Category Archives: London Books

Hitler Passed This Way

At the end of the last war, there were a range of booklets published by local authorities, postal and transport organisations, police, fire service etc. documenting London at war and their participation in the six years during which the destruction of the city would be at a level not seen since the Great Fire of London. These were published quickly, and reading them they have a common theme of wanting to set on record the challenges of the last six years before the country quickly moved on to what was hoped to be a period of reconstruction and prosperity. I have already featured two of these booklets, “It Can Now Be Revealed” and “The Post Office Went To War”.

My father bought a large number of these as they were published, and in this week’s post I want feature another of these publications.

“Hitler Passed This Way” records the damage across London following years of bombing by using before and after photos to show what had been lost. The booklet also provides a short history and a record of the casualties at each location. Looking through the photos, there are some where my father also took photos of the same area, some almost identical. I have found this in a number of books where I suspect he went out to photo the scenes recorded in many of the London books he owned.

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The introduction to the booklet reads as follows:

“In these pages are pictured examples of what Hitler, would-be world conqueror, did to London during four years and seven months of relentless and intensive bombing.

They present the aftermath of the new kind of war in which non-combatants were to be killed off like insects, and their homes, hospitals, schools and churches were to be smashed to pieces. This tremendous and forceful terrorism was to reduce all opposition to cringing, whimpering fear, and easy subjection. And this it partly did in Europe for a time.

Many times from September, 1940, until March 1945, did Hitler single out London for his major effort of destruction. The docks, the City, the east end, the west end, north and south London, the railways, the bridges and the suburbs, all had their turns of high explosive bombs, great and small. Night after night Hitler rained incendiary bombs on London. He dropped huge land mines by parachute to wipe out whole districts. To make certain the killing of large numbers of non-combatants, women and children alike, he employed delayed action bombs of devilish ingenuity.

London took these grave wounds, month after month, year after year, with heroic fortitude, as all the world knows. In course of time damage will be repaired and vacant spaces gradually will be filled. But what Hitler did to London, must never be forgotten. It is believed these photographs will help us to remember well, and to pass on our grim, hard memories of 1939-1945 to the generations to come.”

So, to continue the aim of the last paragraph of the introduction, here are a sample of the photos and text from “Hitler Passed This Way”:

St. Anselm’s Prep School, Park Lane, Croydon

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John Lewis, Oxford Street

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All Hallows, Barking. Tower Hill

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Brewers Quay, Tower Stairs

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On the far right of the above photo is the tower of the church of All Hallows. My father took a photo of the remains of the church from the bombed area in the above photo. This is his photo below:

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St. James’s Church, Piccadilly

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Sloane Square Underground Station

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Manchester Hotel, Aldersgate Street

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Negretti & Zambra, Holborn Circus

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The Ring, Blackfriars Road

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Cordwainers’ Hall, Cannon Street

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The Salvation Army, Queen Victoria Street

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Chelsea Old Church

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My father’s photo of Chelsea Old Church is below, almost identical to the one in the booklet.

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St. Giles Without, Cripplegate

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My father took a number of photos across this area that would later become the Barbican development which would obliterate the streets and lanes that had occupied this area for hundreds of years. I plan a future post on the landscape that now lies beneath the Barbican in the future.

In the lower photo above, to the left of the church can be seen part of the Redross Street Fire Station. It was here that London Fire Brigade Commander, Sir Aylmer Firebrace spent part of the night of the 29th December 1940 and later recorded the following:

“In the control room a conference is being held by senior London Fire Brigade (LFB) officers. How black – or, more realistically, how red – is the situation, only those who have recently been in the open realise.

One by one the telephone lines fail; the heat from the fires penetrates to the control room and the atmosphere is stifling. earlier in the evening, after a bomb falls near, the station lights fail – a few shaded electric hand lamps now supply bright pin-point lights in sharp contrast  to a few oil lamps and some perspiring candles.

The firewomen on duty show no sign of alarm, though they must know, from the messages passing, as well as from the anxious tones of the officers, that the situation is approaching the desperate.

A women fire officer arrives; she had been forced to evacuate the sub-station to which she was attached, the heat having caused its asphalt yard to burst into flames. It is quite obvious that it cannot be long before Reccross Street Fire Station, nearly surrounded by fire will have to be abandoned.

The high wind which accompanies conflagrations is now stronger than ever, and the air is filled with a fierce driving rain of red-hot sparks and burning brands. The clouds overhead are a rose-pink from the reflected glow of the fires, and fortunately it is bright enough to pick our way eastward down Fore Street. Here fires are blazing on both sides of the road; burnt-out and abandoned fire appliances lie smouldering in the roadway, their rubber tyres completely melted. the rubble from collapsed buildings lying three and four feet deep makes progress difficult in the extreme. Scrambling and jumping, we use the bigger bits of masonry as stepping stones, and eventually reach the outskirts of the stricken area.

A few minutes later L.F.B. officers wisely evacuate Redcross Street Fire Station, and now the only way of escape for the staff and for the few pump crews remaining in the area lies through Whitecross Street (also now lost under the Barbican development)”.

The Monster Public House, Pimlico

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Isaac Walton’s Shop And Distribution Centre, Elephant and Castle

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The Stadium Club, High Holborn

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Twinings, Devereux Court

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Pancras Square, Pancras Road

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The Shaftesbury Theatre

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Britannia Theatre, Hoxton Street, Shoreditch

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Whitefield Memorial Church, Tottenham Court Road

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Jamaica Road, Bermondsey

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Pollock’s Toy Theatre Shop, Hoxton Street, Shoreditch

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Shops In Lordship Lane, East Dulwich

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Market, Corner Of Farringdon Road And Charterhouse Street

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Hughes Mansions, Vallance Road, Stepney

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The booklet provides a summary of the damage and casualties across London:

In the London Region:

Hitler killed 29,890 civilians and injured (detained in hospital) 50,497 civilians.

Hitler destroyed or damaged beyond repair, more that 100,000 houses and damaged about 1,650,000 houses. (In 10 months he damaged by rockets and flying bombs over 1,000,000 houses.)

687 air raid incidents affected hospitals, or kindred institutions, in London region. 84 such incidents were caused by flying bombs and 33 by rockets. 326 hospitals, or kindred institutions were actually hit.

In the Square Mile of the City of London:

Hitler destroyed buildings covering 164 acres out of the 450 acres of built-up land.

Hitler destroyed or heavily damaged 20 City livery company’s halls.

Hitler destroyed or damaged heavily, 4 medieval churches, and 2 other churches of historic value – all in the City of London.

It can be rather depressing to read of the number of casualties and the lost buildings across London, however the booklet really does achieve its target: “It is believed these photographs will help us remember well, and to pass on our grim, hard memories of 1939-1945 to the generations to come”.

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London Books

Books have probably been written about London for as long as books have been published. London books cover specific areas and topics, general guides, histories, picture and photo books etc. I suspect that a book has been written about any London topic you could think off.

My own collection of London books, starting with the books my father bought from the 1940s onwards, probably numbers around 450 and ranges from a 1756 edition of William Maitland’s History and Survey of London through to recently published books such as Up In Smoke – The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station by Peter Watts.

Second hand bookshops are always a good hunting ground, although today there are not that many to be found, however last Saturday on a trip out to Canterbury I found a good one and bought an excellent history of Chelsea by Thea Holme from 1972 for £6.50.

Since starting this blog, I have had the pleasure of meeting a number of people who have a knowledge of London that far exceeds mine, one of these is Hawk Norton, a collector of London books whose collection is larger than mine by several orders of magnitude.

I first found out about Hawk through an article on Londonist and have since made a number of visits to his collection in Brentford and have probably purchased far too many books than my limited shelf space will support.

Hawk has been collecting London books for several decades however for the last year has been selling much of his collection. If you are interested in London, or books (or ideally a combination of the two), I recommend getting in touch with Hawk via his e-mail ( hawk@btinternet.com ) to request the latest copy of his list of books or to arrange a visit, although be careful with a visit as if like me, you will leave with more books than you had planned on arrival.

A small part of Hawk’s collection of London Books:

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And an equally impressive collection of maps:

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My own collection of London books is much smaller, however here is a selection that provide a snapshot of the wide range of books that have been published about London over the years.

One of the first comprehensive and published history or survey of London is that of John Stow which was first published in 1598. A second edition was published in 1603. Unfortunately I do not have either of these original versions, but I do have a 1908 reprint of the 1603 publication. This version has two volumes and the books are a detailed survey of London at the end of the 16th Century, almost a street by street walk through of London with a description of the City Wards, main streets, churches, houses, historical characters etc. Stow has been the original reference for much later writing.

The next major survey is that of William Maitland who published his “History and Survey of London From Its Foundation to the Present Time” in 1739. I do not have the first edition, but I do have a copy of the 1756 edition, published in two large volumes as a detailed history and survey of London,

William Maitland was a Scottish merchant who lived in London for a time, returning to Scotland in 1740.

The title page from Maitland’s History and Survey of London:

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Maitland’s book has a large number of prints of major buildings across London and also many City Ward maps. Over the years, the prints and maps from early books are often removed and sold separately for a higher amount than if they were contained within the book, however when they do survive, along with the text they provide a fantastic view of London from the mid 18th Century.

Map of Walbrook and Dowgate Wards from Maitland’s History and Survey of London, including drawings of the churches of St. Stephen Walbrook and St. Michael, Royal College Hill.

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Soon after Maitland’s book, Henry Chamberlain published his History and Survey of London in 1770. The title page of Chamberlain’s book contains a wonderful dedication to the city:

Hail chief of Cities, whose immortal Name

Stands foremost in the glorious List of Fame;

Whose Trade and Splendor roll on Thames’s Tide,

Unrivall’d still by all the World beside.

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Chamberlain’s book also contains prints of various buildings, streets and events within the city as well as a “A New and Correct Plan of London, Westminster and Southwark with the New Buildings to the Year 1770”

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Click on the map is open a larger version. It is fascinating to see the state of London in 1770. To the north is the New River Head at Sadlers Wells, to the east is the cluster of buildings at Bethnall Green, still separate from the city and surrounded by fields. South of the river, the city is expanding out from the southern end of London Bridge and in 1770 there were only three bridges over the Thames, Westminster Bridge, Blackfriars Bridge and London Bridge.

The southern end of Westminster Bridge opens out mainly into fields. There are also interesting little details, follow the Lambeth Road and there is a building named Dog and Duck, this was described as a “notorious pleasure garden and haunt of prostitutes in the 18th century.”  The site of the Dog and Duck is now the Imperial War Museum. Along the river, the map also shows how many stairs there were down to the river, each individually named enabling the traveler to find the right stairs to meet a boatman.

Moving into the 19th century and my next major survey of London is the six volume set, “Old and New London: A Narrative of Its History, Its People, And Its Places”.

The first two volumes were by Walter Thornbury and published in 1873 with an extended six volume edition published in 1878 with the last four volumes by Edward Walford.

