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Preserving Poundbury, England

Poundbury is as much about community building as it is about architecture, and I found those who opt to live here exceedingly open and friendly. Walk into the local pub, named the Poet Laureate after the prince’s late friend Ted Hughes, and it’s clear that most everyone knows everyone else. “It has a nice feel,” says publican Brian Dodge as he drafts a pint of lager. Dodge lives in an apartment just atop his business. “You feel safe here.”

Within half an hour of my arrival in Poundbury, Patricia Berry—a retired nurse I met while she was walking her dog on a graveled sidewalk—invited me to her stone cottage for tea. She ushered me into a cozy, bluish-white sitting room, with a gas-fed fireplace and a television set.

“When was Charlie here?” she called out to her twin sister, Margaret, a board member of the local residents’ association. The prince drops into town at least twice a year to check construction progress. “I was eating my lunch one day and looked out the window, and he was inspecting my garden with Prince Albert of Monaco,” a former resident, retired hotelier Len Paul, told me.

More than most British subjects, Poundbury residents have a lasting link to their king-in-waiting, if only because they’re required to sign a seven-page covenant agreeing to a litany of restrictions. People are urged to name their homes—I passed by Toad Hall, Pepper Pot Cottage, and Holmead House—on regulation-size signage in one of seven fonts. The prince and Krier review each new design of any kind, with an eye to preserving human scale and a local Dorset feel, as well as weeding out any attempts at a more extreme approach.

London architect James Gorst, who designed a nursing home for Poundbury’s second phase, fell from favor after he put forth a more up-to-date proposal for a medical center. “It’s an ideological view of architecture,” Gorst says. Stephen Bayley, a critic and former director of London’s Design Museum, blasts Poundbury as “a retirement community of the mind, a shabbily executed artistic dead end.”

“We’re not taste police,” insists Conibear as we pass by a house guarded by a tacky pair of stone lions that has brought angry complaints from neighbors but a pass from the duchy. There are few serious breaches of the covenant with His Royal Highness. “People have volunteered for it,” Conibear says.

Poundbury bears some semblance to American neo-traditionalist towns like Seaside, Florida, because it follows similar guidelines set out by such New Urbanists as architect Andrés Duany—who helped write Poundbury’s building code. But advocates of Poundbury say its economic mix gives it greater long-term viability than its U.S. counterparts, which are often seen as nostalgic stage sets where residents drive off to work and shop elsewhere.

And for His Highness, the effort is worth it to preserve a cherished version of England. “Rather than see the development of another zoned conventional housing estate,” the prince has said, “I was determined to ensure that such growth should recapture the organic form and sense of place of our historic towns and villages.”

Michael Z. Wise is a T+L contributing editor.

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