England and the Octopus

Tristram Hunt looks at the development of conservation and environment movements in the twentieth century, and particularly at the achievements of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, which celebrates its 80th anniversary year.

In 1933, the Bradford born author and broadcaster J.B. Priestley set out upon his ‘English Journey’. Leaving London along the Great Western Road, Priestley was transfixed by the never-ending sprawl of light industry, suburban housing, advertisement hoardings and traffic. Here was an England he had never experienced before:

This is the England of arterial and by-pass roads, of filling stations and factories that look like exhibition buildings, of giant cinemas and dance-halls and cafes, bungalows with tiny garages, cocktail bars, Woolworths, motor-coaches … and everything given away for cigarette coupons.

Its birthplace, he felt, must have been America. ‘We might suddenly have rolled into California.’

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