These six volumes provide a detailed history of London, and illustrate how London had grown since the 18th century books. Old and New London covers central London, but now also includes “the suburbs”, a new 19th century word to cover the ever-expanding city.

As well as a detailed written account of the city and suburbs, Old and New London has a large amount of drawings of all aspects of the city, the following being a typical example and is titled “Ancient View of Cheapside (From La Serre’s ‘Entree de la Reyne Mere du Roy’ showing the Procession of Mary de Medicis”.

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In the time before photography and the mass printing of photographs in books, drawings such as this were the only way of conveying the visual sense of a place or event to the reader and Old and New London is probably one of the last major history and surveys of London before photography takes over.

As well as major books detailing the history of the whole of London, there are also many covering specific areas. One of these, which I bought from a bookshop in Launceston, Cornwall is the “History of the United Parishes of St. Giles In The Fields and St. George Bloomsbury” by Rowland Dobie and published in 1829. This is a fascinating book, not just because of the history of these parishes, but also the context in which the book was written. The preface to the book tells the story of a corrupt Vestry and the efforts of the parishioners to regain control which culminated in a court case when “the decision of a British Jury has established the long lost rights of the parishioners of St. Giles, by the overthrow of a pretended Select Vestry, whose authority had been exercised uncontrolled and with some deductions during more than two hundred years. This glorious triumph was achieved on the 23rd of July 1829, a day ever to be recorded in the annals of these parishes.”

I doubt that many people today walking the streets of these parishes to the east of Tottenham Court Road and south to Lincolns Inn Fields will be aware of the glorious triumph, but it is a fascinating insight into the way in which parishes were run and administered in the centuries leading up to more formal governance in the 19th century.

To conclude the preface to his book, written on the 15th December 1829, Dobie wrote:

“Finally, no exertion has been spared to render the Work both instructive and entertaining; and above all, to make it a faithful record of parochial government, where abuses and malversations are notorious, and thereby guarding the parishioners in future from similar evils. If I have succeeded in these objects, even in a remote degree, my end is answered – they are more invaluable in my estimation than the hope of profit, or the gratification of vanity.

As well as a detailed written account of the parishes, Dobie’s book included an excellent, fold out map of the area as shown below:

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Again, clicking on this should open a larger copy of this detailed map. In the bottom left hand corner is the area just east of the Charing Cross Road and Tottenham Court Road junction where the major Crossrail and associated developments are currently taking place. The map includes Denmark Street which so far, is the southern boundary of the current developments, but is a street undergoing major change.

Books were often published to commemorate the opening of a new building. One such book was published in 1932 by the British Broadcasting Corporation to commemorate the opening of Broadcasting House at the corner of Portland Place and Langham Street. I found this in a second-hand bookshop in Leigh on Sea on the 15th February 1975 – according to the inscription on the inside of the book, my parents bought it for me for “a reasonable report”, I think the word “reasonable” probably tells you all you need to know about my latest school report, but luckily they still bought me the book.

The book provides a detailed account about the new building, specially built for the BBC. It contains plans of the building and photos of all the major rooms, studios and facilities, including lots of technical details. Who knew that Studio 8A used for Orchestral and Band Music had a reverberation time of 1.1 seconds.

The building design was heavily influenced by the Art Deco style of architecture and this extended to the plans in the book. The following shows a cut away side view of Broadcasting House with all the key rooms and studios labelled.

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Broadcasting House is still there, with a recent, very large extension and is the main London location for the BBC following the closure of Television Centre and the gradual move out of White City.

Continuing with maps, and the publication of the London County Council Bomb Damage Maps provides a detailed, street by street view of the damage caused by bombing across London. These are fascinating for research and show both the concentration of damage and also how random bombing could be.

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My latest find was “Chelsea” by Thea Holme and published in 1972. I found this last weekend in the excellent second-hand bookshop, The Chaucer Bookshop in the wonderfully named Beer Cart Lane in Canterbury. Continuing on the style of books from the 18th and 19th centuries, this book also has a large fold out map covering Chelsea detailing “Vanished Places” and “Places still in existence”. One of the Vanished Places is the Chelsea Bun House in Pimlico Road, a celebrated Bun House in Chelsea and home of the original Chelsea Bun. It was demolished in 1839.

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Other interesting books include the various County of London Development Plans. These provide both a snapshot of London at the time of publication along with plans for the future, some of which were built, others were not. These books frequently included highly detailed maps covering various aspects of the city, some of which I have featured in previous posts. In the 1951 Administrative Plan, there is a page summarising post war development in London, what had already been built by 1951.

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From the top left and reading left to right:

  • Sayes Court, Greenwich, a new open space
  • Flats at Lansbury Neighbourhood, Poplar
  • Flats at Tulse Hill Estate
  • Houses at Somerfield Estate, hackney
  • Model of Lansbury Neighbourhood
  • Bessemer Grange Primary School, Camberwell
  • Flats at Clapham Common
  • Parliament Square Improvement
  • Flats at Charlton Village
  • Chaucer Restaurant, Deptford
  • Flats at Somerford Estate, hackney
  • Flats at Brett Mannor, Hackney
  • River Wall at South Bank
  • Flats at Elder Street, Lambeth
  • Sayes Court, Greenwich
  • Old People’s Home, Plumstead
  • Flats at Bishops Bridge Road, Paddington
  • Royal Festival Hall
  • Flats at Pimlico. Westminster
  • Blackwall Point Power Station
  • House at Fitzroy Park, Highgate
  • Flats at St. Pancras Way
  • Surrey Lock Bridge
  • Sculpture in Battersea Park
  • Offices in Kensington
  • Trinity Congregational Church, Lansbury Neighbourhood
  • Flats at Tulse Hill Estate
  • Susan Lawrence Primary School, Lansbury

Reading these Development Plans, the aim of building for Londoners is very apparent. Not a single luxury apartment for sale as an investment.

My final book in this review of London Books, is Liber Albus: The White Book of the City of London.

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The copy I have is the edition published in 1861 and translated from the original Latin and Anglo-Norman.

The introduction to Liber Albus states that “It is a fact, not the less true because not universally known that there is no city in existence in possession of a collection of archives so ancient and so complete as that belonging to the City of London.”

“From these archives, as they existed in the year of Our Lord 1419, combined probably with other sources of information now lost or unknown, the Liber Albus, or White Book, is a compilation prepared in the last Mayoralty of Richard Whittington, for the instruction and guidance of those to whom, before they should have gained the experience of old age, the governance of the City, or the management of its affairs and interests, might under circumstances of emergency be entrusted.”

Liber Albus provides a fascinating insight into the day-to-day life of the medieval city and the rules that applied to the inhabitants of the City, two examples:

Of Strangers

And that no freeman of the City shall hold partnership with a strange man, or avow the merchandise of a strange man, whereby the King or his bailiffs of the City may lose custom upon the same; and this, under pain of losing the freedom.

Of Rebellious Persons

And that there be no one who shall make resistance in deed or in word unto the serjeants of the bailiffs of the City; and be it ordered, that no one shall molest them in making execution upon judgments, attachments, distresses, or other things which unto such bailiffs pertain to do, under pain of imprisonment. But if any one shall consider that the bailiff has done him wrong, let him make his suit thereon before his superiors, and have his recovery before those unto whom it pertains to make amends.

The above represent a very tiny sample of the vast number of London books published over the centuries, half a book shelf in a large library. Many are now online, but holding a physical book and turning the pages provides a more physical connection with the author and the time the book was published, rather than scrolling on a screen. Books about London continue to be published, some of the new books I have purchased over the last year include:

  • Dirty Old London by Lee Jackson
  • London Night and Day by Matt Brown
  • The Isle of Dogs During World War II by Mick Lemmerman
  • Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station by Peter Watts
  • East End by John Claridge

And I am sure that more will be published in the years to come – my only problem is finding enough shelf space.

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It Can Now Be Revealed

It Can Now Be Revealed – not a tabloid headline but the title of a booklet printed in 1945 by the British Railways Press Office telling the story of the railways during the war and ending with hopes for a brighter transport future. This booklet was one of many that were issued in the immediate years after the 2nd World War by organisations such as the Railways, the Post Office, the Police, all the various branches of the armed forces, individual London boroughs along with towns and cities across the country.

My father bought a number of these as they were published and they make fascinating reading and give the impression of an urgent need to record what happened between 1939 and 1945 before the country quickly moved on to reconstruction and the hoped for brighter future.

For this week’s post, I would like to introduce two of these booklets: The Post Office Went To War, and to start with, the title of the post – It Can Now Be Revealed, More About The British Railways In Peace And War:

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It Can Now Be Revealed has three main themes: how the railways contributed to the war effort, how the railways responded to the damage inflicted by bombing and a look to the future. In covering the railways, the booklet fully covers the London Transport Passenger Board where workshops and staff quickly moved from supporting London’s transport network to the manufacture of components and equipment for the war effort.

Pre-war, the rail network and the London Passenger Transport Board all had considerable engineering and manufacturing resources and these were immediately converted into wartime production. During the almost six years of war, these resources produced vast amounts of equipment of all types covering bombs, guns, boats, tanks, gliders and some very specialised equipment. The following photo shows one such item of specialised equipment produced by the Railway and London Transport workshops – a machine to help with the repair and installation of bridges.

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London Transport, along with a number of road transport concerns, was part of the London Aircraft Production Group. The Group rapidly set up manufacturing resources and within fourteen months the first aircraft manufactured by the Group took flight and by the middle of 1944, the London Aircraft Production Group had built 503 Halifax bombers.

London Transport were able to make use of underground facilities for the secure manufacturing of aircraft components. The following photo shows once such production facility:

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To give some idea of the breadth of equipment manufactured by London Transport, from the outbreak of war to 1944, London Transport had manufactured: 8,000 forgings for guns, 20,000 gun components, 80,000 sea mine components, 102,000 road vehicle parts and 158,000 2 inch shells as well as aircraft, bridges, tanks etc.

Transporting staff to the Railway and London Transport factories was a major effort as well as maintaining a degree of normal services. London’s buses were used for factory transport as well as continuing to provide services across the city and during the periods when bombing was at its peak there was considerable disruption with crowding on many of the routes across the city.

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In the build up to war there was a considerable amount of planning and preparation to provide the staff of the rail networks with the equipment needed to protect the system and to install equipment to prevent damage. A serious concern with the London Underground system was the risk of flooding. This was a very real risk if the Thames embankment was breached or if bombing damaged water mains or sewers.

Floodgates were installed at a number of underground stations, including Waterloo, Charing Cross and the Strand stations. These were electrically operated floodgates installed across tunnels and connecting passages. The following photo shows one of the gates being tested at Charing Cross station.

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The booklet recorded many of the incidents of damage across the rail network and the efforts that went in to restore the rail network as quickly as possible. Damage across the network was considerable, from the earliest days of the war through to the V1 and V2 weapons with both the above ground and underground networks suffering.

