Cat no. 253

A View of Bishopsfield

Running time16:55 Colour Sound 1969 Harlow, Essex

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The New Town development of Bishopsfield highlighting the gap between the environment that architects and planners think is good to live in and opinions of those who live there.


AmateurArchive AliveDocumentaryPortrait of a Place

The film begins by showing the credits over long range shots of Bishopsfield. The commentary explains the general principles of the development over aerial shots. Bishopsfield is a distinctive horseshoe shape with alleyways radiating from the centre. There are 239 dwellings ranging from bedsitters to 3 or 4 bedroomed bungalows. The latter have gardens. For reasons that are not clear, the area is known as the Kasbah. This sequence concludes with a close-up shot of the plaque commemorating the Civic Trust award won by the development in 1968.

Most of the film comprises residents talking over shots of the exterior of Bishopsfield and there are some shots of interiors. There are also some comments from architects. A sequence follows a young couple walking through Bishopsfield to their flat. The views of the residents are diverse. Most of them dislike the alleyways and the steep lanes that become dangerous because they attract local youths to use them for roller skating and carting, causing accidents. Litter is a problem. One resident expresses the view that Bishopsfield will be a slum within seven years. The architect thinks that they are good architecture - good to live in. The residents also dislike the expanses of brick and concrete, shown by the general medium range shots of the camera.

There is very little greenery. The residents feel that Bishopsfield is claustrophobic and describe the appearance as bleak.The couple reach their flat and show the interior. There are views of the lounge and the kitchen. The interiors contrast with the exterior, being impressively modern and very light, the light coming from windows around the patio. Most residents agree that the residences are pleasant but there are drawbacks. Some residents mention high heating costs, expanses of floor that they are reluctant to carpet because of the underfloor heating. Some speak of condensation and of mould. The residents agree that the flats are very private.

Many residents speak of isolation; of perhaps seeing their next door neighbour once a week. The camera pans around the exterior of the flats, showing no people but following a solitary cat. To combat this a residents' association has been formed but doesn't appear to have been met with a great deal of enthusiasm. The position of the housebound is highlighted. A recurring theme of the film's commentary is that in Bishopsfield no-one stays very long. Even a resident who is generally appreciative admits that she cannot imagine living there for more than a year. Another interior is shown, this time including the granny flat opposite, allowing an elderly relative privacy and independence whilst having family nearby. Another couple with children explain that the flats are ideal.The underground garages are discussed over shots of a young man washing his car. Again opinion is divided. Many appreciate the quiet of having no traffic noise, although that doesn't hold true for the people whose homes are near the entrance.

The appearance of the garages is described as brutal. The garages themselves are difficult to maintain and dangerous. Public services are generally very good but the communal rubbish areas are criticised. They are not used properly and encourage dumping. The open spaces also attract dumping, especially of cars.The film ends with a variety of shots of Bishopsfield. Some are night shots; some are taken in the rain. Residents voice views of the development as diverse as nice to hideous.

Featured Organisations:

Harlow Development Corporation

Harlow Cine Club

Harlow Arts Council

John Greenwood

Edmund Gray

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