Modern Kenilworth – Future History
(Written 2008 soon after the construction of Waitrose; intended for publication in the Kenilworth Weekly News but not submitted)
Historians are prone to ponder what life was really like a century or more ago; for example, just how distracting was the smell of the Kenilworth tannery, and horse-droppings in the road, while you were trying to select for dinner a cut of freshly killed animal that was hanging from a hook outside a shop?
I tend to think of today as being exactly half way between 100 years ago and 100 years in the future – will the next century bring as much change to Kenilworth as the last?
Take Waitrose for example. Today it is the town’s newest structure, out of keeping and scale with its surroundings; in the 22nd century will it be seen as the start of modern Kenilworth? Perhaps it will have been demolished, maybe turned into living accommodation or smaller shopping “units”, maybe extended into a larger “single unit”; perhaps, heaven forbid, it may even be a listed building. Will it have been copied elsewhere in the town centre? The most obvious site is occupied by the dreadful modern buildings on the west side of The Square – plenty of scope for rebuilding with another multi storey car park behind. Perhaps our now new multi-storey will be useless for the cars of that era.
It can be difficult, but rewarding, to try to put a different perspective onto what is generally accepted. Will the impending re-construction of the much-maligned Talisman Square into “Talisman Alley” (as a friend of mine so eloquently put it) be seen in the future as vandalising Kenilworth’s classic 1960s architecture? If this currently seems unlikely, I would like to recall the words of a prominent local doctor, who in the early 1900s bemoaned “Kenilworth’s modern architecture”, without, unfortunately naming the “offensive” structures which are doubtless admired today. Perhaps he and I are alike in simply preferring the familiar to the new.
Kenilworth is blessed with an astonishing array of housing; it is doubtful that a town of similar size could boast such a collection. There are large numbers of houses of differing classes from each of the last dozen decades, many more whose age can be counted in centuries, and others whose origins are unusual, such as a windmill or water-reservoir. But who stops to think that one day a 1940s council house in Guy Road, a 1960s private semi-detached dwelling in Fishponds Road, or maisonettes in Arlidge Crescent may achieve listed status on a par with Little Virginia? There are many areas in town where alterations to existing housing are restricted, these areas will only increase as time passes, and perhaps the modern urban sprawl across farmland will one day be seen as worth preserving.
And what of the future historian? I envy him not a trawl through a modern census return, and as he studies old editions of the Kenilworth Weekly News, will he read these words in the 2108 version of a micro-film reader at an antiquated Kenilworth Library, or will it be “on-line” to him in his 200-year old listed former council house in St Johns Street? Will this article be seen as visionary or laughable?
We’ll never know.