A royal revolution: is Prince Charles’s model village having the last laugh?

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A royal revolution: is Prince Charles's model village having the last laugh?
Butter Cross bakery in Poundbury / © Chris Vile

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A royal revolution: is Prince Charles's model village having the last laugh?
Butter Cross bakery in Poundbury / © Chris Vile

Poundbury, the Prince of Wales’s traditionalist village in Dorset, has long been mocked as a feudal Disneyland. But a growing and diverse community suggests it’s getting a lot of things right

In a room of raw concrete block walls and exposed steel beams, a man with a long hipster beard takes an order on his iPad and froths up a flat white. Young mums and retired couples sit at long communal tables among Wi-Fi workers. It could be a trendy east London cafe in a repurposed industrial space, but this is the centre of Poundbury, the Prince of Wales’s traditionalist model village in Dorset. And there’s not a doily or tweed jacket in sight.

“It’s not quite what most people expect,” says Ben Pentreath, one of the architects who have been engaged in producing replica Georgian terraces and quaint country cottages here over the last two decades. In jeans and New Balance trainers, the designer isn’t quite what you would expect from a classical architect, either. “For 20 years, this place has been treated as a joke, a whim of HRH,” he says. “But something quietly radical has been going on – and it’s got nothing to do with architecture.”

It is easy to get distracted by the buildings. From flint-clad cottages and Scottish baronial villas to Palladian mansions and miniature pink gothic castles, Poundbury is a merry riot of porticoes and pilasters, mansards and mouldings, sampling from the rich history of architectural pattern books with promiscuous glee. On the outside of its breeze-block walls, Pentreath’s Butter Cross bakery is dressed as an early 19th-century brick gazebo, crowned with a gilded fibreglass orb. It looks on to a little market square, where cast-iron verandahs face off against a creamy rendered terrace, watched over by a neoclassical office block that is raised on an arcaded plinth. It might seem grand for a village square, but it’s nothing compared with the latest set-piece tableau a few streets away, unveiled by the Queen today. […]

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