The booklet records an example of what happened when a V1 fell on the rail network:

“One of the worst incidents happened in the Southern. One night in August an express from Victoria bound for the Kent coast was travelling at 60 miles an hour when the girders of a bridge over a country lane less than 200 yards ahead of the train were damaged by a flying bomb falling nearby. The driver saw the explosion and at once threw on the brakes, but before he could bring the train to a stand it had reached the bridge, which collapsed when the engine, tender and leading coach had passed over. As a result the engine and tender were derailed about 100 feet from the bridge and the two first coaches were flung at right angles to the track. the third vehicle in the train got across, together with the leading end of the fourth, which came to a rest spanning the gap and supported on the damaged abutment. In the road beneath were poised four bogies torn from coaches. Eight persons, including a permanent way man who was on the bridge at the time, were killed and sixteen seriously injured, but strenuous efforts on the part of the railway engineers prevented serious dislocation to traffic. The damaged rolling stock was removed and a temporary bridge of two spans of 50 feet girders speedily erected, the outer ends of the girders being supported by bearing pads on the approach embankments and the centre by a steel trestle built in the middle of the roadway with the aid of a mobile crane. The relaying of the tracks was then quickly completed and within 66 hours of the incident both lines were again open for traffic.”

Which certainly brings the challenges of today’s commute into context.

Photos within the booklet show the considerable damage across the rail network including the following photo showing damage to the Hungerford railway bridge, taken from the southern end of the bridge looking north towards Charing Cross station.

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The booklet concludes with a positive view of the future with the final chapter opening with the sentence “The British Railways and London Transport are determined to regain and surpass their peacetime standards of public service”.

This included plans for new stations and rolling stock. This was urgently needed as there had been hardly any new building during the war years and the rail and underground networks were suffering from pre-war infrastructure, wartime damage and temporary repair and minimum maintenance.

The following photo shows an example of new carriage construction and the title to the photo highlights one of the benefits being “improved lighting”.

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Along with a presumably a new design of first class compartment judging by the telephone handset below the window, presumably so that a first class passenger could call for service.

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As well as new rolling stock, the booklet looked forward to new stations that would be built in the post war period. The station was described as the “shop” in which railway transport is sold. The booklet describes the facilities that will be provided at these new stations:

“The future British railway station will incorporate as spacious a concourse as possible, equipped with all the facilities that passengers need, conveniently situated and easily identifiable. Both concourse and public rooms will be light, cheerful and attractively decorated. News theatres (no idea what these were), newsagents, fruiterers, chemists, confectioners shops and Post Office facilities will be included whenever needed. Special attention will be given to the standard of food, drink and service provided in the refreshment rooms. Finally the platforms will be kept as free as possible of obstructions and passengers given the clearest indication and guidance about their trains, and how to get to them, by means of carefully designed train indicators and signs, supplemented by loudspeakers.”

The booklet includes a drawing of one of the future stations, Finsbury Park which will be rebuilt “on the most modern lines”.

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It Can Now Be Revealed provides a fascinating insight into the impact of the last war on the rail networks of London and the wider country and how every aspect of the railway network and those who worked on the network were involved in one way or another in the war effort. As with many publications of the later years of the war, the booklet is also looking forward to a much brighter future with reconstruction offering the chance to significantly improve all aspects of the rail network.

The second booklet was published a year later in 1946 and titled “The Post Office Went To War”. This was in the days when the Post Office ran a wide range of services, not just letter and parcel delivery, but also the telephone and telegraph networks, radio stations for long distance calls, sub-sea cables etc.

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The extra year before publication may have allowed time for some additional graphic design as the Post Office booklet has a more interesting layout and artwork then the earlier Railways booklet published in 1945.

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The opening paragraph to Chapter One states “Throughout our history as a nation it has been our cheerful habit to declare war first and then to prepare for it”, a statement that could also apply to events over the last few decades.

The challenges that faced the Post Office started long before there was any enemy action. Within the first week after war was declared, the Post Office lost fifteen percent of staff to the Forces, immediately having an impact on the ability to continue to provide services.

The first few months of war were spent putting in new telephone circuits to coordinate the services that would defend the country, and implementing alternative circuit routing so damage to one site would not cut out a large number of critical services.

When the bombing of London started, the impact was considerable. In one night alone in September 1940, twenty-three London Post Offices were hit and damage to the road and railway networks caused many problems with the transport of mail.

London was also a hub for much of the country’s telephone network with most of the international circuits terminating in a key number of London Telephone Exchanges. Bombing could damage cable at multiple points across the city, not just in the Exchanges, but also where they ran along the streets. After bombing it was an ongoing battle to quickly reconnect damaged cables to get telephone and telegraph services back up and running. Cables would be cut and fire would cause the lead cover and insulation to melt and burn away

The following photo from the booklet shows a team of engineers working on reconnecting damaged cables, and is titled “Joining up after a raid”.

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The Post Office services hosted in London could not easily be moved out of the city. For telephone and telegraph services, the country network was design so that the majority of long distance and international calls were routed through a small set of London buildings. it was not just relocating staff from these buildings but also reconfiguring the whole network and implementing a new cabling system that would have been required to move out of London. The majority of these key services remained in central London buildings.

One of these was the Wood Street building, just north of Cheapside. This building housed three large automatic telephone exchanges, London Wall, Metropolitan and National along with Exchange services for City and Central areas. Wood Street also housed a large operator service.

On the night of the 29th December 1940, this area was very badly damaged by bombing. The building continued to operate throughout the night with operating staff working at an emergency manual switchboard in the basement of the building.

At 7pm a high explosive bomb fell close to the building blowing in all the doors and windows and the fires from the numerous incendiary bombs reached parts of the building overnight.

15,000 telephone lines terminated in Wood Street and the following morning 10,000 of these needed repair. The building itself was also badly damaged with the following photo showing one of the burnt out operator halls with the remains of operator positions lining the walls on either side.

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In the days that followed, as well as work to repair the building, equipment and cabling, one hundred telephone boxes were installed along Cheapside and Moorgate to provide temporary services.

What the operator hall should have looked like is shown in the photo below taken in the Faraday Building in Queen Victoria Street which was a hub for Trunk and International telephone services and thankfully did not suffer the same level of damage as other telephone exchanges in the city.

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The following two photos show the impact of a high explosive bomb falling in the road outside the Central Telegraph Office in King Edward Street.

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The Central Telegraph Office was the heart of the whole British telegraph system (used to transmit telegrams) and had a staff of 3,000. A telegram was how you would send a fast written short message to someone, the early 20th century version of text messaging or Whatsapp. Written messages would be delivered or phoned in to the Central Telegraph Office, typed onto a teleprinter that would send the message to a similar machine at a location closest to the recipient where it would be printed out and hand delivered.

The Central Telegraph Office had galleries dedicated to Inland and Foreign telegrams. The Inland Gallery was equipped with 500 teleprinter machines dealing with 200,000 telegrams a day.

The Central Telegraph Office was completely gutted over the night of the 29th December 1940, but was rebuilt and continued to provide service during the later years of the war. The following photo shows one of the galleries in operation.

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One of the methods to send a telegram for the businesses in the City was to phone the Central Telegraph Office and dictate the message, however with the damage to telephone cables, this was not always possible, so the Post Office stationed Telegraph Messengers at key points across the City to pick up messages and take them to the Central Telegraph Office.

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As well as telephones and telegrams, the Post Office was also responsible for the collection and delivery of letters and parcels and in London this centered on Mount Pleasant which at the time was described as the largest Post Office in the World and just prior to the start of the war employed up to 7,000 Post Office workers.

The size of Mount Pleasant was such that it was bound to be hit by bombs but did get off relatively lightly being hit nine times throughout the war years, although some of these did cause considerable damage including a single bomb that on the 18th June 1943 completely gutted the three storey parcels building.

The Post Office Railway passes through Mount Pleasant and the booklet describes the railway during the war:

“During the war the Post Office Railway , in addition to its normal duties, made its own contribution to the Post Office war effort. It furnished an admirable air-raid shelter and dormitory; a series of cots, hinged to the wall by one end, being pulled down and set right across the track when the long day’s work was done and the conductor rail had gone dead for the night.

It was also a minor casualty when in December, 1944, a V2 rocket bomb fell in Bird Street, between Selfridges and the Western District Parcels Office. Besides putting this important parcels office out of action just before Christmas, it damaged a water-main which flooded the station of the Western District Parcels Office, nearly 80 feet below to a depth of 18 inches. But the Post Office Railway is prepared for such emergencies, and the station was soon pumped clear.”

Map from the Post Office booklet showing the stations of the Post Office railway:

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An interesting couple of paragraphs in the booklet show that even in wartime, the collection of customs duties was fully in force:

“In war-time one class of parcel presents a particular problem – namely the packets of tobacco and cigarettes which may be dispatched duty-free to our Forces overseas. These are convenient to send, for all you have to do is hand an address and the requisite sum across a tobacconists counter, and a standard packet will be dispatched to your own particular sailor, solider or airman.

But if, as frequently happens, the packet cannot be delivered – possibly because the addressee has become a casualty or been transferred to another quarter of the globe – and the local authority sends it back, the nice question now arises ‘Who is to have the packet?’ Not the tobacconist for he has already been paid; nor the sender, for he has paid no duty. The Post Office solves the problem by handing over the packet to the customs authorities.”

The booklet also contains some fascinating detail of wartime mail distribution. It was possible to send letter to members of the British forces who were held as prisoners of war. An agreement was reached with Germany in 1941 allowing letters to be flown out to Lisbon where they would be handed over to the German airforce who would also hand over letters for German nationals held prisoner of war in the UK. Over 200,000 letters were sent each week from London to Lisbon for onward routing to British prisoners of war.

The booklet highlights the difficulties in maintaining the overall delivery of Post Office services, whether it was due to bombed Post Offices, damaged cabling or disruption to transport networks. Even when trying to repair the network, the impact of bombing can continue to cause problems. The following photo shows a cable drum blown from the street to the top floor of a house as a result of a bomb.

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Unlike the Railway booklet, the Post Office Went To War does not have a chapter looking forward to post war reconstruction, however it does have a section on research and features the Post Office Research Station at Dollis Hill in north-west London.

Dollis Hill was the main Post Office Research Station and carried out research into all the technologies used by the Post Office including Telephone Systems, Radio, Cables, Sub-Sea systems etc. A significant number of engineers and scientists were employed at Dollis Hill with, for example, a staff of 300 in just the Radio Section.

It was still classified information at the time the booklet was written so it was not included, however the Collossus computers used at Bletchley Park during the war to decode German signals were built at Dollis Hill. Tommy Flowers (originally from Poplar in east London) who worked at Dollis Hill proposed using electronic valves rather than mechanical relays to build the computers needed by Alan Turing at Bletchley and despite considerable resistance that a machine with such a large number of valves (1,500 upwards) would be reliable, Tommy Flowers and his team constructed the Collossus computers which more than confirmed Flowers’ view that they would be much faster and more reliable than the existing mechanical relay based systems.

