London: Mega Metropolis and Homey Village?
Cast your minds back to when you were forced, kicking and screaming (or in my case – consumed voraciously), to read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. If you recall, Mrs Bennett’s exclusive life goal was to set her daughters up with landowners; the more land the better, and if he had an income to match – well, it was a done deal. Apart from sprawling pads, what did Bingley and Darcy have in common? It certainly wasn’t temperament – no, it was that neither lived in London. Pastoral idyll and eye-watering wealth was enough for the ultimate Regency heartthrobs, without the hustle and bustle of city dwelling. One might pop down to settle one’s accounts, watch some bare-knuckle boxing, but generally one didn’t stay for more than a few days at a time. Vulgar things happened in London.
Fast forward 100 years or so. The wealthiest still owned their various swathes of British countryside, but did they live there all year round? Perish the thought! London was the place to be, the cultural Mecca of the empire, the envy of all the colonies. In typical imperial fashion, it was considered the go-to for intellectual debate and expansive thought. Their estates were left in the capable (if slightly grubby) hands of their land managers, while the owners swanned around at society galas, reaping the material rewards of the farmers’ expertise.
In the present day, we find ourselves in some sort of aesthetic limbo. London, is one of the world capitals for creativity and design, as well as finance and business. Each September, the suburbs and home counties are abandoned by bright-eyed and bushy tailed school-leavers looking to find their fortunes in the Big Smoke. However, with transport links being as they are, and London house prices being as they are, more and more people are choosing to live outside of the city and brave an hour-plus commute each day.
The ‘it crowd’ can’t make their minds up, they like to have their cake and eat it. Although typically in possession of a rambling brick number in leafy Ladbroke Grove some such trendy spot (looking at you, Laura Bailey), the elite of the fash-pack also tend to have a getaway ‘cottage’ (read: manor) in Somerset or North Yorkshire. Ah, to be amongst those privileged few! BFC cultural ambassador and Vogue contributing editor Bailey allowed the Vogue photographers into her bucolic paradise in 2012 and it ticked every box, from grazing livestock to obligatory kitchen AGA.
As well as property, it is arguably seen as classier to have social events and parties outside of the city. Tatler goes wild for screaming reels in the Highlands, and London weddings have started to seem a little tacky. Look at the likes of Mossy, London’s favourite hell-raiser, who chose to hold her 2011 marriage ceremony to Jamie Hince in a village church in the Cotswolds. More recently, although there was a London wedding, Poppy Delevingne’s city nuptials to Benedict Cumberbatch-alike James Cook seemed like more of a precursor to the main event in Morocco later that year (in custom Pucci, obviously).
If an actual departure from London is just too much to handle (emotionally and financially), fear not – there are now a raft of London boroughs that claim to have that village appeal within 20 minutes from Oxford Circus. Highgate Village remains one of the most expensive place to live in the capital, closely followed by Notting Hill, Primrose Hill, Wimbledon and Putney. A whole crowd of trendies, from Nick Grimshaw to Daisy Lowe, have taken refuge in these mock-suburban spots.
The question remains: why do people seek a quiet life within one of the world’s most populous cities? There are arguments for a community a feel, a world that harks back to that camaraderie of pre-war Britain, when the air was slightly cleaner and nobody locked their back door at night. Babysitters were ten-a-penny, and you only had to mutter that you were out of Hovis under your breath for thirty slices to come flying through your window, pre-toasted and with a selection of preserves shortly behind, courtesy of your much beloved neighbours. But why then, don’t people simply up sticks and go to the real countryside forever more?
Personally I think it is our millennial need to ‘have it all’; wanting to be able to put infants to sleep without fear of them being woken up by sirens at all hours – but equally being able to nip to the off-licence for a 2009 bottle of Malbec at 3am if the fancy strikes you. We are, seemingly, unwilling to compromise. We like the option to be able to live fast or slow, as we see fit day by day. So does London’s unfolding future as a mega-metropolis intimidate us, and make us create fake communities to comfort us? Or are we just spoilt for choice in our thrilling capital and greedily want to have all the options? All in all it seems as usual the conclusion is; there’s nothing London can’t give us.