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How They Live: Prime Ministers, Presidents and Miners

October 1, 2009
House for Sale?        (Photo by Lara604)

House for Sale? (Photo by Lara604)

Accustomed as we are to presidential nests like the Bushes’ Kennebunkport, the Hyannis Port spread littered with Kennedys, and Nixon’s hidey-holes at San Clemente and Key Biscayne, it’s refreshing for an American to read in the Guardian that the address of former Prime Minister Tony Blair for more than 20 years was in a modest onetime pitmen’s terrace (rowhouses for miners). The Blairs have lived far more poshly in London since his premiership began, but are just now selling their house in his County Durham constituency, asking £300,000, which is 10 times what they paid for it in 1983, says The Guardian.

Admittedly, the four-bedroom residence was home to a pit manager rather than an ordinary miner and, as such, is a desirable end unit, which gets more light, as any townhouse dweller will tell you.

Wapping Food -- whopping good.

Wapping Food -- whopping good.

Socio-economic implications of legislators’ lifestyles aside, it’s interesting to recall how — like the textile mills converted to outlet shops in Reading, Pennsylvania — Britain’s gritty former industrial sites now seek new uses, from housing government ministers to hanging great art (the Tate Modern) or, in another disused power plant, feeding culture vultures at Wapping Food, where I enjoyed a deliciously fresh meal of plaice in June 2008:

Wapping Food, a temple to new art, fresh cuisine and old machinery.

Wapping Food, a temple to new art, fresh cuisine and old machinery.

The mines of southern Wales once provided all of England with fully half its power needs. As the seams gave out, though, and the industry died, economic devastation followed. But the village of Blenaevon (in Welsh/Cymru: Blenaefon) won designation as a museum industrial history, drawing visitors’ Euros and pounds and dollars with interactive tours of both its former colliery and iron smelter. We visited on a gray day this summer:The Big Pit at Blenaefon wasn't always a museum, giving up its last pebbles of coal in the 1980s.

The Big Pit at Blenaefon wasn’t always a museum. It surrendered its last pebbles of coal in the 1980s.

Blenaevon Ironworks. Mining and smelting made the town rich -- but killed many of its citizens. Today, it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Blenaevon Ironworks. Mining and smelting made the town rich -- but killed many of its citizens. Today, it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site

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