How We Built Britain
Programme Six: Modern South – Dreams Of Tomorrow
David Dimbleby completes his journey through Britain, discovering how the nation's history has shaped its buildings, with a look at the south of England and its dramatic transformation in the 20th century.
From life in the leafy suburbs, to prefabs and high rise blocks, technology opened up new worlds to ordinary people, changing the way they worked, lived and played.
Explains David: "The modern age is the age of the optimist, always looking for new ways of living, willing to experiment even at the risk of failure."
One hundred years ago, London was bursting at the seams, with five million people. One answer was the Metropolitan Line taking the underground into the country. Four million new homes were built in the area known as 'Metroland'.
The new suburbs boasted a state-of-the-art station building, a bold art deco style cinema, a smart new high street and houses selected from catalogues.
The Homewood in Surrey was built in 1938 by architect Patrick Gwynne in the Modernist style, clean-cut with a minimum of decoration. It boasted huge glass windows, white leather doors and a cocktail bar. Meanwhile in Sussex, the Saltdean Lido was considered the latest in continental sophistication.
During the Second World War, the south was hit badly by bombs. The new Labour government responded to the housing crisis with prefabs – houses constructed in a factory and assembled on site. Over 150,000 were put up as instant homes for returning servicemen.
High rise blocks came in the 1950s and the Post Office Tower transformed London’s skyline, soaring 620 feet into the air, with viewing galleries and a revolving restaurant. Skyscrapers also sprang up in the City following the 1980s Big Bang, rivalled later by Canary Wharf.
David finally returns home to Polegate in the South Downs to reflect on his year spent travelling Britain.
He says: "Architects are always trying to persuade us to accept new ways of living. We accept the modern for our grand public buildings, for offices, for theatres, for airports. But when it comes to our own homes we like a taste of the past."