The Dollis Hill Research Station:

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The Research Station moved out of London to Martlesham Heath in Suffolk during the 1970s after which Dollis Hill closed. The main building was preserved and converted into flats.The approach road to the flats has been named Flowers Close in honour of Tommy Flowers.

From the booklet, a photo of the interior of an undersea amplifier developed at Dollis Hill and used on sub-sea cable systems to amplify signals enabling telephone calls and telegrams to be sent over very long distances.

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These two booklets, along with the many others published in the same period have a common theme. Recording with pride how their respective organisations, London boroughs or towns contributed to achieving victory at the end of the war, but also a recognition that times would very soon change and these events needed to be recorded quickly before the country focused on reconstruction and the possibilities that the future would bring.

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Wonderful London

I have been collecting books about London for many years, my first purchase was in the mid 1970s in a second-hand bookshop in one of the alleys leading into Greenwich Market. It was H.V. Morton’s London, first published in 1940, a collection of three individual books published in the 1920s. H.V. Morton was a journalist and his writing about London was probably embellished somewhat, but at the time it seemed to bring alive the history and romance of London.

I recently bought a remarkable 3 volume set – Wonderful London, published in the late 1920s. It was edited by St. John Adcock (a prolific author and poet who lived in Hampstead and died in 1930) and described as “The World’s Greatest City Described by its Best Writers and Pictured by its Finest Photographers”.

Wonderful London has chapters on all aspects of the city, each written by a different author, for example “How London Strikes A Provincial” by J.B. Priestley, “The Case For Old London” by G.K. Chesterton and “Sunday In Town” by H.V. Morton.

The three volumes run to over 1100 pages and 1200 photos and provides a fantastic snapshot of London in the 1920s with the text highlighting the social attitudes of the time.

As I scanned through the book, many of the photos are of the same scenes that my father took in the late 1940s and early 1950s and which I have been photographing over the years. There are also some remarkable photos showing London in the first decades of the 20th century and for this week’s post, let me bring you a sample of photos from Wonderful London.

To start, the first photo is a fantastic aerial view of Wembley Stadium. the title to the photo is “Ants Nest Carelessly Broken Open Or Wembley Stadium Seen From The Cockpit Of An Aeroplane”. The caption to the photo reads:

“When at the end of 1925, after two years of stucco splendour, the pavilions and palaces of the British Empire Exhibition melted beneath the workmen’s hands, one building, as though in irony remained, the Wembley Stadium, solid-built as the shrine of professional football. It is symptomatic boast that the Stadium exceeds the Colosseum in size by one-half. During the period of the Exhibition the arena was used for various pageants and military displays, but it is not on record that they ever drew a crowd nearly as dense as the one on which we are gazing.”

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Continuing on the football theme, the following photo is titled “Street Hawkers Sell Football Favours At Walham Green” and has the caption:

“At Walham Green coloured favours and match programmes are for sale near Stamford Bridge, the ground of the Chelsea Football Club.”

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Walham Green is a name that is rarely heard today. Originally the name of a village in west London, dating back to at least 1383 when it was known as Wandongrene. As the above reference to Chelsea Football Club suggests, it was integrated into Chelsea and Fulham. The underground station on the District Line that is now called Fulham Broadway was originally called Walham Green. See the following scan from a 1937 underground map. The name changed to Fulham Broadway in 1952.

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Last year I published a couple of posts on the Caledonian Market, including climbing the Clock Tower which can be found here and here. Wonderful London includes a few photos of the market, including the following photo showing an overview of the market in action. The clock tower is still there, but the surroundings are now completely different.

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As well as the main cattle market, the Caledonian Market area was also the site of a Friday “pedlars’ market”  where is was possible to buy almost anything. The following photo shows the sale of poultry at the pedlars market.

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A couple of months ago, I published a photo my father took after the war of the ruins of Chelsea Old Church. In frount of this photo there is a cart with a few children. The cart appears to be an ice cream cart. In Wonderful London there is the photo below of a similar scene with the title “A Son Of Italy Does A Brisk Trade In Frozen Something-Or-Other.”

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At the end of last year, I went on the Massey Shaw Fireboat as it traveled along the Thames to demonstrate how river based firefighting was carried out. Wonderful London includes the following photo of a huge warehouse fire at Millwall with “thousands of tons of rubber are burning here besides large quantities of tallow and carpets”, being fought by fireboats on the river.

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Wonderful London includes a couple of full-page spreads showing views along the Thames. The following photo shows the original Waterloo Bridge from the top of the Savoy Hotel and is titled “Before Evil Days Fell Upon Waterloo Bridge After A Century Of London Traffic.” The caption reads:

“This is a last look at the old bridge as it was before two of its arches failed and began to take up that bent and disquieting appearance which caused the steel auxiliary to be built, the old bridge shored up and so much ink spilt about it.”

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Another of the panorama photos is the following photo taken from the roof of Bush House. The photo is looking towards the South Bank and shows the Shot Tower and the industrial area on the South Bank prior to the post war redevelopment leading to the Festival of Britain.

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It is interesting that London has always been the subject of “before and after photos”, which is also one of my aims for this blog, to take photos today of the locations my father photographed in the 1940s/50s. Wonderful London includes a number of examples, including the following two photos taken from the same position in the Strand. The first photo shows the original Temple Bar city boundary in 1878. The second photo shows exactly the same scene in the 1920s following removal of Temple Bar, widening of the street and new buildings on either side of the Strand. The location can be confirmed by building number 229 which is on the right of both photos.

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Wonderful London features a range of photos of London children, including the two photos below which are titled “A Budding Humorist Of The East-End And The Serpentine Smile”. the caption for both photos reads:

“A water-tank covered by a plank in a back-yard among the slums is an unlikely place for a stage, but an undaunted admirer of that great Cockney humorist, Charlie Chaplin, is holding his audience with an imitation of the well-known gestures  with which the comic actor indicates the care-free-though-down-and-out view of life which he has immortalised on the screen. Below is a group of summer paddlers in the Serpentine. On the extreme left is a boy holding the shafts of the inevitable sugar-box cart fixed on perambulator wheels.”

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In last week’s post I featured photos my father had taken from the river looking at the north bank of the river. One of these photos had the shell of the church of Allhallows by the Tower which had suffered severe bomb damage during the war. Wonderful London includes the following photo of the church in the 1920s, looking south. The buildings behind the church to the right are between the church and the river. The majority of the surrounding buildings would also be destroyed by bombing in just over 10 years following the decade when this photo was taken.

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Photos of views along the river with many of the earlier bridges are included. The following photo shows the view from the Adelphi Terrace looking eastward along the river. The bridge is the original Waterloo Bridge that crossed the river before the version of the bridge in place today, and was photographed after the failures mentioned in the earlier photo. The bridge has the “steel auxiliary” also mentioned above.

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The markets of London feature in Wonderful London. Here is Covent Garden, with the title “Early Morning In The Convent Garden Which Has become Covent Garden” and the caption reads:

“It seems that the Convent Garden of Westminster stretched along the north side of the Strand between Drury Lane and St. Martin-in-the-Fields. When Henry VIII made his pounce upon the monasteries and flung the pieces to his followers, the Russell family got the garden and built themselves Bedford House on the south side. They caused Inigo Jones to lay out a piazza on the north and east and a church on the west. Stalls for selling fruit and vegetables were already established. In 1704 the Russells (or Bedfords) moved to Bloomsbury, and in 1830 most of the current buildings were put up. Soon after midnight the carts start their journeys from the market gardens beyond outer London to reach Covent Garden in time.”

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Another London market is Billingsgate Market and the photo in Wonderful London below of the streets outside the market is taken from roughly the same location as one my father had taken (see here). The photo is titled “Fish-Porters Of Billingsgate Gathered About Consignments Lately Arrived From The Coast” and the caption reads:

“At Billingsgate is the chief fish market of London. and to it are brought all kinds of fish from aristocratic salmon and oysters to democratic shrimps and dog-fish of rock salmon. At one time smacks brought all the fish sold in the market, and were unloaded at Billingsgate Wharf, which is said to be the oldest in London. Today however, most comes by train, and little by boat.  The daily market is always crowded, and business is conducted at a speed extremely confusing to the casual spectator. Here we may see the fish porters, who have an almost legendary reputation for bad language, handling the slippery loads with the precision of experts. In the background of this view, to the right, is seen the monument.”

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One of the ancient customs covered by Wonderful London is Swan Upping. A custom which my father photographed, as did I during the 2015 event. My post can be found here. Photos of the event in the 1920s look almost identical to the event of today.

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Among photos of Londoners and their trades is the following of “old cabbies headed by an ancient who claims that he once drove King Edward when Prince of Wales, from Waterloo to Marlborough House, in 1868.” You probably would not want to question the route taken by these cabbies!

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A chapter in Wonderful London covers Social Work, but a very different form of Social Work to that we understand today. Provided to Londoners through a range of organisations such as the Salvation Army, Police Court Missionaries, Dr. Barnardo’s, the Watercress and Flower Girls’ Christian Mission, St. Dunstan’s, the Morning Post Home for Destitute Men, a Medical Mission for ailing working women and children and the YMCA.

The following photo has the title: “Little Citizens Of London Who Ask For A Change In Life” and is captioned:

“There is no more important branch of social work in great cities than amelioration of the slum child’s lot. The public conscience is difficult to stir, but much is nevertheless being done by philanthropical societies and by individual effort to brighten the drab lives of these little unfortunates, to rescue them from surroundings of cruelty or crime and to start them upon happy and useful careers. Many east-end children have never been beyond their own disease-ridden courts and the dingy streets that form their playground.”

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There are many photos in the books which show exactly the same scenes that my father would later photograph. One of these is The Flask in Highgate (see my post on The Flask which can be found here). The caption to the photo reads:

“At The Flask, labourers from the few surviving farms still drink the good ale, as their forerunners did a century ago. This tavern was much frequented by revellers’ clubs of late Georgian times.”

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It is interesting that in almost 100 years, aspects of London’s transport system have not really changed.  The following photo has the title “Herding Passengers On To A Bus On Ludgate Hill” and the caption starts “Londoners endure a state of perpetual and acute discomfort in the daily travelling to and from their work which is really astonishing.” A sentence that could equally apply today.

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One of the chapters in Wonderful London covers second-hand bookshops and includes the following photo of a second-hand bookshop in Charing Cross Road, which as well as being the home to Foyles (which originally had a second-hand department) also had many other book shops.

Just looking at this photo makes me wonder what treasures could be found in this shop. Had I been around at the time I would probably have spent far too much time and money in shops like this one.

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A range of occupations are covered in the three volumes, including the following photo of steeplejacks defying vertigo on the spire of All Saints, Poplar.

