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Peter Murray

 

In this article from issue 473 of the Journal of the London Society, Sarah Yates looks at the legacy of the 1851 Great Exhibition

‘… we should ensure that the Great Exhibition of 1851 should not become a transitory event of mere temporary interest, but that its objects would be perpetuated, that the different industrial pursuits of mankind, Arts and Sciences should not again relapse into a state of comparative isolation from each other, in which their progress is necessarily retarded …’ Observations on the Application of the Surplus of the Exhibition of 1851 by His Royal Highness the Prince Consort, August 1851

The Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851

 

‘Innovation’ has become the watchword of the global economy in the 21st century. While cities have always been places where people gather to discuss and debate ideas, the production of new knowledge – and from it, novel products, services and technologies – can give a city competitive advantage in this age of automation, disruptive technologies and global communication. Fundamental transformations in the way that we work, live and learn have started to lead to greater interdisciplinary collaboration, and physical location and proximity to other like-minded people have become ever more important in order to support the spontaneous personal interactions, sharing of ideas and inspiration that lead to advances in knowledge. From this has developed the idea of the urban ‘innovation district’: places where universities and research centres cluster, along with cultural and scientific organisations and enterprises large and small; designed to attract the most talented and highly skilled, and with a well-designed and diverse urban environment with high-quality public realm to promote open working and collaboration. New innovation districts are emerging across the capital – from the Knowledge Quarter at King’s Cross to the Cultural and Education District planned for the regeneration of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

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Peter Murray

 

“This is a journal of journeys, urban excursions which take place both now and then, in times plural and space singular; one city, many cities.”

Come and listen to Robert Elms talk about his new book “London Made Us: a memoir of a shape-shifting city” at Southwark Cathedral on Thursday 25 April.

Tickets are £8, but the Cathedral have made 25 available to London Society members at the special price of just £6 – book on their website here using the promo code LondonSocietyElms

Robert Elms has seen his beloved city change beyond all imagining. London in his lifetime has morphed from a piratical, still bomb-scarred playground, to a swish cosmopolitan metropolis. Motorways driven through lost communities, murder miles becoming estate agents’ dreams, accents changing, towers appearing. Yet still it remains to him the greatest place on earth.

Elms takes us back through time and place to myriad Londons. He is our guide through a place that has seen scientific experiments conducted in subterranean lairs, a small community declare itself an independent nation and animals of varying exoticism roam free through its streets; a place his great-great-grandfather made the Elms’ home over a century ago and a city that has borne witness to epoch- and world-changing events.

Robert Elms is a broadcaster and writer, well-loved for his eponymous radio show on BBC Radio London. Elms started out as a journalist, writing for The Face and NME. He is a Londoner through and through, growing up in West London and living in the city for most of his life.

To buy tickets at the discounted price of £6, visit the Cathedral’s Eventbrite page here using the promo code LondonSocietyElms

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Peter Murray

 

Cook’s Camden: The Making of Modern Housing

By Mark Swenarton (Lund Humphries, £45)

Reviewed by Jonathan Manns

Reviewed in the Journal of the London Society no. 473

Cook’s Camden is a comprehensive, inviting and ultimately appreciative work of scholarship on the borough’s council house building programme from 1965-1973. Well evidenced and attractively designed, it concisely assesses both aspiration and delivery through the lens of those who shaped the programme. In doing so, it simultaneously functions as an introduction, reference and guide.

The book takes its name from Sydney Cook, Camden Borough Architect from 1965 to 1973, who oversaw a period of expansive and progressive public-sector building which pushed the boundaries of design. In 1965 the newly formed Borough of Camden was the richest in London and had a clear left-wing leaning: housing was an expression of its power and politics. A new policy of ‘municipalisation’ (buying existing properties) rather than construction was then introduced in 1973, which marked the beginning of the end; even the architects’ department disbanded in the 1980s amid a backlash against such projects, fuelled by cost overruns and the recessions of the 1970s.

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Peter Murray

In a joint event with RTPI London, Daniel Moylan, former Deputy Chairman of Transport for London and former Deputy Leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council, asked if the Planning system in London is not now so anti-market and so anti-people in its outcomes that it would not be better to abolish it and start again with a much lighter touch. Victoria Hills, Chief Executive of the Royal Town Planning Institute, responded. Joanna Day was in the audience.

It is perhaps inevitable that a debate entitled ‘The Planning System: Broken Beyond Repair’ will create a lively discussion with strongly held, contrary, views from those working in the field or interfacing with it. The event did not disappoint.

Those spending their time dealing with planning authorities at a local day-to-day level often have the perception of a malfunctioning, under-resourced system. What is not necessarily thought about so often is the wider picture: the purpose and future of the overall system.

It’s hard to work out where to stand in defending or attacking the planning system. It’s easy to be critical of many of the processes and the outcomes. And many authorities are clearly under-resourced. However, it remains a system there to function democratically and protect the public good, and so a poorly functioning system might be better than none…?

