The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Spurious TS Eliot hooks?

By curious coincidence we’ve had two “T.S. Eliot was here” cases seeking C20 support and intervention in the last couple of weeks: Eliot was in Margate and East Coker.

Our Casework committee debated the merits of Arlington House.  The 60s tower block next to Margate Station and Dreamland, dominates the seafront, and is due to be made over and have a Tesco inserted at ground level, about which many locals are very unhappy.  We concluded Arlington House  was not worth listing, despite an intervention that we consider the unique TS Eliot link.  That is that in October 1921, recuperating from a nervous breakdown, TS Eliot sat in a beach shelter right in front of Arlington House (or at least in front of where it would be forty-odd years  later.  Here he would stare out at the deserted beach and grey sea and was inspired to write Part III of The Waste Land. “On Margate Sands. /I can connect/Nothing with nothing…”.   No one was enthused by this link.

Then a letter appeared from a local group asking us to support their campaign against the expansion of East Coker.   So is East Coker a unique and valuable C20 artifact, by way of its Eliot connection?  Described in the Guardian as “the pretty Somerset village” which is “is globally famous as a poetic trope and is a metaphor for an organic community”, it’s rather lacking in decent C20 buildings, but does have the poet’s ashes interred in the parish Church.   Eliot visited East Coker in 1937 and I have been rereading the eponymous poem (the second of the Four Quartets) which was published during the war in 1940.   I like the fact that after the famous first sentence, the poem’s first stanza charts the process of change of the built environment:  “In my beginning is my end. In succession/ Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended,/ Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place/ Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass.”      And there is more later “And we know that the hills the trees, the distant panorama/And the bold imposing facade are all being rolled away–” but it’s all rather a long way from our remit campaigning for the preservation of C20 buildings—so we’re not rushing in here either, but I would rather like to find a building with a literary link that we could defend.  Any suggestions?PS this shelter is supposedly listed, but I can’t find it’s entry, so date remains uncertain…..

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