The UK has no shortage of beautiful architecture. Idyllic scenes of thatched cottages and medieval churches, a landscape littered with ancient castles and Roman fortresses, all in the shadows of iconic cityscapes developed over centuries. In short, the UK is teeming with architectural style. Yet despite the generations of skill, progress and refinement, not every town and city in the UK can always deliver. It’s safe to say there has been some serious faux pas in UK town planning and construction.
Here is our rundown of the worst places in the UK in the architecture style-stakes. But remember, there’s no accounting for taste: one man’s slum could be another man’s castle...
The poet John Betjeman wrote in his 1937 poem, ‘Slough’: “Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough! It isn't fit for humans now”. He continued saying “Mess up the mess they call a town!” So, it’s clear that even back then, Betjeman wasn’t a fan of this industrialised Berkshire town. And anyone who has ever seen The Office will be familiar with the bleak, generic office blocks dominating the Slough ‘skyline’ of today. If anyone ever needed an example of a neglected satellite town thrown (motor)wayside, this is it.
More poetic commentary backs up the second town on the list, with Dylan Thomas famously branding his home city of Swansea an “ugly, lovely town”. Swansea was a victim of intense German bombing in 1941 during the Second World War thanks to its industrial heart, particularly its coal-mining heritage. The city centre was virtually obliterated by the Luftwaffe and as a result was rebuilt from the 1950s onwards, seeing Victoriana replaced with some questionable choices in the name of modernity. Dreary shopping centres now fill Swansea City Centre, with one of the few surviving streets of pre-war architecture (Wind Street), now dominated by garish night clubs and outlandish bars.
3. Hemel Hempstead
This Hertfordshire town has been a settlement since the 8th century, yet its historical foundations clearly didn’t manifest into its architecture. Apart from the Norman church on its outskirts, the town is a sea of generic low-budget office blocks and unremarkable shopping outlets. The major rejuvenation began here shortly after the Second World War and didn’t end until decades later in the 1980s – unfortunately for its residents, the architecture seems doomed to hark back to that time until the next rejuvenation comes along.
The greatest victim of Second World War bombing, pre-war Coventry was a thriving industrial powerhouse, with aeronautical and munitions factories playing a big part in the city’s economy. This industry made it a key target for the German Luftwaffe and in 1940 huge swathes of the city were destroyed, including much of the Victorian buildings that had sprung up during the Industrial Revolution. The subsequent post-war rebuilding programme resulted in much of the city’s current Brutalism architecture. Concrete-heavy structures with a lack of emphasis on the aesthetic have made Coventry City Centre something of a modern-day eyesore.
Top of our list, and officially voted the worst place in Britain back in 2004, is the Bedfordshire town of Luton. Known primarily for its budget air travel, and to a lesser extent its football team, this place struggles to excite with its architectural offerings. The town centre is dominated by grey concrete buildings, a drab 1970s shopping centre and numerous multi-storey car parks. The addition of several Brutalist tower blocks has rendered Luton to a perpetual state of drudge and dreariness. However, things may be on the up for Luton – having recently secured a rejuvenation scheme worth £1.5 billion! The project aims to rejuvenate several sites across the town, as well as develop new areas for schools and jobs.
Whilst much of the country has been blessed with the structural remnants of our architectural heritage, these places haven’t been so lucky. It’s fair to say that these towns could do with more than a bit of ALC (architectural loving care)! With plenty architectural rejuvenation schemes cropping up each year, we’ve got our fingers crossed that at least some of the towns on here will be on the list.
Feel free to share your top 5 in the comments box below!
Article written by Daniel Scott, Architecture & Design Recruiter at Cobalt Recruitment
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This post was originally published in February 2016 and has been updated for comprehensiveness since.