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In last weeks post I included a photo taken from the river showing Adelaide House adjacent to London Bridge. Wonderful London includes the following photo of the building soon after completion. The title reads “Adelaide House, A Monument of Modern Architecture On The Site Of Old London Bridge”. The caption to the photo reads:

“In observing this new expression of the architect’s attempt to meet the problems of rebuilding in London it must be remembered that, according to design, a superstructure has yet to be added, and that the bridge level is not the ground level of the building. To get the full height effect, Adelaide House must be viewed from the river or else its south bank. Another place from which to be impressed or perhaps oppressed by the height of the thing is Lower Thames Street. Sir John Burnet and his partners were responsible for the huge study in concrete, and several designs for it were submitted and revised. There is a curious effect about the main entrance as though doorways had shrunk under the tremendous weight above.”

Interesting that the height of buildings has always been an issue in London.

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When the telephone was introduced across London, the majority of wiring was above ground. Old photos often show telegraph poles on top of office buildings with wiring strung across the rooftops and streets. These required a good head for heights to maintain. The title for the following photo reads: “Suspending a telephone cable between Conduit and Maddox Streets.”

And has the caption:

Twice a year the steel wires which support London’s telephone cables – each cable may hold the lines of thirty subscribers – are inspected. The cables are fastened to the wires by rawhide suspenders and this man is detaching the thick dark cable from the old wire and fastening it to the new wire, which shows fresh and bright above. The new wire also supports the worker. He sits in a bo’sn’s chair, consisting of a board slung by a loop at either end, which is fastened to the wire. Overhead wires are gradually being superseded by underground systems.”

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Some jobs are almost the same now as they were then, for example overnight maintenance work on the city’s railways. The following photo has the caption:

“A gang is at work on the permanent way on Charing Cross Bridge. The lights of the station can be seen in the distance.”

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Fog was very much a problem for London in the 1920s. The following photo is titled “Fogbound, Flares For Traffic In A London Particular” and is captioned:

“When the minute particles of dust which are always overhanging London become coated with moisture and the temperature falls below what is called dew point, that is when the temperature at which the moisture in the atmosphere condenses, fog blankets the streets. It is one of the scourges of the city, and much time and money are lost annually by its delaying the traffic. In a real pea-souper acetylene flares are placed at traffic control points. In the photo a constable is directing traffic where Charing Cross meets Trafalgar Square.”

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Interesting that the caption refers to the time and money lost due to London fogs rather than the impact on the health of Londoners. Business, trade and making money has always been the main driver of London life.

I covered the cannon in frount of the Tower of London in a post showing my father’s 1947 photo of the area.  Wonderful London includes a photo of the same area from the 1920s with the title “Tower Wharf: One Of London’s Lunch-Time Gathering Grounds” and the caption:

“Despite the tremendous number and variety of eating places, many hundreds of those who work in the City and its surroundings prefer, in fine weather, to eat their lunch on a park seat or as here, seated on the slippery surface of an old cannon. Tower Wharf, whatever its merits as a restaurant, is a fine place to view the Tower, and also the shipping in the Upper Pool and the opening of Tower Bridge. The wharf was built by Henry III who also made Traitors Gate. The wharf gave the fortress one more line of protection. On the very ground where this crowd is sitting another crowd assembled day after day to scream for the trembling Judge Jeffryes to be thrown to them, in quittance for the Bloody Assize.”

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A theme during the 1920s was the growth in motorised traffic across London and the need to manage traffic. This required new systems of control and in 1925 manually operated traffic lights were installed at the junction of St. Jame’s Street and Piccadilly.

The photo below shows the junction. Look in the middle of the photo and there is a small hut.

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Within this hut is the control equipment for the traffic lights. Operated manually by the levers at the bottom of the photo with the street layout and indicators showing the status of the traffic lights above. Requiring an operator for each set of traffic lights, it is no wonder that they only really started to proliferate across London when automated lights were developed a few years later.

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The book also features trades that have long since disappeared. Tanneries were a major industry in 19th century London but in the first decades of the 20th century they were gradually disappearing. The following photo shows one of the remaining tanneries and is captioned:

“At Bermondsey tanning is, so to speak, in the air as one traverses the dingy streets towards the Neckinger Mills, where the photograph was taken. We are looking at the lime yard full of pits about seven feet deep, and built some 60 or 70 years ago. Fifteen to thirty dozen skins go to a ‘pack’ and each pack is soaked in fresh water, then in a solution of limewater, for 3 – 6 weeks to remove the hair. Goat skins are being dealt with here.”

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Radio broadcasting, or wireless was a new technology in the 1920s with the BBC having started daily broadcasts in 1922. Wonderful London shows how this technology is starting to impact the lives of Londoners with two photos under the title: “Broadcasting Noises From The Zoo To The Aerials Of Suburbia”

The photos are captioned:

“Howling is only approved of by ‘listeners-in’ when it comes from the Zoo, and several experiments have been made in bringing the wild animal into the home by wireless. We see the officials of the British Broadcasting Co. preparing to receive a few screeches from the aviary.”

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“These will be wafted over the forest of wireless poles that has sprung up all over London since the broadcasting craze took its hold on the inhabitants. The poorer neighbourhoods seem particularly to bristle with aerial poles, and this is very noticeable from a train traversing such districts.”

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As well as radio providing a new means of communication and entertainment another new technology that started to be widely available and continues to have a huge impact on London is flight.

Long before Heathrow or Gatwick, Croydon was London’s airport, and the following photos show the first steps in London’s aviation journey. The first photo is titled “The Air Port of London As It Was In 1925” and is captioned:

“The official designation of the great aerodrome is “The Air Port Of London” though it is popularly known as the Croydon, or Waddon aerodrome for it is included in the latter parish”

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And the following photo “Loading Cargo and Passengers”

“Passengers are embarking for Paris by an Imperials Airways machine.”

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When you consider how quickly these first tentative steps in commercial aviation transformed into the scale and complexity that we now see at Heathrow, it does make you wonder what the next 90 years will hold for London.

Wonderful London does live up to its name and with the written chapters that cover almost any topic you could think off, and with so many photos the books really do justice to describing the world’s greatest city.

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Reconstruction In The City

During 1941, even as London was still under attack and the V1 and V2 weapons were still some years in the future, plans were being devised for reconstruction in the City of London.

On Thursday 24th of July 1941 a “Common Council holden in the Mansion House in the City of London:

Resolved and Ordered, that the Improvements and Town Planning Committee be authorized to print and circulate their report when ready, in regard to the redevelopment of the City, and they be instructed to take steps to see that their Report is circulated as a private and confidential document”.

The report was published almost 3 years later on the 24th of May 1944 and makes fascinating reading. The report provides an insight into the pre-war City and documents proposals for how the City should be redeveloped after the war. Many of these proposals we can see implemented across the City today.

The report also contains a wonderful set of artists impressions of the proposed developments along with a large set of fold out colored maps showing different perspectives of the City.

There are many maps in this post. To see the map in full detail, click on the map and a larger version should open up.

The front page of the 1944 report:

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The introduction to the report records the first time that a major rebuild of the City was required, following the Great Fire of 1666 and aims to put aside the story of the rejection of Wren’s plans for rebuilding the City in a very different way:

“To the general public, the rebuilding of the City after the catastrophe of 1666 has long been represented as a “lost opportunity”. Modern research has helped to bring into clear focus both the background of the circumstances existing at the time and the realities which finally determined the course that was taken. The country was at war, and an outbreak of plaque had only recently subsided. The fire dislocated the City’s life and with it the largest single part of the trade of the nation. It was no less in the National than in the Citizen’s interests to rebuild as rapidly as possible. The Corporation – mainly through the devotion and energy of its Aldermen and members of the Court of Common Council aided by surveyors, for there were few paid officers – exerted itself to the utmost and, in the face of truly gigantic difficulties, set about rehabilitation in order that the normal course of life and business could be resumed in the shortest time. New accommodation was therefore of the utmost urgency consistent with creating a safer and healthier city and with an equitable settlement of claims (by the specially constituted Fire Court) between landlords, tenants and other interests. The Corporation had to buy land from owners for such amount of improvements as the money available allowed; both government and local coffers were low, long term finance was in its infancy and new sources of immediate revenue had to be devised mainly from taxation from which the coal dues originated. Legislation had to be obtained for powers to make or widen streets and to regulate more rigidly the construction of buildings. Materials and labour had to be secured. The Corporation set to work on an area where the streets had grown up ‘for the most part as and how they would’, and were, except perhaps in the case of the larger streets leading directly into and out of the City through the great gates in the Wall, merely footways leading to and from the houses of the citizens, winding and tortuous passages worn by the inhabitants of the houses themselves in passing backwards and forwards  about their daily occupations and pursuits. Many of the streets have, in later times, been widened and straightened by the removal or setting back of the houses that encroached in the main line of the street. Much of this widening and straightening process was effected by the Fire of London of 1666, which swept away the old land marks and compelled the rebuilding of the greater part of the City, and although no comprehensive scheme was carried out at the time, and the streets were rebuilt for the most part on their old sites, yet they were rebuilt as streets with some definite line of frontage and not as the footways to and from individual houses.”

It is interesting to compare the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire with that after the last war. There were many of the same challenges:

  • money was in short supply
  • materials and labour needed to be secured and there were many competing demands for a country that needed to manufacturer and export to bring in money
  • there was an urgent need to provide accommodation for the citizens of London and to get day to day business running as quickly as possible

Much of London was rebuilt after the Great Fire using the same street layout as before the fire. There were a number of developments in the following centuries with the 19th century seeing many of the larger, city wide developments being completed.

The first map in the report highlights the street improvements made in the City of London during the 19th century.

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The report states that “This plan was submitted with the evidence of the Corporation of London before the Royal Commission on London Traffic, 1905 when it was stated that the street improvements carried out between 1851 and 1902 and financed out of Rates involved an expenditure of over £5,600,000 gross and £3,800,000 net, of which almost £3,000,000 was paid out of the City’s Consolidated Rate, the remainder being met mainly by contributions from the Metropolitan Board of Works (later the London County Council). Other similar works in the City during the same period involved an outlay of over £3,000,000 including Holborn Viaduct, Blackfriars and Tower Bridges.

The parts coloured in red on the plan indicate new streets and widenings of existing streets made during the 19th century including those completed during the first half of that period at a cost of over £2,500,000. The baseplate is from Wyld’s Plan, 1842, by the date of which the new London Bridge, King William Street, Moorgate and some other improvements were already executed.”

The map clearly shows how Queen Victoria Street cut through so many streets and buildings leading from the Bank down to the new Embankment which runs along the river’s edge at lower left.

The first of the artist impressions from the report shows the preliminary proposals for the reconstruction of the City of London and is titled “Bird’s-Eye General View From The South”.

