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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > Jul-18 > Make Bury great again!

Make Bury great again!

England’s towns were once as mighty as its cities. Now, they have fallen on hard times. Can Bury lead the revival? asks Philip Collins
A statue of Sir Robert Peel, erected in the 19th century at the height of Bury’s economic power
© IAN CANHAM/ CARON BADKIN /ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

Britain was once full of glorious towns— regency spas, industrial workshops, market squares, council chambers, grand town halls looked down upon by statues of local dignitaries. This was the very fabric of the nation of England, in particular. It is an intriguing parlour game to take a description like the one that follows, from Mark Girouard’s The English Town: A History Of Urban Life, and wonder to which place it applies: “For a mile or so we drove along a street of palaces— palaces… amazing in the height and power of their mighty stone façades, piled up storey after storey, and row after row of windows. I have never been to Florence, but this, it seemed to me, must be what Florence is like.”

Answer—it’s Huddersfield. For that, town though it is, was his “glorious city” of palaces and façades of high windows. Some of the buildings on the streets leading out from its St George’s Square are indeed splendid, but The English Town was a deeply nostalgic tour of such places even when it was published in 1990. After the passage of a further quarter-century— a quarter century that has, in sequence, seen suburbanisation, out-of-town shopping centres, a financial crash and then internet shopping going mainstream— it sounds like a relic from a lost golden age. The last generation has witnessed a remarkable story of progress in the big cities. Immigration has brought a new energy and diversity—new businesses, foods and fashions. Universities have expanded out of all recognition, bringing a young population that needs to walk, rather than drive, into their centres. Train travel, which had been dying, has become vastly more popular, laptops and then smartphones enabling people to work on the move on their way into the heart of a metropolis. The fashion is increasingly to live in the city, perhaps in one of the endless canal-side former factory conversions where one can hope to meet, work with and date other like-minded sorts.

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In Prospect's July issue: Editor of Prospect Tom Clark tackles the major fault lines developing in the Conservative Party over Brexit, arguing that the issue could be one of those few occasions where the Tories can’t overcome a significant challenge. Alongside his lead essay, Andrew Gamble, professor of politics at the University of Sheffield, examines why many European parties on the right are struggling and why the continent should be worried. Conservative MP Lee Rowley charts what some of the policy areas that the Tories will have to deal with beyond Brexit if they are to get it right. Elsewhere in the issue: Nabeelah Jaffer tries to answer one of the most difficult questions of our time: how do you de-radicalise an extremist. Using examples from both the UK and Denmark, she argues that the UK model needs more work to be effective; Philip Collins asks why Britain’s towns have fallen by the wayside while its cities have thrived; and Sam Tanenhaus profiles “the real deal-maker” in Donald Trump’s White House, Mike Pompeo, after the Secretary of State oversaw the US-North Korea summit.
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