rail link through the county to London and beyond have blighted swathes of commuter villages and any number of smallholdings surviving from the rural pre-suburban past. The enter prise culture of the late twentieth century will transform much of Kent out of all recognition.

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