Reconstruction of the City 2

The text states that “This view indicates the general effect of the main proposals described in the Report . Outstanding features are the Embankment continuing from Blackfriars to London Bridge and thence as a wide inland street to Tower Hill so that the Upper Pool continues as a part of the Port; the ring route from the Tower round the north of the City to Holborn, with major junctions where intersected by the principal existing radial roads into the County; the environment of St. Paul’s Cathedral; and the open space exposing the London Wall bastions of the Church of St. Giles, Cripplegate.”

The detail on the map is fascinating. The City churches are shown with their steeples raised above the surrounding buildings.

The next artist impression shows a view from the north-west with the proposed northern arm of the ring route between Holborn Circus and Aldersgate Street. This did not get built, if it had, the large roundabout shown to the left would occupy the space outside the Barbican Underground Station and the roundabout would have cut Aldersgate Street in two.

Reconstruction of the City 3

The report provides some fascinating information covering the changes in London’s population. The following table covers the period from 1801 to 1935:

Year Population (in thousands) City of London as a % of Greater London
Greater London Administrative County of London City of London
Residential Day
1801 1,115 959 129
1851 2,681 2,363 128
1861 3,223 2,808 112
1866 3,555 3,038 93 170 4.8
1871 3,886 3,261 75 200 5.1
1881 4,767 3,830 51 261 5.5
1891 5,634 4,228 38 301 5.3
1901 6,581 4,536 27 332 5.0
1911 7,251 4,522 20 364 5.0
1921 7,480 4,485 14 437 5.8
1931 8,204 4,397 11 482 5.9
1935 8,475 4,185 10 500 5.9

The table shows that whilst the population of Greater London was increasing, the residential population of the City of London was decreasing with only 10,000 residents by 1935. As today, the population of the City is significantly different during the day due to the vast number of workers who travel in from the rest of Greater London and beyond.

For comparison, the 2011 census reported 7,400 residents in the City of London and according to the latest Business Register and Employment Survey (October 2015), the total employment figure for the City of London is 414,600. Assuming that the day population in the above table is mainly additional people coming into the City to work, numbers have therefore dropped, probably reflecting the move of many financial businesses to Canary Wharf.

Looking to the future and whether the day population of the City could grow beyond 500,000 the report states that this could probably only occur if:

1) The amount of business transacted and the methods of administration practiced required the employment of such numbers of people in close proximity

2) The public transport could convey such numbers speedily and cheaply from their widely distributed homes to the centre.

3) The ratio of persons in the London area employed in the City increased much beyond previous proportions or the total population of London increased considerably against the general sense of the findings of the Barlow Report

I doubt that many of today’s commuters into London would consider we have a public transport system that conveys them speedily and cheaply into central London.

The Barlow Report of 1940 was charged with looking into issues such as the geographical distribution of industrial workers and reported that it was not in the National Interest that a quarter or even a larger proportion of the population of Great Britain should be concentrated within twenty to thirty miles or so of Central London. A similar issue today with the widely held concern about concentration of population and economic activity within the wider London area.

The reports also looked at opening up the areas around St. Paul’s. The following artist impression shows the proposed view from Bankside with the buildings developed to the maximum heights permissible under the proposed Overall Height Control.

Reconstruction of the City 4

The view early in the 20th century from Bankside with much of the lower part of the Cathedral obscured by buildings between the Cathedral and the Thames:

Postcards from London 2 1

There is an interesting statement in the report which reads “Nearly a quarter of the City has been rebuilt since 1905, the new buildings producing about £4,000,000 or 42 per cent. of the rateable value in 1935.” This highlights that almost 25% of the city had been rebuilt in the 30 years between 1905 and 1935 – it would be interesting to compare between 1986 and 2016 to see if a similar amount, but it does demonstrate that the City of London has always been under a process of considerable change.

The following view of St. Paul’s from the south side of Cannon Street at the corner of Friday Street showing how the view of the Cathedral was obscured:

Reconstruction of the City 5

The drawing below shows the view from the same position as the above photo if the proposals of the report were carried out to open up the space around St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Reconstruction of the City 22

The following drawing shows the proposed view from the east with the view of the Cathedral now open. The small church in front of the Cathedral is St. Augustine and the report comments that it assumes the church is restored – it was heavily damaged by bombing during the night of the 29th December 1940.

Reconstruction of the City 6

The following is the proposed view of St. Paul’s from the corner of Shoe Lane and Fleet Street, looking up Ludgate Hill. The rail bridge running across the bottom of Ludgate Hill is shown shaded to show the impact of the removal of the bridge (one of the recommendations of the report) and how this would open up the view of the Cathedral.

Reconstruction of the City 7

The report also contains a large number of maps detailing the proposed schemes and also key information about the City. The following map shows one of the proposed schemes of an Embankment running along the foreshore of the Thames. This was planned to be an 80 foot wide ring route around the City that would take traffic from the end of London Bridge to meet up with the existing Embankment just past Blackfriars Bridge. Whilst the river Embankment did not get built, the southern ring route did get constructed in the form of a wider Upper and Lower Thames Street.

Reconstruction of the City 8

The following drawing is titled “Bird’s-Eye View of London Bridgehead from the South-West”. The drawing shows where the proposed new Embankment route would curve from the water front to a new junction with Upper Thames Street and Arthur Street. (I covered Arthur Street in a post on the Ticket Porter pub that was in this street, the post can be found here)

Reconstruction of the City 9

The following map shows “Surface Utilisation across the City” in 1936. The map shows how much of the city was comprised of Warehouses and Wharfs. Not sure how to describe the colour, but it is the pink / salmon colour to the right of St. Paul’s Cathedral showing Warehouses and Wharfs all along the river frontage, up past the Cathedral and up to the area now covered by the Barbican estate. The Commercial space was centered just to the right of the Bank of England.

Reconstruction of the City 10

The next map is titled “Opportunities and Considerations in the Redevelopment of the City of London”. The area in orange is where redevelopment may be considered imminent and shows the areas which suffered significant damage during the war, where rebuilding of the pre-war buildings was not considered worth while.

Reconstruction of the City 11

This map shows “Existing Railways and Major Subways”, colour coded to show overhead and surface, open cut, cut and cover, deep level railways etc. Note the green lines crossing the river at bottom left. This is the Waterloo and City Line between Waterloo Station and the Bank Station.

Reconstruction of the City 12

The next map shows the “Heights of Buildings” in 1936 and shows how relatively low rise the City was at the time. Black is the highest colour in the map for buildings of nine storeys and above. There is very little black to be found. How different the City would be 80 years later.

Reconstruction of the City 13

The bold red lines in the following map are a clever way of providing information on Traffic Flow across the City in 1904 and 1935. The width of the line represents the number of vehicles per day, 1,000 for the thinnest line up to 15,000 for the most thick lines. Darker red is for 1904 and light red is 1935. The small dark green blobs represent Traffic Control Signals and if I have counted correctly, at this time there were only 17 sets of traffic signals across the City. According to an ITV news report, in 2015 there were 105 sets of traffic lights across the City.

Reconstruction of the City 14

A survey in mid-December 1939 of typical pedestrian densities in the City resulted in the following map. Densities range from 11-30 persons per 100 feet up to 90 persons per 100 feet represented by dark grey. There are only two areas on the map with the highest density. One is across London Bridge and the other is from Liverpool Street Station down Old Broad Street, clearly highlighting the main routes for commuters to walk into the City.

Reconstruction of the City 15

In 1939 there were still many narrow streets across the City. The following map shows streets of less than 30 feet wide between buildings and containing a carriage-way marked in orange.

Reconstruction of the City 16

It would be very interesting to compare the following map with one with the same classifications today. This shows the street plan with street classifications, city boundary, open spaces and private ways.

Private ways are shown in a grey / blue colour – I suspect that there is very much more land classified as private way across the City today.

Reconstruction of the City 17

The following map brings together the “General Proposals for Land Use Zoning”. The core of the City, around the Bank of England is still allocated for offices with much of the rest allocated to General Business. The land marked in red is the “Minimum acquisition of land required for street improvements”.

Reconstruction of the City 18

There is also a map showing the “Height of Buildings Zoning”. I have shown below an extract of the map from around St. Paul’s as this shows the height limitations to maintain a view of the Cathedral from across the river. A height of 60ft raising to 80ft to maintain a clear view. The map text emphasises that this height is inclusive of architectural features so it really is an absolute height limit.

Reconstruction of the City 19

The final map is showing proposed “Traffic Circulation”. The roads marked in red are new, 80ft wide streets that would carry traffic around the City. This again shows the proposed extension of the Embankment from Blackfriars almost to London Bridge. Really surprising that this was considered as it would have considerably changed the river frontage along this part of the City and would have damaged the Queenhithe Dock which is now a scheduled monument under the 1979 Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act.

The map is also predicting the rise in car ownership and the resulting need for car parking. Eight green car symbols across the map indicate the possible siting of multi-storey garages.Reconstruction of the City 20

Many of the reports recommendations were put into place. The area around St. Paul’s Cathedral today looks very similar to the artists impressions. Buildings that originally ran up close to the churchyard have not been redeveloped and the Cathedral now has a much larger area of open space, particularly to the south and across to Bankside, to open up and protect the view.

Fortunately, the proposed extension of the Embankment to London Bridge did not take place. This would have dramatically changed the City’s historic waterfront. The report did mention this concern and also included suggestions such as a tunnel. In the event, Upper and Lower Thames Street were widened to provide a southern ring road around the City.

The working population of the City did not continue to grow and has since reduced due to the move of many typical City jobs east to Canary Wharf.

I suspect that many of the pedestrian densities are much the same today as they were in December 1939 with large numbers of people continuing to walk across London Bridge and into the City from Liverpool Street Station.

The report makes fascinating reading and I hope to cover more in the future. The maps shown above are just a sample and for these alone, the report is a remarkable document.

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A 1943 View Of A Redeveloped London

In 1943, although the end of the last war was still two years away,  the thoughts of the London County Council were focussed on the post war reconstruction of the city.

London had yet to suffer the barrage of V1 and V2 weapons, but in 1943 the London County Council published the County of London Plan, a far reaching set of proposals for the post-war development of the city.

I find the many plans for London that have been published fascinating to read. They show the challenges of trying to forecast the needs of a city such as London for decades to come. They provide a snapshot of the city at the time, and they demonstrate that time after time, development of London has reverted to ad-hoc rather than grandiose, city wide schemes.

In the forward to the plan, Lord Latham the Leader of the London County Council wrote:

“This is a plan for London. A plan for one of the greatest cities the world has ever known; for the capital of an Empire; for the meeting place of a Commonwealth of Nations. Those who study the Plan may be critical, but they cannot be indifferent.

Our London has much that is lovely and gracious. I do not know that any city can rival its parks and gardens, its squares and terraces. but year by year as the nineteenth and twentieth centuries grew more and more absorbed in first gaining and then holding material prosperity, these spaces were over-laid, and a tide of mean, ugly, unplanned building rose in every London borough and flooded outward over the fields of Middlesex, Surrey, Essex, Kent.

