Sunday 13 September 1998
To our European cousins, the idea that we Britons - ancient or modern - have always lived in rows of indistinguishable houses is as much of a stereotype as warm beer, driving on the left and not speaking to someone until you've been introduced.
Quite why our townscapes should be this way - and why they are so different from those of most other European countries - is due to a number of factors, most of them socio-economic rather than architectural.
The legal complexities of land ownership have also played their part. All these issues are explored in depth in an excellent book called, simply, The English Terraced House, by Stefan Muthesius, which continues to sell 16 years after being first published. It makes a great present for anyone who lives in a terraced house.
But the problem with a row of houses that all look the same is that when one owner makes changes, it can spoil the effect for everybody else. Hence the visual shock in a Victorian terrace when one house has replacement uPVC windows, mock leaded lights or - horror of horrors - stone cladding.
Our Euro-neighbours don't have this problem. Most streets in France and Germany contain a mix of houses of different styles and periods, built from a variety of local materials, that impart individuality as well as a bit of regional character. One reason for this variety - and I imply no criticism of the stalwart barons of the British construction industry - is that these homes were not built by Mr Wimpey or Mr Barratt. They were not even built by Herr Schmidt or Monsieur Brun; they were built by their owners; people who thought about their design and had an interest in them. And that's got to give a house character, hasn't it?
Thankfully, part of the creeping Europeanisation of Britain is the realisation that it doesn't have to be like this. There is nothing to stop you or me from buying a plot of land, engaging an architect, getting planning consent, and building the house of our dreams. A growing number of people are doing just that. While there is some way to go before we catch up with the Germans - 60 per cent of whom build their own homes - there are still enough people who "self build" to support a thriving market in materials and services. Like all trends, this one has spawned its own national show, which is being held next week in London's Alexandra Palace.
The National Self Build Homes Show is at Alexandra Palace, London N22, from Thursday to Sunday. There are 50 pairs of free tickets (normally pounds 7.50 each) for readers calling 0171-865 9042.
Life & Style blogs
Alexander McQueen at auction: What makes a really great piece of fashion?
A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
No female ejaculation, please, we’re British: a history of porn and censorship
Stressed nurses are 'forced to choose between health of patients and their own'
Pornhub: Kim Kardashian's sex tape is the most-watched porn video of all-time
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...
£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...
£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...
£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...