In Focus

What makes architects construct a ‘bootiful’ building or a total turkey?

Poultry king Bernard Matthews used a grand country manor to house his fowl... so when it comes to buildings, did philosopher Confucius have a point when he mused ‘everything has beauty but not everyone sees it’, wonders Jonathan Glancey

Sunday 12 November 2023 06:30 GMT
The late Bernard Matthews in front of Great Witchingham Hall
The late Bernard Matthews in front of Great Witchingham Hall (Getty)

Filmed in front of Great Witchingham Hall, Bernard Matthews, the late Norfolk turkey magnate, described it as “bootiful”. Not his 16th-to-17th-century country house, that is, but his latest line in crispy crumb turkey steaks.

To Matthews, I can’t help feeling, Great Witchingham Hall must have been particularly “bootiful” when, having bought it for a song, or a cluck, in the mid-Fifties, he and his wife Joyce, living in two unheated rooms, filled it not with the antique furniture and exquisite portraits of Venus they couldn’t afford at the time, but to the rafters with gobbling turkeys. At a shilling a square foot, buying the hall, said Matthews, was cheaper than building turkey sheds at six bob a pop.

Thomas Aquinas, who is unlikely to have had a view on the aesthetics of turkeys and appears to have left no comment on the attraction or otherwise of more local fowl, said that beauty is that which gives pleasure when seen. In the canon of quotes concerning beauty, this might seem a little on the simplistic side, translating more or less as “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. While some saw beauty in the concrete cooling towers – machines for making clouds – of Didcot power station, styled by Sir Frederick Gibberd, architect of Liverpool’s Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, others damned the whole caboodle as the tectonic spawn of the devil.

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