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Giles Fraser has left a glittering job as Canon Chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral and is now working as the priest of a run-down parish in Elephant and Castle. This has set him thinking about the nature of community, which he investigates in this very personal series.

In our digital, global age, we look back with misty eyes to a 'golden age' of community in the 1950s. But our anxiety about lost community is nothing new.

In 1836, Augustus Pugin published Contrasts, a book of architectural drawings comparing the buildings of the medieval community with those of the industrial revolution. In response to what he saw as the urban decay and social rootlessness created by the industrial revolution, Pugin set about re-inventing the architecture of medieval community, initiating the Gothic revival. This wasn't simply about highly decorated churches with pointy arches, it was a wholesale programme of social and moral reform - a return to some imagined 'golden age' where people lived at ease with each other in stable and religiously engaged communities with shared values.

Giles travels to North Staffordshire, often known as 'Pugin-land' because of the high concentration of Pugin's buildings, to explore how many in the 19th century wanted to return to medieval forms of community. He argues that this is not dissimilar to the nostalgia many people feel today in response to globalisation and social churn.

And in the struggling former pottery town of Stoke on Trent he talks to MP Tristram Hunt about contemporary anxiety over community, and challenges a former BNP councillor nostalgic for a past with few immigrants and full employment.

Producer: Jane Greenwood.
A Loftus production for BBC Radio 4.

Release date:

28 minutes

Last on

Wed 5 Feb 2014 11:00