There was a problem at the supermarket checkout yesterday – “Unexpected monarch in the bagging area.”
The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh, Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall were making a historic visit to Poundbury, the town created by the prince on the outskirts of Dorchester, southeast England, 25 years ago.
They toured the town before the Queen unveiled a statue to her mother that sits in its appropriately named Queen Mother Square.
At the upmarket supermarket the Queen and Duke were introduced to tenant farmers who supply its milk. The Queen seemed genuinely intrigued by the bewildering array of cheeses available in the speciality cheese counter. It’s not clear how often she visits supermarkets.
After that it was on to the regally named Jubilee Hall, Royal Pavilion and – again aptly titled – Duchess of Cornwall Inn, before the unveiling in the square.
“Twenty-five years ago all this was a mere dream,” Prince Charles told the crowd, adding: “To most people… a completely mad dream.”
He acknowledged his architectural vision had not been to everyone’s liking and continued, “Battling against the tide is an uncomfortable experience, I can assure you.”
The Queen then unveiled the statue, a replica of one standing in the Mall, London. Then she and the Duke went home while Prince Charles propped up the bar at the inn as his wife pulled the first pints of – yes – the Duchess ale.
He declared a toast to “The Duchesses” while his wife, whose preferred drink is a glass of red wine, told guests to laughter and applause: “God bless all who drink in her.”
A quarter-century after its founding on land belonging to the Duchy of Cornwall, the long-ridiculed Poundbury seems to be winning over the doubters.
Architecturally, Poundbury is a merry riot.
The Butter Cross bakery is dressed as an early 19th-century brick gazebo, crowned with a gilded fibreglass orb. It looks on to a little square, where cast-iron verandahs face off against a creamy terrace, watched over by a neoclassical office block raised on an arcaded plinth.
Nearby, the new Queen Mother Square has cranked up the dial to full Greco-Roman.
A doric colonnade marches along the front of the new supermarket, facing the yellow Strathmore House. A palatial pile that could have been airlifted in from St Petersburg, Strathmore contains eight luxury apartments beneath its royal-crested pediment. Next door stands the white stone pub, based on Palladio’s Convento della Carita in Venice.
Now two-thirds complete, this community boasts more than 3000 residents, 1500 homes (35% let at affordable rent) and 2000 jobs in 185 businesses.
The streets are winding to calm traffic, with blind bends and no signage. Each neighbourhood is planned to be no more than five minutes walk to its centre.
However a survey shows car use is higher in Poundbury than the surrounding rural district. The free-for-all parking policy has turned many streets into a carpark for Dorchester shoppers.
The chief success has been achieving a true mixed-use community. As well as medical clinics and vets, legal and accountants’ offices, travel agents and a funeral home, there is a chocolate and cereal factory, a tech company making components for plane wings, and 80 small units for startup businesses.
“We sort of reinvented medieval workshops by mistake,” says Poundbury’s estate director, Simon Conibear. Small businesses make cakes and wedding dresses, curtains and electric bikes. Two-thirds are run by women.
The place has impressive energy credentials: farm waste powers up to 56,000 homes and charges the electric bus to and from Dorchester.
But the prince’s vision of being true to local architecture and natural materials has been discarded. Most of the stone is reconstituted, facades hide steel frames and blockwork walls, and much of the “metalwork” is painted fibreglass.