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Silver Shadow on Milton Keynes

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FOR the United Kingdom, the 1960s were strange and interesting times.

As a nation, we had finally regained some national confidence after the devastation and long-term rationing of the Second World War (the rationing, after all, had only ceased for Britain in 1954). To add to this, there had been the political embarrassment of the Suez crisis, and the population was rapidly rising.

From the midst of all this turmoil emerged many notable things. Primarily, these included hippies, the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, and a ‘New Town’ called Milton Keynes.

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If we discount the hippies for the moment, there is more similarity between the latter two than one might at first imagine.

In order to relieve pressure on housing in London in light of the population increase, it was decided by Parliament that several waves of ‘New Towns’ were to be built in the southeast of the country. Milton-Keynes was to be by far the largest and most ambitious of the scheme.

Consequently, on the 23rd January 1967, Milton Keynes was officially designated a ‘New Town’. What was fascinating about Milton Keynes was the forward thinking, modernist approach to town design and planning of founding architect, Derek Walker.

milton-keynes-plan

Walker took his inspiration from the Californian urban theorist Melvin Webber, and this inspiration is plain to see if one looks at Milton Keynes from above.

Unlike the majority of towns and cities in the UK, which have grown from little village centres over hundreds of years, the ‘clean sheet’ approach taken by the town planners allowed complete freedom to use any layout they chose.

Thus, Milton Keynes’ roads followed the American style grid and road naming system much preferred by Webber, rather than the somewhat higgledy-piggledy nature of roads in most British cities.

By now, you might well be wondering why on earth a piece on a 1960s British ‘New Town’ has appeared on a luxury car website. Indeed, that would be a very fair question.

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The fact is, the similarities between one of the World’s best known luxury cars, the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow and Milton Keynes are pretty strong.

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You see, as with Milton Keynes, the Silver Shadow followed a modernist approach towards design. The head of the styling team, John Blatchley, was charged with shaking off Rolls-Royces’ hitherto old-fashioned image.

To his credit, Blatchley managed this feat without losing all the elements of character that allowed Rolls-Royce the undoubted success it had enjoyed until then.

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Like Milton Keynes, the design of the Silver Shadow employed all the new fangled technical expertise available at the time, though this author would suggest that the lines of some of the more concrete ridden 1960s buildings of Milton Keynes have not mellowed with age quite so well as those of the Silver Shadow.

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I must confess that I really warmed to Milton Keynes, much as I did to the Silver Shadow. Both are obvious contrasts to the accepted wisdom of what went before, yet both manage to retain an element of their predecessors charm and character.

Perhaps it is for this reason that both designs succeeded in their aim of subtle modernisation in such a big way.

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