Comments on The history of the city, part 2.

Melvyn Bragg presents the second of a two part discussion about the history of the city.

Programme information and audio


  • 1. At 09:12am on 01 Apr 2010, Alyn Ashworth wrote:

    I can't believe that you continue to promulgate these myths about the origin of railways being in the North East, when the first steam-hauled railway is well-known to have been by Richard Tevithick, in South Wales - the Penydarren. Stephenson was in fact a Johnny-come-lately to the railway industry.

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  • 2. At 09:31am on 01 Apr 2010, Whig wrote:

    Typical socialist/centralising views from Tristram Hunt, advocating centralised planning rather than organic growth based upon voluntary, private decisions. As some of the other contributors have suggested, such central planning causes terrible unforeseen consequences such as in Paris. Where genuine (as opposed to heavily regulated) private developments have occured they have ultimately been more efficient, longer-lasting and better for the people who live in them. An anecdotal example - why do people prefer to live in Victorian houses built privately, rather than souless centrally-planned estates?

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  • 3. At 09:40am on 01 Apr 2010, Dustonian wrote:

    Following on from Alyn Ashworth, The panel seems to be the usual Bragg bunch, from the inner reaches of the Northern Line north of Euston but south of Finchley, who have only read each others books, rarely venture south of the South bank with their eyes open (no need now that Eurostar runs from St Pancras). Never looked at a map, or read a proper railway history, so seem completely ignorant of the development of inner suburban London south of the Thames, or of the railways that did penetrate the rim of the City-Bishopsgate,Fenchurch Street, Cannon Street, or reached its edge-London Bridge. What do they think Dore was drawing but the railway suburbs of south London.

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  • 4. At 09:54am on 01 Apr 2010, David Nicholson wrote:

    Great edition both.
    Maybe I missed it…….will listen again but surprised no mention of the Canal age and the use of river transport. Coal was transported by canal and river before the railways,for example. Canal dug into mines.
    Indeed Brentford on Thames was an inland port.,. goods transferred from barge to ship.
    The beautiful homes of the merchants still there in a square called The Butts.
    Railways were a tremendous thing but were an addition to canals and important for human transport but barges were still important for goods even to the last war.
    Lesson for real Greens, water power and weater transport

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  • 5. At 09:59am on 01 Apr 2010, Big Jim wrote:

    What an interesting collection of words, uttered without apparent conscious irony - "one simple thing - The Economy"


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  • 6. At 10:50am on 01 Apr 2010, Tony Hibbett wrote:

    The significance of the Liverpool Manchester railway in the context of this programme was that it was the first regular PASSENGER (locomotive-hauled) railway service. This is incorrect. The Canterbury Whitstable Railway was the first, opening months earlier, as stated in the Guinness Book of Records. However,only a small part of the line (2 miles) was served by a locomotive, Stephenson's (inferior) successor to the Rocket, the Invicta, so not quite the classic train, which probably accounts for it's lack of historical status.

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  • 7. At 10:56am on 01 Apr 2010, Tony T wrote:

    Having a two-parter worked well and gave added depth to this huge subject. Having said that why was there no mention of the Chigago School of Urban Sociology? Surely Louis Wirth (On Cities and Social Life) was worth (!) a mention and what about E Michael Jones (The Slaughter of Cities)?
    Glad to hear a brief mention of my birth city, Manchester. As a school boy 55 years ago I walked down Deansgate and listened to a teacher pointing out the tall buildings designed to hide the slums behind them from the delicate views of the mill owners as they drove to the cathedral!

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  • 8. At 11:42am on 01 Apr 2010, Sean McHugh wrote:

    Much better than last week IMHO. There is an amount of ideologically-inspired remarks in the comments but I think it is misplaced. I would suggest the participants were describing and attempting to predict the pattern of growth in cities across the world, the reasons why things went as they did in Paris and London. How they may go in the future - Chinese river deltas and MegaCity N regions. The only thing I missed was the consideration as to what extent these innovatory planning and building systems inspired the ideologies we see surface in the comments.

