A blog post on a subject other than Kays!

One of the focusses of the University of Worcester Research Collections is childhood. As a result, we hold a number of picture books, including one called Village and Town, by S R Badmin

It seems to date from the 1940s. There isn’t a date marked in the book itself, but I’ve found online references to the book which suggest that the first edition was printed in 1942.

It contains a number of rather lovely colour illustrations of urban and rural landscapes, in a style that’s very clear and clean, yet also romantic. Individual details are distinct, but the overall effect is dreamlike.

Unfortunately, we can’t show you any images of the book because of copyright restrictions, but you can see a poster designed by Badmin at the VADS website, here: http://www.vads.ac.uk/large.php?uid=51758

The book begins with early houses and settlements, and moves steadily through time. When it gets close to its own time period, it shows some rather political opinions.

A page about Victorian industrial cities describes the hardship of life in crowded factory housing. The book adds, ‘In England we still have too many of these houses and towns left. We now call them slums.’

Two pages on the twentieth century are concerned with reinforced concrete. The book favours this material very strongly, and makes cynical use of adorable penguins to support its argument:

‘Here is the kind of building suitable for penguins in a zoo. The curious shapes representing ice floes could only be constructed in reinforced concrete. How comfortably the grown-up leans on the top parapet while the child easily looks over the lower wall.’

Concrete, we learn, has utopian properties. It can be used to create blocks of flats in which ‘The service lifts, central heating, communal restaurant, nursery, club-rooms, and sports facilities in them make daily life pleasanter and easier.’

If the book really is from 1942, perhaps this rosy view of modern materials was a response to the hardships of life during the second world war, by looking forward to a rosier future. In some ways, this was a very idealistic time, just before the formation of the welfare state in Britain: a huge project that relied on people’s belief that they could create a better, more equal society.

The book ends on a passionate call to action. I can imagine that it left its young readers feeling both inspired and very serious about the need for proper town and country planning.

‘Do you know that we could have towns which were clean and smokeless, which were easy to get about, which had plenty of playing grounds and no slums? And we could keep the country as real country for farming or holidays, instead of eating it up with bungalows. We could do all that and much more if we made plans in advance, instead of muddling along as we do now, allowing people to build more or less where and what they fancy whether it is ugly or not.’

To drive the point home, the back cover shows an attractive modern area. In the centre, a white concrete block of flats is shining in the sunlight.