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Peter Murray


Built: The Hidden Stories Behind Our Structures

By Roma Agrawal (Bloomsbury, £20)

Reviewed by Sarah Eley

Reviewed in the Journal of the London Society no. 473


Roma Agrawal’s passion for her subject, the structures that make up the built world we live in, shines through in her book. Agrawal takes us on her journey of discovery of the wonders of structural engineering, beginning with her experience of Manhattan’s towering skyscrapers, a city she visited as a child when her engineer father took up a job in the US.

Simply titled ‘Built’, Agrawal starts her book with an exploration of force and the way it flows, as this influences the form that structures take. Hand drawn illustrations, which are peppered throughout the book, keep the reader’s mind on track and help to simplify concepts.  The subsequent chapters explore the building blocks of clay, metal and rock, building up into the sky and down into the earth, tunnelling through and bridging over, and the essential delivery of clean water and the taking away of sewerage. 

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Peter Murray


The Society’s 2019 ‘engineering’ theme of events kicked off with Alistair Lenczner of Expedition Engineering  with a review of the Railway system in and around London, of schemes in the pipeline and what could be done to set up a better infrastructure for London in the future. Roger Cline reports.

The Industrial Revolution started outside London and early canals and railways were designed for goods transport. In London a passenger line opened in 1836 from Spa Road to Deptford (soon extended from London Bridge to Greenwich) and the London to Birmingham Railway opened in 1837 to Euston where some effort to provide impressive architecture was made to re-assure passengers that the undertaking was reliable. Railway termini were banned from the central area south of the Euston Road so there was little through north-south traffic (except via Ludgate Hill or Willesden/Clapham Junction). Passengers arriving at mainline termini were carried on the sub-surface Metropolitan and District lines until the first decades of the twentieth century when deep-level tube lines were provided across the central area. Goods traffic had its own termini and was mainly destined for the docks. Canal access to the docks was provided by the branch of the Grand Union canal to Paddington and then along the Regents Canal to Limehouse in 1820. The railways followed suit in 1851 with the North London line to West India Docks and further connections to Tilbury and eventually the container port near Canvey Island.

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Peter Murray


The 2019 events programme is taking shape, with a range of talks, debates, schools, tours and walks currently being slotted into next year’s calendar. To make sure you know when booking opens for each of our talks, sign up for our newsletter.

There are three main themes for next year – London’s High Streetsand Parks and Open Spaces are two, and the third is Engineering and Infrastructure. Sarah Yates explains the thinking behind the series and some of the events to look forward to.

During 2019 one of the main themes that the London Society will be exploring is the capital’s engineering and infrastructure – the ‘underpinning’ that enables us to live, work and move around the city every day.

The history of London’s infrastructure dates back centuries, as the natural resource of the River Thames, its tributaries and springs provided citizens with their water supply. As the capital expanded, road and utility networks also grew. By the 19th century engineering had become an area in which the UK – and London – led the world in innovation and technological achievement.

Among the most renowned of these are of course the Thames Tunnel, the world’s first tunnel built under a navigable river, between Rotherhithe and Wapping, by Marc Brunel and his son Isambard Kingdom Brunel. In addition, Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s revolutionary system that diverts sewage to outfalls east of London solved the huge problem of infectious disease outbreak and pollution of potable water supplies.

Today the Thames Tideway Tunnel scheme seeks to upgrade this system for the 21st century in the light of climate change and another further wave of massive population growth. In the same way, the long-awaited Elizabeth Line is hoped to provide much-needed extra capacity for London’s overburdened public transport system.

Although 2018 was officially designated the ‘Year of Engineering’ by the UK government, 2019 will see not only future expansion with the arrival of the Elizabeth line but also, looking back, the 125th anniversary of the opening of Tower Bridge and the 200th anniversary of the birth of Bazalgette.

Through a full programme of walks, talks and tours, and partnerships with engineering institutions, the Society will celebrate the best achievements of London’s greatest engineers while also exploring how the engineers of today are generating solutions to help make London a sustainable and liveable city in the future.

Talks include:

  • London’s infrastructure history, with Alistair Lenczner
  • Tower Bridge and its 125th anniversary
  • Why is London’s railway network the way it is? Is it still right for London
  • Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Paddington railway station with historian Steven Brindle
  • Waterloo (Ladies) Bridge with Karen Livesey
  • ICE engineering walks, to be led by ICE London Graduates and Students

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