A 100 year old vision of a future London

I've just read The Soul of London (US, UK) by Ford Madox Ford, an impressionistic and Modernistic view of the city from 1905. The history and personal experiences are OK, but towards the end it suddenly veers off briefly into this fantastic vision of a future London...

We collect our grandfather's old, too heavy, insect-infected chairs and chiffoniers, punch bowls, spoons or bedsteads. These things are full of cobwebs, dirt, microbes; and the old houses, that are largely our ideals still, are still more insanitary and demoralising. We have even a London proverb: "Three moves are worse than a fire"; that is because we have too much of this unwieldy bric-a-brac. Really, says this reformer, we ought in the interests of hygiene to cultivate an extreme cleanliness, and that is only possible with a minimum of furniture. We should promote, as far as possible, portability in our houses, because ground that has been dwelt upon too long loses its resilience, its power of assimilating human debris.

Thus we must pull down our London; burn our ancestral furniture; melt down our punch bowls; recognise that our associations as far as they are ancestral, are so many cobwebs; and send the best of old family portraits into the Museums. -- These last will soon -- says the Reformer, seeing his dream as a reality of to-morrow -- be the sole heavy buildings to raise lofty roofs and turrets above the plateau of small houses -- houses of aluminium, of woven wire, of corrugated iron, of paper pulp; small houses containing only a mat or two, a vase for flowers, a cooking stove; houses that we shall pack on to motor cars when the fit moves us to go out into the fields for a month or two, or when business becomes slack in London itself, or when we desire to 'air' our camping site.

The obsolete system of land tenure would facilitate this; the growing restlessness of the people; the desire for change of scene; the dearth of domestic labour; and, above all, according to this Reformer, the fact that no house ought to be more than twenty years old.

I suppose that such a London with its portable houses, its masked and numbered inhabitants (perhaps we should arrive at such a pitch of impersonality that a child would recognise its mother, like a sheep, by the sense of smell) -- this London would be sane, sanitary, and beneficent to the human race. Most of us, being poor humanity, a prey to the illusions of dead poets, will shudder at what is raw and naked in this idea.

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