My letter to the Shrewsbury Chronicle, published on July 22, 2010.
Shrewsbury's 1960s clock tower: a carbuncle on the otherwise beautiful face of a medieval town or a striking example of the architecture of its day and something to be treasured? Discuss.
As someone who has wrestled with this question over several decades, I was both amused and intrigued by Neil Felton's recent letter (July 15) protesting against suggestions that the clock tower should be demolished. Mr Felton refers to the building as ”classic“ and says Shrewsbury's skyline would not be the same without it. Well, while many might disagree with the first part of Mr Felton's argument, no-one can quibble with the second part. The clock tower is an unmistakable element in the town's skyline.
Mr Felton goes on to say: ”Instead of talking about knocking down this iconic building, let's start thinking about celebrating its 50th anniversary in a few years' time.“
I suppose really it's all down to a matter of perception. Many of us who love Shrewsbury think of it as a lovely old town boasting many fine ”black and white“ timber-framed buildings and also many elegant Georgian and Victorian structures. But then we start to go a bit wobbly when we have to try to justify the more modern stuff.
Believe me, I am one of those who goes a bit wobbly when I'm showing off the town to visitors and we stumble across the Shirehall or the big town centre shopping complexes or indeed the Market Hall.
I read with interest the other day that the 1970s steel-and-glass shopping centre at Milton Keynes has just won Grade II listed status – much to the bewilderment of many locals. The Secretary of State – having been persuaded by English Heritage and others – that the building was worthy of such recognition – conceded that it has never been universally loved. Now, there's an understatement. But, as Tina Turner might put it, what's love got to do with it? The UK's oldest rollercoaster (doubtless an eyesore to many) – built in 1920 in Margate – has been given Grade II listing, as has the 1964 concrete signal box at Birmingham New Street. Clearly, love (at least the widespread love of the public at large) is of little consequence here.
On the other hand, Mr Felton did seem to express a love of sorts in his letter defending the clock tower.
Our eldest son once suggested knocking down the monstrous market hall but keeping the clock tower because it truly has become an integral part of the skyline. That sounds like the start of a slightly different debate.
But perhaps some of us (myself included) need to update what we think of as being precious.