Ethnography of a Ghost Town: Prince Charles, Urban Planning Visionary

So there is a new town just outside of Dorchester, that is on Duchy of Cornwall land and based on the architectural principles set out by Prince Charles. Yeah I had no idea Prince Charles had his own set of architectural principles either. That town is called Poundburry and According the town’s website the Prince of Wales is an architectural mastermind “who outlined his pioneering ideas in his 1989 book ‘A Vision of Britain’.” I’ve never read it and probably never will but I have just been to the town on the way back from Devon and if that short visit is anything to go by the man is just a little bit nuts.

Here’s the royal family’s youtube propaganda wing on Poundberry. I like how it’s treated as a joke when the journalists get lost when surely it’s a failure of urban planning that nothing other than the deranged and labyrinthine mind of Prince Charles can find the way around?

The first thing you notice when approaching Poundland is how much it looks like some kind of detention centre as it looms over Dorset. Who would actually live in this place? It would have been nice to find a local to talk to….

… But there weren’t many people around. And god did it feel weird. It was like a city that had evolved naturally had been copied brick for brick and then built anew in the middle of dorset. Everything was a sort of Ye Olde style that you would expect American’s would build if they were told to build a Dickens/harry potter cross over theme park, except completely new and clean. I mean I could imagine the Chinese building this bizarre English pastiche on the outskirts of Beijing but the next in line to the throne in the middle of Dorset?

It goes on and on, everything looks well built but there is still absolutely no one on the streets and it’s a sunny Saturday afternoon.

We find what appears to be a Baptist or Methodist church but on closer inspection it appears to be some interfaith temple or ‘quiet space’ as the plaque suggests, the Prince of Wales being a supporter of multi faith Britain (as long as you’re not atheist) and has claimed that when he reaches the throne he will, despite the idea technically being unconstitutional, be the Defender of all Faiths while the current monarchy is Defender of the Faith (The Church of England). It’s ironic calling it a quiet space, the entire fucking town is a quite space. (note the Prince of Wales Crest above the door)

Still no one…

Am I trapped in a Mary Poppins nightmare again?

Some kind of quasi-Georgian/victorian-terrace/Norman-church ye olde thingymagig

The duchy of Cornwall’s symbol is printed everywhere (like on those posh biscuits you get in Waitrose). I felt a bit like we should have been referring to Prince Charles as our ‘great leader’, giver of architectural prowess and urban planning vision.

Occasionally you see a glimmer of the surrounding countryside (freedom!) which makes you want to run out and scream “I am not a number, I am a free man” as Patrick McGoohan did when escaping from ‘the village’ in episodes of the prisoner…

The prisoner is worth a watch actually. A 60’s MI6 agent retires for no reason, is kidnapped by his own side and forced to live in an idyllic ‘English’ village called ‘the village’ until he confesses to why he resigned. The residents are other ‘retired’ MI6 agents (or so we’re told) who are all referred to by numbers. The protagonist is number 6. Poundland reminds me a lot of the prisoner but the ‘the village’ had far nicer residents, in that it actually had some fucking residents.

At least there’s a bead shop… We also counted 6 estate agents and a wedding shop.

Some steel girders soon to be clad in more ye olde worlde shit.

We eventually find a coffee shop with a nice view of some breeze block construction and 28 days later style abandoned streets. There were three other people sat outside who weren’t residents but did refer to the place as ‘Pounders’. The lady who owned the shop had a glimmer in her eye as if to say “oh praise the lord I have company now, maybe if I poison them they will never leave!” She diplomatically told us that she wasn’t a resident either but did sort of like the town although she admitted you could buy a house in a real village for half the price. She told us there was a pub in the Olde Town and gave us a map to find our way around.

Even with the map we had a hard time getting back to the car and without His royal highness himself guiding the way we had to ask two local kids on push scooters for directions. After shyly telling us where to go they ran into a barricaded, CCTV secured, house. Lest they catch the plague. (no really the windows had CCTV cameras and warning signs pointed out at us)

We drove for a bit and all of a sudden the town stops and you’re nowhere again.

It turns out the Old Town is called the ‘Old’ Town because it’s at least 15 years old. They’ve even built a simulacra of a corn exchange dated AD2000. Now my memory of the millennium is a little hazy but I don’t quite remember towns back then having corn exchanges. To be honest it’s a really nice space even if it was defunct as a corn exchange the day they built it. It would make a good social space if there were actually people around to be social with.

We also found the pub (the landlord had that same psychotic glimmer as the coffee shop lady, I thought he might start referring to me as ‘number six’) that was named in honour of the poet laureate, Ted Hughes. I bet he would have been honoured… We got drinks and sat outside as a few other people turned up. A group of about 15 teenagers pulled up into the square in various hatch backs to meet each other for whatever reason. I overheard one of them say, after looking around quizzically, “This place isn’t for us, is it?” Another said “it could do with a McDonalds…” I never thought I’d agree with that statement.

I guess the moral is don’t let someone who is so detached from society itself try and design society?

All in all, going by this quasi-English town, HRH Prince of Wales is quite bonkers. As well as being a world leading expert in Urban Planning he’s also written a book called ‘Harmony: a new way of looking at the world’ in which the message is how we should go back to treating the world the way they did in classical times (with slaves I presume). From what I’ve read it seems to contain pleasant, if not a little vague, ghost-written platitudes about holistic approaches to science. All pretty strange coming from the mouth of a soon to be King, especially given its opening sentence is a call to arms for a ‘revolution’ (later referred to as ‘sustainable revolution’). Apparently if we immerse ourselves in the pure ‘language of nature’ not in the dirty ‘grammar of man’ we will survive the impending ecological crisis. It’s this Strangely New Age ethos combined with a fabricated traditionalism, which not even the BNP could contend with, that makes Poundburry such a bizarre and scary place (not to mention its 1200 residents having powers of invisibility). If this is the wonderful manifestation of his long thought out philosophy on life then his senility is worse than we thought. Or David Ike is right and the royal family are alien reptiles from Zeta-Reticuli who would be just as confused by a kettle as any of us would be by the Tardis. Ever seen Prince Charles use a kettle? Thought not.