August 2007 March 2008
Dartmouth Park, West Bromwich
Design collaboration with Bryant Priest Newman Architects for a new community pavilion.
Belbroughton. Dear B. I received parcel quite safe and thank you so much for getting the silk I like it very much I will pay you for it when you come E. as [sic] taken the Chain to be done I am very busy this week I am being Bridesmaid at a wedding Whit-Mon so have got my dress to make hope all are well. With love from E.
[click here for larger image]
[click here for history text]
[click here for wikipedia link]
You get into conversation with the older visitors and ask them about the Park, and they tell you about their youth. As if they mean to say, 'If we forget, we get lost'.
"I love above all else the appearance of people who have grown old without breaking with old customs." [Cézanne to Jules Borély The Courtauld Institute Gallery]
Memory is place orientated: "The very materiality of a place means that memory is not abandoned to the vagaries of mental processes and is instead inscribed in the landscape as public memory."
[Tim Cresswell: 'Place' 2004]
John Maclean, the original designer of Dartmouth Park, was in the business of making landscape a very visual idea, "...that which can be seen...and the way it is seen" [Cresswell]. He never described himself as a Landscape Architect, even though that's what he was and the term had been in common use, for sure, since Gilbert Laing Meason's 'Landscape Architecture of the Great Painters of Italy' of 1828.
"...there was the most exquisite green fringe to that fire-rotted, smoke-stained, dirty mantle of a Black Country" [David Christie Murray, novelist and journalist, born High Street, West Bromwich 1847]
Maclean was not a place-maker (except in the same way that Capability Brown was), and nor was he interested in 'place-memory' [E. S. Casey: 'Remembering A Phenomenological Study' 1987].
The view is indeed important but it is the bigger view ("the horizon of a new temporality that frames an action") that makes us morally responsible characters.
We should keep in mind that the creation of Dartmouth Park, as a consequence of the West Bromwich Improvement Act, was about both physical AND moral improvement - "the weary toiler may delight and invigorate himself whilst moralizing on the beauties of nature so profusely spread around him" [Woollaston]. Consequently, if we only focus on the physical attributes of the Park (its buildings, landscaping, footpaths, etc.), we miss its equally important (and much richer) historical significance as landscape metaphor.
"It allows...the self to be recast in a new perspective brought about by the cultural content to which the motion in the garden points. Thus it creates an opportunity for self-development." [http://www.doaks.org/Motion/10Motion.pdf - p31]
The locating of the War Memorial, in 1923, at the mid-point of the original avenue (which obviously destroyed the design intention of creating landscape vista) is a careless intersection of rememberance and...well, place-ment.
On a final note, J. B. Priestly says this in his 'English Journey': "I would rather spend a holiday in Tuscany than in the Black Country, but if I were compelled to chose between living in West Bromwich or Florence, I would make straight for West Bromwich."