Athens was the glory of Greece, Rome the great capital of a great Empire, a magnet to all travellers. Paris holds the hearts of civilised people all over the world. Russia is passionately proud of Moscow and Leningrad; but the name we have for London is the Great Wen.

It need not be so. Had our seventeenth century forefathers had the faith to follow Wren, not just the history of London, but perhaps the history of the world might have been different.

Faith, however was wanting. It must not be wanting again – no more in our civic, than in our national life. We can have the London we want; the London that people will come from the four corners of the world to see; if only we determine that we will have it; and that no weakness or indifference shall prevent it.”

The 1943 plan provides plenty of detailed analysis of London at the time, with some graphical presentation using techniques I have not seen in any earlier London planning documents.

The following diagram from the report provides a Social and Functional Analysis of London. This divides London into individual communities, identifies the main functions of the central areas, shows town halls, man shopping centres and open spaces.

The City is surrounded by an area of “Mixed General Business and Industry”. Press (Fleet Street) and Law (the Royal Courts of Justice) provide the main interface between the City and the West End, which also contains the University and Government areas of the city.

The darker brown communities are those with a higher proportion of obsolescent properties. (click on any of the following maps to enlarge)

Social and Functional Map 1

The plan placed considerable importance on community structure within London:

“The social group structure of London is of the utmost importance in the life of the capital. Community grouping helps in no small measure towards the inculcation of local pride, it facilitates control and organisation, and is the means of resolving what would otherwise be interminable aggregations of housing. London is too big to be regarded as a single unit. If approached in this way its problems appear overwhelming and almost insoluble.

The proposal is to emphasise the identity of the existing communities, to increase their degree of segregation, and where necessary to reorganise them as separate and definite entities. The aim would be to provide each community with its own schools, public buildings, shops, open spaces etc. At the same time care would be taken to ensure segregation of the communities was not taken far enough to endanger the sense of interdependence on the adjoining communities or on London as a whole.”

The following map shows a more traditional view of the Communities and Open Spaces within the Greater London area.

Communities and Open Space 1

The plan identifies a number of issues that divide communities, chief among them the way that railways, mainly on the south of the river have divided local communities with railway viaducts acting as a wall between parts of the same community.

The plan used the following photo of the railway viaducts on the approach to Cannon Street Station and down to Waterloo to illustrate the impact. The report, as with a number of other proposals for the post war development of London, placed considerable importance on moving the over ground railways into tunnels to remove viaducts, bring communities together and to remove rail bridges, such as the one shown leading into Cannon Street Station, from across the Thames.

The Southbank 2

The first sentence in the section on Roads is remarkable, remember this was written in 1943, not 2015:

“The need for improved traffic facilities in and around London has become so acute, that unless drastic measures are taken to relieve a large number of the thoroughfares, crossings and junctions of their present congestion, there will be a grave danger that the whole traffic system, will, before long, be slowed to an intolerable degree.”

The plan also emphasises the dangers resulting from traffic on London roads with in 1937 a total of 57,718 accidents in the Greater London area that involved personal injury.

At the time of planning, the ratio of cars to population was one to twenty two. The plan expects a considerable increase in car usage after the war, stating that the war has “made a vast number of people for the first time mechanically minded, and has given a great impetus to the production of motor vehicles.”

Parking this number of cars was also expected to be a problem. The plan includes the provision of underground car parks and that legislation should be passed that enforces the provision of car parking facilities for all buildings of a certain size.

A new ring road was planned for fast moving traffic.  This is shown as the B Ring Road in the following map. Circling the central area of London and with a tunnel under the Thames running from the Isle of Dogs to Deptford. Roads radiating out from the B Ring Road would allow traffic circulating around London to quickly leave to, or arrive from the rest of the country.

Road Plan 1

The plan also identifies the “cumulative effect of street furniture on the appearance of London and on the convenience of pedestrians and vehicular traffic is very considerable” and recommends the formation of a Panel to provide a degree of control over street furniture, with a preference for embellishing streets with tree-planting and green-swards. With the level of street furniture on the streets today, perhaps a Panel to control this would have been a good outcome.

The provision of more open space was seen as a key component of the future development of London with the standardised provision of space for Londoners.

At the time the plan was written there was a considerable variation in the amount of open space available to Londoners in different boroughs, for example the inhabitants of Woolwich benefited from the availability of 6 acres per 1,000 inhabitants, whilst for those of Shoreditch the amount of open space available was 0.1 acres per 1,000 inhabitants.

The provision of 4 acres of open space for every 1,000 inhabitants across London was adopted as a key strategy for future development.

Examples of how open space could be made available to the public included the use of Holland Park, the grounds of the Hurlingham Club and the Bishops Palace Grounds in Fulham.

Indeed at Hurlingham, after the war, the London County Council made a compulsory purchase of the polo grounds to build the Hurlingham Park recreation grounds, along with the Sullivan Court flats and a school, leaving the Hurlingham Club with the 42 acres retained today.

The plan also states that “The difficulty of finding alternative housing accommodation for people displaced when open spaces are provided in built up areas, has been partly removed through the destruction of many houses by bombing.” I am not sure what the view of those who had lost their homes through bombing would have been, that there was a plan to replace their homes with open space.

The following Open Space Plan shows the proposed new public open space in dark green:

Open Space Plan 1

The 1943 plan presents a fascinating view of the industrialisation of London.

The East End of London and the London Docks were well known industrial areas, however every London borough had a significant amount of factories and industrial employment. The report includes a summary of industry for every London borough. I have shown a sample below to indicate the range of factory numbers, employment levels and types of industry across some of the London boroughs.

Borough Principal industries according to numbers employed Size of Factories Factory numbers in 1938 Factory employees in 1938
Bermondsey Food, engineering, and chemicals, including tanneries Each of the principal industries has a large number of factories 711 31,058
Bethnal Green Furniture and clothing Furniture factories very small, clothing small with a few large premises 1,746 15,945
Finsbury Clothing, printing and engineering, though appreciable numbers are employed in all other industries Mostly medium to small, though each industry has a number of large factories and the average size if bigger than in Bethnal Green, Shoreditch or Stepney 2,523 66,556
Islington Engineering, clothing, furniture and miscellaneous (principally builders’ yards, cardboard boxes and laundries) Mostly small, though engineering, furniture and miscellaneous each has a number of medium sized factories 1,998 35,649
Stepney Clothing, food (including breweries and tobacco) and engineering Mostly small (especially clothing) but each industry has a number of large factories 3,270 58,073
Westminster Clothing, printing and engineering, though appreciable numbers are employed in all other industries Mostly small (especially clothing), but each industry has several large factories 4,414 46,528

The plan identifies a trend of decentralisation which had already being happening for a number of decades with the gradual migration of industry from central to outer London and also identifies the improvement in transport facilities as enabling industry to move away from the main residential areas.

Even in 1943 the report identifies the importance of the new industrial estates at Slough, Park Royal, along the Great West Road etc. as the future home for more of London’s industry.

What the plan does not identify is how the Docks would change over the coming decades. The expectation was that the London Docks would continue to provide a key role in both London and the Nation’s global trade.

The following map shows the proposed approach for how industry would be located across the Greater London area. Note the concentration of industrial areas around the Docks and along the Thames.

Industrial Proposals 1

In addition to planning at the Greater London level, the 1943 report also focussed on a number of specific areas that had suffered extensive bomb damage and were therefore important redevelopment locations.

An example is the redevelopment of Bermondsey. The following plan shows the proposed post-war reconstruction of Bermondsey:

Bermondsey 1

The plan for Bermondsey illustrates how the 1943 plan proposed:

  • replacing the long runs of railway viaducts with underground rail tunnels thereby avoiding the way the viaducts divided communities
  • a considerable increase in the amount of public open space
  • wide through roads to carry traffic efficiently across London
  • reduced housing density

How far these plans were actually implemented after the war can be judged by comparison with the following 2015 map of Bermondsey. The railway viaducts still remain, cutting across the borough, and the street layout remains largely unchanged. Southward Park provides a large amount of open space, however there is not the amount proposed in 1943 and the large park planned to run adjacent to the Old Kent Road was not constructed.

New Bermondsey Map 1

Another focus for significant redevelopment was the South Bank. Starting from Westminster Bridge and County Hall at the right of the following picture, the plans consisted of:

  • a Youth centre to the left of County Hall
  • a new road bridge across the Thames leading to Charing Cross to replace the rail bridge after the railways had been diverted underground
  • a Theatre between Charing Cross and Waterloo Bridges (which did get built in the form of the Royal Festival Hall)
  • Government offices running to…..
  • a new bridge – Temple Bridge – across the Thames from the South Bank to Temple Station, in exactly the same place as the proposed Garden Bridge
  • offices then running to Blackfriars Bridge
  • followed by office and flats leading up to a landscaped area around Southwark Cathedral
  • with public gardens running the length of the Thames embankment

The South Bank 1

When reading the plan I was really surprised to find that in 1943 there were proposals for a bridge across the river at Temple. Although this would have been more functional than the proposed Garden Bridge, it would still have blocked some of the view from Waterloo Bridge and the South Bank across to St. Paul’s and the City.

The following picture is an artist impression from the 1943 report of the proposed new Charing Cross road bridge:

Charing Cross Bridge 1

The 1943 report places considerable importance on the need for housing after the war, claiming that “Of the many aspects of London’s future in so far as replanning is concerned, that of housing must claim first attention.” and that “The provision of new housing accommodation will be a most urgent task to be tackled immediately after the war.” Some things do not change, although in 1943 the plans for housing in central London were very much the provision of affordable housing for Londoners rather than the endless development of luxury apartments we see today.

The 1943 plan proposes a comprehensive housing plan to address the need to improve the housing conditions for Londoners as well as providing the number needed.

The following photo from the 1943 plan shows some of the building commenced prior to the war. This is the White City Housing Estate, Hammersmith. Construction started in 1936 and was suspended in 1939. The plan states that when work recommences, the estate will cover an area of 52 acres and comprise 49, 5 storey blocks with accommodation for 11,000 people.

The White City Stadium can be seen on the left of the photo. Completed in 1908 for the Summer Olympics of the same year, the stadium was demolished in 1985 following which the BBC occupied the site. The BBC are now gradually vacating the site so it will be interesting to see what happens with this significant site in the future. (There is plaque on one of the BBC White City buildings at the point of the finishing line of the 1908 track)

White City 1

The 1943 plan recommends the development of housing estates and uses the Roehampton Cottage Estate in Wandsworth as an example of the type of estate that should be built, including the preservation of trees which “adds greatly to the attractive lay-out”

Roehampton 1The 1943 plan also makes recommendations for greater architectural control and uses the following view of Oxford Street as an example of “the chaos of individual and uncoordinated street development” 

Architectural Control 1

The plan recommends “that Panels of architects and planners might be set up to assist the planning authority in the application of a control for street design, similar to those already in operation in other countries, notably in America and Scandinavia. Cornice and first floor levels, as well as the facing materials used, should be more strictly controlled so as to give a sense of continuity and orderliness to the street”. 