Within this context, it was of interest to hear Daniel Moylan’s thesis that the planning system is a broken one at a systemic level, controlled, he posits, largely by the developers and beyond redemption. That where some see democracy he sees lobbying, and that it is a distorted market that is underperforming, not a real one.

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Peter Murray

 

In another article from the latest issue of the Journal of the London Society, Emily Gee, London Planning Director at Historic England, argues that history provides the roots for great places.

It is a principle of good urban design that before pencil reaches tracing paper, a designer needs a thorough understanding of the history and significance of the place. Great contextual development responds to history and our most successful places have history at their heart. Gillian Tindall’s seminal urban history, The Fields Beneath, continuously in print now for over 40 years, takes one London village – Kentish Town – and applies a thoughtful historical lens to encourage a rich and deep understanding of urban layers. This approach can happen in any place, and knowing that former field boundaries, rivers and earlier settlement patterns have influenced modern routes, street names and architectural design can enrich a development and the lives of people there now.

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Peter Murray

 

In the introduction to the latest edition of the Journal of the London Society (available to purchase here), London Society Chairman Peter Murray introduces our new motto.

Over the past year or so the Society has been giving a lot of thought to our purpose and how to explain it. There has, for some time, been a feeling that the Latin motto that has served us well for the past hundred years is in need of modernisation. Antiqua Tegenda, Pulchra Petenda, Futura Colenda doesn’t do it for a younger generation. Even the rough translation ‘look after the old, seek the beautiful, cultivate the future‘ sounds somewhat laboured. What we needed was an ‘elevator pitch’ – a ready and meaningful answer for when someone asks, ‘What does the Society do? What is it for?

We didn’t want to change those basic tenets of the Society set out by our founding members, but we did want to bring them up to date. Just as the old Latin motto suggested a respect for the history of the capital in its cultivation of the future, we knew we should respect the Society’s own history as we developed its mission for the 21st century. To do so, we needed to look back at those early days.

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Peter Murray


Rings Around London: Orbital motorways and the battle for homes before roads

By Wayne Asher (Capital Transport, £25)

Reviewed by Neil Bennett

(Review from issue 493 of the Journal of the London Society. Buy your copy of the Journal here, or get a free copy when you join the Society)

This 180-page book sets out the history of the proposals to provide London with five orbital rings of urban motorways, documenting the 50-year debate between the road builders, their supporters, and those Londoners who fought them off.

It is difficult now to imagine the magnitude of the impact motorway rings A, B, C, D and E would have had, but as the largest civil engineering project since the Second World War, they would have cost between 60,000 and 100,000 people their homes, almost the number that were lost during the war itself.

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Peter Murray

 

Commemorating London: The good, the bad and the “meh” of London Monuments – a joint event with the London Historians held at the Sir Christopher Hatton pub 4 Leather Ln, London EC1N 7RA. Barry Coidan reports.

Don Brown, our Director, introduced the evening’s exciting programme. As well as the countdown of the 10 most reviled public monuments in the capital we were to enjoy talks by four guest speakers on their uncommemorated heroes. There was also a quiz and a bar: all the ingredients for an enjoyable evening.

But first we were treated to a talk by Joanna Moncrieff on public sculptures in and around Westminster. I have to say all of them were new to me.

First is “Three Figures”  by Neal French, Bourdon Place, London W1 representing a passerby coming upon the photographer Terence Donovan photographing the model Twiggy near his studio in Mayfair in the 1960’s.They were commissioned by Grosvenor Estates when they were redeveloping Fifty Grosvenor Hill as offices in this London conservation area.

Next we encountered the Young Dancer by Enzo Plazzotta (unveiled 1988).

The bronze Young Dancer sits tying her ballet shoes almost opposite the Bow Street entrance to the Royal Opera House and just round the corner from the Royal Ballet School on Floral Street. The sculpture was a gift to the Council on condition they paid for its siting – the Council would appear to have not heeded the Royal Fine Arts Commission’s (RFAC) view that the piece had little merit!

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Peter Murray

 

The London Society and London Historians’ poll to find the public monument or statue that is least liked, came to an exciting conclusion on 26 February (a full report of the evening can be found here) in the Sir Christopher Hatton pub in Leather Lane.

Nearly 1,000 votes were cast across the ten shortlisted candidates, but three statues stood out, each polling over 20% of the total. 

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Peter Murray


Municipal Dreams: The rise and fall of council housing

By John Boughton (Verso, £18.99)

Reviewed by Peter Watts

(Review from issue 493 of the Journal of the London Society. Buy your copy of the Journal here, or get a free copy when you join the Society)

News that a book has been commissioned on the back of a popular Twitter account is often a cause for eyebrow-raising annoyance peppered with professional jealousy, but that wasn’t the case when Verso announced they’d be publishing the first book by John Boughton, who tweets as @municipaldreams. That’s because Boughton’s tweets – and his superb blog of the same name – are on the history of social housing, about which Boughton has become a sort of house historian. On his blog, Boughton studies in detail a different housing estate with each post, describing its social history and architectural appearance before, in most cases, exploring the various ways it has been neglected by local councils committed to Thatcherism, either by force or ideology.

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