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Saturday, 26 April 2008

"I have rarely seen a place that so attracted my fancy"

These are the words of Charles Dickens writing to his friend, the actor manager, William Charles Macready, who retired to live in Cheltenham's Wellington Square and whom Dickens visited on several occasions during the 1860s.

I could not agree with Dickens more. Cheltenham is beautiful. It is home to one of the best, most complete examples of Regency architecture in England and it personfies the image of the traditional English town. I'm not an architect and don't have much of an eye, but I defy anyone to say that Cheltenham is not in harmony with its surroundings.

The regency architecture style dates from the early 19th century when George IV was still Prince Regent. The style is typified by elegence and classical design. Think terraces and crescents, wrought iron balconies, bow windows and stucco facades.

I will be going to Cheltenham Spa on Sunday and even the thought of such a beautiful town lifts my spirit. I am minded to think about Alain de Botton and his book "The Architecture of Happiness" where he writes eloquently about architecture's potential to make us realise how full potential as human beings. Architects seek beauty but all also represent ideals, beliefs and values and this is what draws people to look at buildings and see what they represent of ourselves and the world around us - whether making us despondent or uplifted in spirit.
I was fortunate to be in Cheltenham last year for the annual Literature Festival and bought David Dimbleby's book, which accompany's the BBC TV series, "How we Built Britain" - http://www.bbc.co.uk/britain/. His premise is that we are reflected in our buildings - whether fearless, herioc, innovative, industrious, eccentric, aspirational or functional. Through the book and the series we are taken on a popular history of Britain, via some well known and less well known British architecture across the centuries.

(As an aside, David Dimbleby is possibly another subject for a blog in himself representing a comforting vision of Britishness. Indeed, someone has already got there ahead of me in their "How We Built Britain Fansite").

So I'd recommend anyone if they have the chance to visit Cheltenham at least once in their lives and you can find out more about the town from http://www.visitcheltenham.com/.

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