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  • Writer's pictureRoss Moughtin

The loneliness caused by corridors



Will there be corridors in God’s new heaven and earth, in his glorious future?  Probably not.

 

Personally I blame John Thorpe who in 1597 was the first architect ever to introduce “the humble and now-ubiquitous corridor” in his design for the "Great House" in Chelsea, so allowing independent access to rooms. 

 

Previously, as all members of the National Trust will know, grand houses had a so-called enfilade arrangement of rooms in which each room led to the next via connecting internal doors.  I remember thinking as we walked through the just-restored Windsor Palace that the residing king or queen would have had zero privacy. 

 

(But since writing that sentence I have discovered from the Financial Times, no less, that the Victorians, great fans of the corridor, introduced the Grand Corridor into the palace to divide the ceremonial rooms from the private apartments where Victoria and Albert retreated from view.)

 

You probably don’t know this but I also learned from the FT, that “in 1716, the Duchess of Marlborough was not pleased with Sir John Vanbrugh’s design for her new home, Blenheim Palace. What on earth was he doing with this weird distribution of rooms? The architect scrambled to explain: ‘The word Corridoor, Madam, is foreign, and signifies in plain English, no more than a passage.’”

 

In fact, this was the problem with our vicarage in Rochdale, extended some years before it became a vicarage.  This meant that to enter our main lounge, where we would have meetings, you had to walk through the dining room, where our children would be watching television.   

 

I like to think that they got used to this arrangement on the basis that they knew of no other life in which total strangers would not casually stroll through their personal space, and then some time later, back again.

 

In a word, we value our privacy – especially  if you are English.  And so we need corridors. 

 

So why all this fuss about corridors?

 

Just yesterday I read a fascinating article in the Times by James Marriott on the causes of the pervasive loneliness which currently bedevils our society.  Witness this morning’s headline:  One million more people cite mental health battle.

 

Essentially, he argues, that we have become “hyperindividualistic,” aiming to live our lives just focussing on our needs as individuals while being wary of any commitment, any involvement with the community.   In this he quotes the French historian Philippe Ariès; “Until the end of the 17th century nobody was ever left alone.’

 

For most of human history, Marriott argues, loneliness was not only undesirable but “virtually impossible”. People lived, worked, ate and slept together. The whole meaning of a person’s life was bound up with others to a degree that is now difficult to comprehend.

 

And this is where corridors come in. “To shut oneself up in a room alone was regarded as an act of remarkable eccentricity and it was only in the 18th century that houses began to be regularly built with such modern guarantees of comfortable solitude as locks, private fireplaces and corridors.”

 

For me, this is the biggest challenge facing the church. Not so much secularism but individualism, when we put our own needs ahead of the needs of the community. 

 

So many Christians – or people who consider themselves Christians – do not belong to a local church, essentially for the reason it no longer suits them.  How often have I heard (especially  if I had been preaching): “I did not get anything out of that service.”

 

I’ve just spent a few days in North Wales.  You cannot be but amazed at the huge number of chapels, now nearly all re-purposed or derelict.  Hundreds of them, witnessing not just to the religious faith of a previous generation but more, their commitment to community. Even in the poorest of areas, where to build such a solid building would have been a financial strain.  

 

Hell, in C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, is a consequence of individualism run amok. Everyone in Hell has his or her own house, and they move farther and farther apart as time passes.  He could be describing a modern executive housing estate: “You can see the lights of the inhabited houses, where those old ones live, millions of miles away. Millions of miles from us and from one another.”

 

As Christians, as the body of Christ, we may serve our local ‘community’, just by being church.  It is well documented that for many places only the church offers community:  food banks, school pastors, debt counselling.  Anything where a communal response is needed,

 

I recall Martyn Lewis, of Money Saving Expert fame, singing the praises of Christians Against Poverty: “CAP are unsurpassed when it comes to the debt help they give people across the country.”

 

Of course, we become Christians as individuals.  Only I can decide to surrender my life to Christ -   no one can do it for me.  But as we submit to Christ, the Holy Spirit binds us together;  to say the least, not an easy exercise.  But he keeps at it, in every age and culture. 

 

So the writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews urges us to persevere: “Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.”

 

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