The 1943 plan is a fascinating read, not only covering London at the time, but also how London could be today if these plans had of been adopted in full. I have only been able to scratch the surface of the report in this week’s post.

Reading the plan it is clear that some issues do not change, for example housing and traffic congestion.

The plan also highlights the difficulty in planning for the future. There is only a very limited reference to “Aerodromes”, beginning with “All the portents indicate that, after the war, there will be a very considerable expansion in air transport for passengers and, perhaps, for freight. Any plan for the future of London must have close regard for these eventualities.”

The plan does seem to rule out the construction of a large airport within the central London area as this would be “inimical to the interests and comfort of large sections of the population to embark on a scheme of this kind” The post war development of Heathrow was not considered in 1943.

In many ways I am pleased that many of the plans for the large scale redevelopment proposed in the 1943 plan did not take place. As with Wren’s plans for the City after the Great Fire, London tends to avoid large scale planning and seems to evolve in a haphazard manner which contributes much to the attraction of the city, although I feel that this is now under threat with the rows of identical towers that seem to be London’s future.

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Foyles and the College for the Distributive Trades

London can be a very impersonal city, constantly changing, busy with people visiting the city for a few days, dashing between the main tourist sites, workers who depart to the suburbs at the end of the day. However beneath this, every inch of the city has a history touched by the millions of people who have called London home or a place of work over the centuries and it is this that I want to discover and document in my blog through the generations of my family that have called London home.

Today’s post bring this together through an interesting set of coincidences with the London bookshop Foyles moving into new premises at 107 Charing Cross Road.

After a short period at Cecil Court, Foyles moved to Charing Cross Road, starting at 135, then expanding to cover 121 to 135 and on Saturday 7th June 2014 opened in a new location at 107 Charing Cross Road.

My father started buying books at Foyles in the 1940s. I still have books about London purchased from Foyles with the original Foyles payment slip inside the book. Foyles had a very interesting purchase process where you would take the book to an assistant who would bag it and retain, give you a payment slip to take to a cashiers kiosk for payment. With the payment slip stamped to prove you had paid, you return to the original assistants desk to reclaim your book. I cannot remember exactly when this process changed, however I remember purchasing books via this process well into the late 1990’s.

Despite this archaic system, Foyles had (and still has) the most fantastic selection of books and hours could be lost just browsing the shelves.

Many of the London books I have from my father still retain their original purchase receipt. I found the following in the “Historic Streets of London”, purchased from Foyles on the 9th October 1948 for 3 shillings and 6 pence.

book and slip

One of the books that my father bought from Foyles in 1941 was the 1940 edition of Bartholomew’s Reference Atlas of Greater London. This was displayed on a shelf beneath a large notice which read that maps could only be purchased by members of the public in uniform. A neighbour of my father’s who was in the Home Guard purchased the book for him. I still have this Atlas.

To get to the main point of today’s post, Foyles has moved into 107 Charing Cross Road. This building originally consisted of two educational establishments, the College for the Distributive Trades and the St. Martins School of Art and during the war was one of the few still operating in central London.

My father was evacuated from London at the start of the war, but returned after 5 weeks to spend the rest of the war living on the Marylebone Estate near Regents Park.

As most of the schools in central London were closed during the peak of the bombing on London, education was a problem. The following is from my father’s account of his time in London during the war. This section taken from the year 1940:

My old school remained closed and evacuated in Buckingham. Other local schools were in a similar situation, the part-time local attempts at education were a failure so in desperation, father installed me in a small private school in Gloucester Avenue, Chalk Farm, which proved equally unsuccessful specialising in Latin and ancient Egypt. However father at last found a college that was open. Alas I was too young to be accepted. This was my last chance; luckily father cajoled the Headmaster into accepting me. The normal age for admission was the late teens, therefore, at my preliminary interview the Head instructed me to lie about my age (13). I was to be sixteen and never to appear in short trousers, and so I entered the College for the Distributive Trades at No. 107 Charing Cross Road.

The college had but one class with few fellow students, all about 4 years older than myself. I was a puzzle to them and my solution was to keep a low profile and keep out of trouble. The day time raids helped for the “education” consisted of little more than card games in the basement “air raid shelter” by candlelight for the caretaker turned off the power when the siren sounded.

A general sense of anarchy prevailed in the shelter for we were unsupervised. The building was shared with the St. Martins School of Art who were located on the top floors and although St. Martin’s was meant to use a specified area of the shelter there was a large amount of mingling.

As October (1940) arrived several of my classmates left to enter the forces until four of us remained. Any dilemma of how to run a college consisting of a single class of four was solved one night when a bomb fell through the gymnasium floor and exploded in the basement shelter, a very lucky escape for us all. Also, about this time, a large bomb fell between the college and Foyles, leaving a very large crater where the road had collapsed into a void, caused amongst other things by the collapse of an underground brick culvert.

This is the building in which Foyles will be opening their new store on the 7th June!

I do not know if the new Foyles will have a book department in the basement. I look forward to visiting and if so, it will be intriguing to be looking at books in the basement that my father used as an air raid shelter.

The following photo shows the building that was the College for the Distributive Trades and the St. Martin’s School of Art and will be the new home of Foyles.

P1020247

The old Foyles can just be seen to the left of the bus at the far end of the street. Entrances to the College and School are at the left and right edges of the building. The bomb that my father refers to, fell between the bus and the white van. Above the door on the left the original name and year of build has been retained.

P1020245

As has the St. Martin’s School of Art above the entrance to the right:

P1020242

The original Foyles which will be closing prior to the move into 107 Charing Cross Road:

P1020231

Close up of the street sign “Foyles for Books”:

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With the continued growth in Internet shopping for books and the use of e-books rather than paper books it is really good to see a bookshop having the confidence to invest in a new store.

Much of my London book collection has been built up from Foyles over the past 70 years by my father and myself and I hope to continue for many years to come.

When next in Charing Cross Road I will be visiting Foyles, looking past the books and thinking about what was happening there in 1940.

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Tideless Thames In Future London

As well as a large collection of photographs, my father also had a large collection of books about London which he started collecting during the early 1940’s as a young teenager. Most of the books are factual accounts about different aspects of London and London’s history, however some of these are plans for major projects being proposed at the time as well as reconstruction plans for London after the war.

I will be covering many of these books in my blog over the coming months and I want to start with a fascinating document which proposes a major change to the River Thames and has echoes in the Thames today.

The book is “Tideless Thames in Future London” by J.H.O. Bunge which was published by the Thames Barrage Association in 1944.

Header Page

There had been proposals for many years for a Thames Barrage with the aim of stopping the tides and providing central London with a river without any tides. The proposal compares the tides and mud flats along the Thames with other cities where damming rivers had produced effectively a slow moving lake with no tides. Boston in the USA where the 1906 damming of the Charles River had provided for the city “better health, water sports, riverside parks with the famous Boston orchestra’s loudspeaker concerts in the open are the results of this dam”. The book compares Boston with the mud banks along Putney, Fulham and Hammersmith.

The barrage would also have provided other functions which at the time were becoming critical due to the expected growth in traffic after the war, for example the provision of a road and rail bridge across the river.

So what would the proposed barrage have looked like? The  following picture from the book shows the proposed barrage at Woolwich.

Proposed Thames Barrage

The locks within the barrage were critical to the design as at the time the annual tonnage of shipping to London’s docks was well over 50 million. London was still the largest port in the world.

Note the road and rail bridges built into the overall design.

Had this been built (and it was estimated at a cost of £4.5 million and could be built in 18 months “if efficiently organised” which seems somewhat optimistic) London today would not have any tides with the river transformed into a slow moving lake.

The location of the proposed barrage is shown in the following map:

Map

Note the integration with the North Circular Road. There is a clear parallel with the river crossing at Dartford and the M25. The first Dartford tunnel was built in 1963, the second in 1980 and the Queen Elizabeth II bridge which is the clear successor to the bridge proposed by the barrage which opened in 1991.

There were many objections to the proposed barrage and the government of the day was strongly against the proposal. There was a debate on the subject of the barrage in 1937 in the House of Lords where a number of objections were raised. The usual concerns about the costs of building and then the costs of running the proposed barrage, and also:

– the impact on the hygiene of the river without a twice daily “flushing” of the river by the tides

– the impact on shipping of having to pass through the locks. Remember at this time, the docks in central London were very busy. The Port of London Authority stated that in 1936 there were “43,000 ships and 463,000 craft of one kind” passing through the river at the proposed location of the barrage and these would have to pass through the locks.

Stand on the banks of the Thames at Woolwich now, and it seems incredible to imagine that volume of shipping passing along the river in front of you.

The Port of London Authority objections also show the difficulty in planning for large scale projects for the future. I wonder if they could have imagined what would have happened to the London docks after the introduction of containerisation and the resulting increase in the size of shipping and the move of the major port facilities out of central London to Tilbury, Felixstowe and Southampton.

Personally I am very pleased that the barrage was not built. The Thames without tides would have taken much of the life out of the river that forms the core of London and was the reason why the city came to be built here in the first place.

The mud banks to me are not to be hidden. They maintain a link to the history of London. Stand on the banks of the Thames at low tide at almost any point on it’s course through London and you will see old bricks and stones that could have come from the buildings that once lined the river. The wooden stumps of old jetties still protrude above the mud along with the stone cobbles of old slipways.

The tides also continue London’s connection with the sea. Despite being in a city with ever growing towers of glass and steel, the daily rise and fall of the river maintains a natural connection.

Some ideas from the Thames Barrage Association did get built though, but in a very different form. The extension of the North Circular across the river via a bridge across the barrage can been seen replicated in the M25 and the crossings at Dartford, and the barrage itself turned into something not to keep the water in central London, rather to keep the water out of central London in the form of the Thames Barrier.

The book includes a photo of a model of what the barrage may have looked like:

Model in garden

Note the comments about the impact of the war, and the book published in 1944 was the last gasp of the proposal. The war did though allow the Thames Barrage Association to raise some additional justifications for building the barrage, including the difficulty that the London Fire Brigade had during the war with getting water from the Thames during low tides to fight the fires caused by the bombing.

I wonder what the Thames Barrage Association would have thought of the Thames Barrier?

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This is the Thames Barrier as seen from the bank at the Visitor Centre. At the time it was an ordinary high tide and the river was only about 6 inches below the river walkway. Really shows how much the barrier is needed. Inside the gates at the left is a walkway with along the wall, a profile of the River Thames from Thames Head to Sea Reach:

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When you stand beside a river it looks flat. The profile really demonstrates the fall of the Thames as it drops a total of 105m from head to sea.

Reading “Tideless Thames in Future London” provided a fascinating snapshot of how London, the Docks and River Thames were viewed at the time. When the volume of shipping on the Thames and at the London Docks was expected only to grow, and London was expected to continue to be one of the world’s major ports.

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