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How G.K. Chesterton’s house in England was saved from bulldozers

G. K. CHESTERTON
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Overroads is safe, for now.

For fans of the British Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton, the homes in which he and his wife resided might be thought of as shrines. So it would be understandable that such admirers would greet with joy the news that one of those homes was recently saved from destruction.

But that joy might be tempered upon learning the reasons local officials blocked plans for development on the site of Overroads, the Chestertons’ first home in Beaconsfield, northwest of London.

Chesterton and his wife, Frances, settled in Beaconsfield in 1909, living in Overroads until 1922. They then moved to another house in Beaconsfield named Top Meadow and lived there the rest of their lives.

Last year, the owners of Overroads put the house on the market with an asking price of £1.9 million pounds (about $2.4 million dollars). Finding no buyers, they turned to property developers, who applied to the local council for permission to knock down the house and erect an apartment building on the site. The application was refused at the end of last year, but another planning application from the same developers was still pending.

But Simon Caldwell reports in the Catholic Herald that the South Bucks District Council dismissed proposals by Octagon Developments to demolish Overroads. Their reasons, however, had nothing to do with the house’s ownership history and literary connections:

Planning officers concluded that the size and the scale of the proposed flats would make them “intrusive” and incompatible with the character of the area. Further, they would “adversely impact” upon Top Meadow, the Grade II-listed home that also once belonged to Chesterton, which directly faces Overroads. Other objections included dissatisfaction with how the developer would protect the apartment block from the risk of flooding, and what it would do about protected trees. Doubts were raised about access for bin lorries, and the need for more affordable housing in Britain’s most expensive market town.

Rather mundane reasons, one might observe. Caldwell thinks so. “It is significant that the application was dismissed mostly on such practical points and not so much upon the literary, historical or cultural merit of the property,” he lamented. “This is the local authority that allowed the demolition of the former homes of both Enid Blyton and Robert Frost.”

And there may be cause for further concern, in spite of the temporary victory. Overroads does not have protected status of any kind, such as that of a historic building, so there is still a chance Octagon could appeal the decision or other developers submit alternative applications, Caldwell pointed out.

It might behoove the local council to consider something K.V. Turley wrote recently in Crisis magazine: “For many, the only reason they know of Beaconsfield and have any affection for the place is because of Chesterton. Without Chesterton, Beaconsfield would be simply another nondescript town north of London. It would certainly never have become a place of pilgrimage for legions of Chestertonians the world over who come and stand between Overroads and Top Meadow to give thanks for the writer who has entertained and enlightened them.”

The owner of Top Meadow, Ken Sladen, “sees value in Overroads beyond the opinions of developers and town planners,” Caldwell wrote. “He successfully argued that knocking down Chesterton’s first home would detrimentally affect the character of the second.”

“We’re very, very pleased,” Sladen told the Spectator after the council’s decision, adding that he was heartened by the outcry over to the proposed demolition, both at home and abroad.

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