Looking at the past five days there has been some interesting revelations for me. Firstly in learning about rural life in Sheffield and its vast differences from rural life in Australia has been very interesting. Firstly the difference in the fact most rural labourers lived in villages as apposed to housing on farmland was strikingly dissimilar to Australia. The difference of space and quality of agricultural output is tricky to get my head around yet the idea of having the lower classes in their own little village does mean that vast areas of English countryside are not built on. I found it staggering that in a county with a much larger population than Australia has only around 7000 major landowners and this was demonstrated when visiting Chatsworth House, a former seat of an aristocratic family who owned vast stretchers of land and estates.
Chatsworth House reminded me of Dubai in that the wealth generated was used to build a luxurious buildings and grounds. Yet unlike the ruling elite of Dubai almost none of this wealth was used to make the common person comfortable such as subsidising good, building civic buildings (most of the civic buildings were funded by the middle class) and infrastructure. While it is easy to condone Dubai for its grand spending, the money is being put towards something for the long-term development of a nation, yes Ferraris and Rolexes are being purchased as well but the wealth is arguably being shared out towards the citizens of the Emirates, maybe not in cash but in freeways and job creation. This is in contrast to Chatsworth in which the money of the aristocrats was spent on personal comfort and ease while the workers were paid very little and the towns that were built was to keep rural labourers away from the cities and their high paid manufacturing jobs.
The difference is that the middle class of Sheffield played a much more important role in the development of the region. Once wealth was gained by the growing middle-class the wealth was used both for yes both personal comfort but also into works of civic pride and betterment. Examples of this were seen in the Sheffield Town Hall but also in the middle-class aspirations of improving the towns infrastructure, working class housing and to stopping disease spreading in the poorer areas of the town. While Marx would probably argue it was all to save themselves too from catching the diseases and stopping funny smells, they too could have gone the way of the aristocrats and separated themselves from the town. Yet they did not and the city was better for it.
On Saturday I travelled to Oxford and this city was very different again from Sheffield or Bendigo. Oxford was built on a river and was originally a Saxon town before the Norman Conquest. The old castle even has examples of Saxon buildings thus the towns heritage is even older than Sheffield’s. The town is also very famous for a certain university…that being Oxford University but it also has Oxford Brookes University and it demonstrates what a university town can be, yet it is still remarkably different from Sheffield and its two Universities. The universities play a major role in the town and every second building seemed to be linked to one faculty or another, plus the libraries and museums gave the city a wealth beyond measurement. The built heritage of Oxford was astounding and yet again the fact much of the old Oxford castle had been redeveloped into housing, cafes and a hotel demonstrates the difference between Australia and England’s heritage ideals. Lastly another noticed point was that bikes were everywhere in Oxford and that many places were almost overcrowded with bikes. This could be a reflection of the large student population but also I felt a sense of bike culture being accepted on the roads with many cars giving way to bicycles.
Looking forward to next week!
- Jack Roland Wiltshire (Bachelor of Urban, Rural and Environmental Planning)