Category Archives: London Books

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.

alondoninheritance.com

 

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”:

P1020233

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.

alondoninheritance.com

 

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?

DSC_1101

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:

DSC_1113

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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