Twenty-first century England is entirely different to the traditions and culture of its past. It appears that in the haste towards modernity our precious values have been lost. We used to value the past and our connection to it, but now a nihilist and self destructive ideology has rendered that value obsolete.
English people used to be deferential and reserved, but instead a culture of coarseness and arrogance has imbued the nation. It is a consequence of the political climate at the moment, but trampling over tradition and inheritance isn`t new. England was originally an uncultivated landscape, then it developed into a rural and farming society until industry replaced the old ways.
However as we transitioned into a manufacturing nation we were richer materially but gradually grew poorer spiritually. The North and the Midlands were transformed by mills and factories but this was at a cost. Emily Bronte`s innocent vision of Bradford with its “benign sky” and “quiet earth” was vanishing, instead the skies were clouded by the imposing towers of industry and the mechanical noise of the looms. Soon people began to lose their spiritual connection to the land.
Every modern political and social movement seeks to distance itself from the past. As the twentieth century approached there was a feverish anticipation for the new coupled with a desire to divest with the old. Twentieth century English people grew more cynical of religion and community, and more enthusiastic for materialism and individuality. London was the focal point for this new philosophy. However modern Londoners themselves seemed to be oblivious of the torrid history of the city.
London was a place of violent colonialism and genocide, it was invaded and occupied by the Romans, until the indigenous Iceni tribe rebelled in AD 61. A valiant war was waged against their imperial oppressors but the Roman might was too great and the Iceni were wiped out. The remains of the Iceni martyrs now reside at the site of the Angel tube station. As this is the only memorial to their courage and sacrifice it seems grotesque, a flashing neon sign instead of a gravestone.
London, along with Birmingham and Coventry was nearly obliterated during the Second World War. The War was eventually won, but those things of beauty, the priceless architecture and landscape remained lost forever. Virginia Woolf was a champion of modernism and the fiercest critic of the Victorian age, but when she witnessed the devastation wrought by war she believed that her forebears sense of tradition was something worth preserving and honouring.
The Second World War was the apotheosis of modernity and the herald of a darker age. Cities needed to be rebuilt, but the architects of the fifties and sixties were stubbornly devoted to notions of progression and unconcerned with restoring the past. The results of this obstinacy are all around us, bleak tower blocks, car parks and motorways.
Motorways continue to remain a dreadful blight, as Peter Hitchens opined only last Sunday that “in our small, beautiful landscape and our ancient, intimate towns there never was any place for these rivers of angry steel, snarling and growling through once serene hills and fields..pouring filth and noise.” Hitchens is now a septuagenarian but younger generations in this country will never remember that we used to live in a pre industrialised, green and pleasant land.
Younger people are led to believe that England has always been a place of brick and concrete, and that materialism has been the sole and prevailing ideology. Now we are almost permanently disconnected from our own history, and staring into a future which is hollow and meaningless.