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Hoskins: The making of the English Landscape: Commentary

On the surface this is a straightforward extract, describing the process by which slums developed around factories and mills. However, there is a subtext here. Hoskins is describing a process about which his readers will almost certainly have some sort of preconception: when he declares that ‘The slums were born’ he is fully aware that his readers know, at least in general terms, what those slums were. He is also to some extent heading off preconceived ideas when he points out that the separation of the workers’ homes on the plain from the owners’ homes on the hill ‘was not a conscious piece of “zoning”’; he knows that many of his readers will assume there was some conspiracy or foresight going on in the siting of these buildings. However, Hoskins is not entirely consistent here. He comes up with a set of ‘neutral’ factors that explain the low-lying position of the workers’ houses – the need to be near the canal or river, ease of building on the flat, the fact that these areas were already empty – but he also makes it clear that the mill owners were “zoning” when they chose to build their own homes as far away as possible from the insalubrious conditions in which their workers lived. The point is so obvious, he says, that ‘It need hardly be said’.

 

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