Mind your language

English cities don’t have quarters – whatever the executives say

And Buckingham Palace doesn’t make the fume-filled streets near Victoria into a ‘Royal Quarter’

2 May 2015

9:00 AM

2 May 2015

9:00 AM

‘No quarter given,’ yelled my husband as he stabbed at a cushion with his stick, spoiling the cavalier effect a little by catching his foot in the loose rug, about which I have told him twice (not the hundred times he likes to claim). He made his inadvertently slapstick attempt at humour because I had reported to him the appearance of a new commercial sign ‘Royal Quarter’ not far from the former Army & Navy Stores in Victoria. Apart from the presence of Buckingham Palace round the corner, there is very little royal about the area, which is identified by its proximity to Victoria station.

Then I came across the Chelsea Quarter Café in the King’s Road, which later I discovered was part of the same chain behind the Royal Quarter sign, run by a husband and wife who are ‘passionate’ (see Mind your language, 18 April) ‘about delivering fresh food’. This is not, I think, delivering like a pizza company, but delivering like a stagecoach passenger to a highwayman. Anyway, they have ‘carefully grown the Quarter concept’. Grown here has the sense ‘developed’, not the traditional one of planting and watering. The result is a ‘buzzing and warm eatery’. The buzzing is atmospheric, I take it, like the effect of a stimulant, rather than the hum of flies or bees. I do not blame the Quarter people for deploying the voguish vocabulary of passion, delivering, growing and buzzing, for this is the King’s Road, where worse things happen, such as the naming of the nearby boot shop ‘R Soles’.

I am, however, a little worried about the spread of quarter. Old Jerusalem has four quarters, Barcelona its Gothic quarter, Rome has for quarters its 22 rioni, but in England the term is not traditional. Birmingham now promotes its ‘Jewellery Quarter’, which was historically called Hockley. In 2011 Birmingham council said it was changing the name of the Gun Quarter (a small area, much of it obliterated by the multi-lane St Chad’s Queensway), but it was the ‘Gun’ it didn’t like, preferring ‘St George and St Chad’s Quarter’. The trouble is that quarter has fallen into the hands of heritage tourism executives, making its use artificial and twee.

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  • dalai guevara

    Britain cherishes its quarters, London was divided and developed in quarters for hundreds of years. Tyburn, the City, Primrose Hill, Spitalfields, the Barbican, the Olympic village – they are technically all quarters old and new.

    Today Manchester gains from the identity of its distinct quarters, the Northern Quarter, Spinningfields, Chinatown, the Universities district and so on. Birmingham, Glasgow, Liverpool, Newcastle/Gateshead all feature similar areas.

    Is this an American/NY model on offer sold to us? No. Many European cities with or without historic moat structures are also sectioned in quarters. It prevents undesirable urban sprawl, it defines the character of spaces and the public realm.

    • foxoles

      It is you who should be sectioned.

    • VUNCOOL .

      Not if it just adds some useless name to somewhere with no genuine historical merit: Ipswich, bless it, describes some development land near the docks as the Mint Quarter, on the grounds that the Anglo-Saxons stamped some semi-literate groats (or whatever) there 1100 years ago.
      Just allows people to describe it as the Hole with the Mint! (very old joke).

  • justejudexultionis

    Oh the sufferings of the English middle classes!

  • global city

    British planning overwhelmed the historic quarters of most cities. In exchange they developed ‘zones’ instead, limiting the mix of uses and organic development so characteristic of good cities. Thankfully this has been changing over the last 20 years or so.

  • ill-liberal

    Liverpool has 5 doesn’t it ??

  • logdon

    Manchester gains from the identity of its distinct quarters

    You jest.

    It’s all bullshit.