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  • 9. At 12:25pm on 01 Apr 2010, Big Jim wrote:

    Not apparently brought into focus was the degree to which all these urbanisations depend utterly upon cheap transport fuels to bring all the goods required for human survival. There was a good reason why cities never grew beyond a million folk - the rough number supportable by perishable goods brought by the available means of transport. That's why port cities (and to a lesser degree river crossings) were able to be the largest.

    What's the fate of the world's cities when the oil runs out?

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  • 10. At 2:09pm on 01 Apr 2010, Whig wrote:

    @SeanMcHugh - I think you're being a little naive in your view of what Tristram Hunt was saying. We know he is 'left-wing', very statist and probably socialist, given his biography of Engels. I think to read his explanation that the free market failed to provide services whereas government intervention was an unqualified success needs to be questioned. He clearly expressed a preference for centralised planning over laissez-faire approaches (although I'd question the extent to which there was genuine laissez faire, but still). I think the pros and cons of these approaches need to be addressed, otherwise we're simply just accepting them and not expressing a preference ourselves.

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  • 11. At 6:38pm on 01 Apr 2010, Nik wrote:

    Great series - and much better than part 1 in my opinion. A bit Euro-centric, but easier to take since the north west of Europe was much more of a player in the city building business in modern times.

    The unrelenting focus on northern European cities in part 1 was almost comical being that there were no cities there for the vast majority of the several thousand year history of the city. Cities only began to appear in the north in the last 400 years or so in any meaningful way.

    Historically there has been much more urbanization in Mexico and North Africa than in England or France, and yet they didn't merit even a short discussion.

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  • 12. At 9:01pm on 01 Apr 2010, P J Walsh wrote:

    Very good Two-Parter as usual. However the discussions highlighted –most obviously in Part One -what is I believe a recurring problem with how this history is customarily considered within academia. That is the persistent failure to acknowledge the critical symbiotic relationship between religion and the city –a.k.a. civilisation itself –from its earliest genesis. Surely the empirical evidence from the archaeological, anthropological and historical records for this is compelling? Perhaps this is a subject right for the plucking by MB in the future?!

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  • 13. At 10:33pm on 01 Apr 2010, Stephen ONeill wrote:

    An excellent program marred right at the very end by the old canard knocking Liverpool. This becomes increasingly tiresome as Liverpool is wheeled out yet again as an example of terminal urban decline and inevitably undermines confidence in the quality of fact-checking for the rest of the program.
    The fact is that Liverpool is GAINING population and is growing faster than most cities in the UK, albeit from a low starting point, while retaining more of a richer historic architectural heritage than most.
    I myself moved back to Liverpool after 18 years living in Islington, London to enjoy a spacious dockside flat, close to all city centre amenities, at a fraction of the cost in London. I am able to pursue my career, which involves frequent European travel, as easily as in London while suffering much lower levels of stress. My health has improved, I am happier and the cultural offering is unrivalled outside London.
    I invite any of your listeners to visit and to be very pleasantly surprised.

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  • 14. At 10:34pm on 01 Apr 2010, John Presland wrote:

    Towards the end of the programme it was suggested that the population of Budapest, supposedly like Detroit a collapsing city, has halved in recent years. That is, not to put too fine a point on it, not true. The population within the city limits has fallen, from 2.1 million in the mid-80's to 1.7m, as Wikipedia says, but, as the same source states, the population of the "Budapest municipal area" in 2009 amounted to 2,503,205. A friend of mine resident in Hungary's capital insists that that area's population, like that of the "Budapest commuter area" established by the government in 2005, now of 3,271,110 people, is growing. Those figures reflect a combination of movement from country to town and of movement from city centre to suburb.

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  • 15. At 00:40am on 02 Apr 2010, Nick Landau wrote:

    Tony Hibbett says that "The significance of the Liverpool Manchester railway in the context of this programme was that it was the first regular PASSENGER (locomotive-hauled) railway service. This is incorrect.".

    In fact, the owners of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway were overwhelmed by the number of public that used the railway. Before long I believe they would be having excursions on trains. Furthermore the railway did allow pasengers to go there and back to a destination, and do business there which was totally new.

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