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A Garden & Three Houses

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review: landscape books

In early 1963, Peter Aldington and his wife Margaret bought a half-acre plot with outline planning permission for three bungalows in the centre of the Buckinghamshire village of Haddenham, writes Gillian Darley.

In those old days before deregulation, Margaret, a nurse, acted as the developer, while Peter, who had been working in the housing division of the LCC Architects Department, was the architect. They and a handful of others constituted the building team. Their objective was to build without disturbing a tree, and to site their three houses to flout the usual convention of each detached bungalow sitting isolated on its plot like a frog on a lily-pad. The outcome of Aldington's scheme, achieved over several years, was a triumph for a kind of nonconformity that could and should have become a norm (see right).

Jane Brown tells this tale with elegance. She has great sympathy for the endeavour and enormous admiration for the outcome. Early examples of planning obstruction at times approach the madder moments of The Honeywood File for bureaucratic futility. Then comes the account of the design, construction and subsequent maturing of the three houses; their textures married into their setting with roughcast render over the blockwork, set off by timber and tile, embraced by traditional wichert (clay) walls.

The stage for all this is the Aldingtons' remarkable garden, given important character and definition in the early days by the very trees whose survival had been the starting point of the enterprise.

Richard Bryant has continually photographed Turn End over the seasons, inside and out. His fine photographs and Brown's words have been knitted together beautifully under Aldington's watchful eye, as he designed the book himself. It is a very personal account.

Today at Townside, Haddenham, just as the planning permission had specified, there are three dwellings, with garages and gardens of their own. But beyond that bald description, this tiny oasis bears no relation to standard new village housing, then or now. So exceptional are The Turn, Middle Turn and Turn End (as the three neighbours are called) that they were listed last year. At the same time, a charitable trust was established to ensure their survival and argue for the integration of 'the art of building and garden design' that they so perfectly exemplify.

Aldington has found others prepared to support his strong principles, but never enough of them to make real waves in the world. Copies of this book, and with it perhaps the excellent travelling exhibition which Richard Murphy has designed, should be sent to volume house builders, planning officers and their committees the length and breadth of the country.

Gillian Darley writes on architecture and landscape. Peter Aldington's house and garden can be visited on Sunday 20 June, 14.00-17.00. Details 01844 291383

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