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Peter Murray

Don Brown (@donbrownlondon) reviews ‘Bus Fare: Collected Writings on London’s Most Loved Means of Transport” by Travis Elborough and Joe Kerr, published by AA Publishing.

More than the tube, more than the car, more than the railways, or the bicycle, or the cab, it is the bus that moves London. Over 8,000 scheduled buses across 700 different routes lead to nearly 2 billion bus journeys being made every year.

And the red double-decker is an instantly recognised symbol of – in fact, a shorthand for – the capital, featuring on countless postcards and uncountable photographs.

We can thank George Shillibeer who, 190 years ago – 4 July 1829 – introduced the first service (based on the Paris ‘omnibus’) running from Paddington to Bank along the New Road (now called the Euston Road). The fare was one shilling – a reasonable sum, and beyond the pockets of the working class.

How this bit of inspired entrepreneurism from a Bloomsbury coach-builder grew to its current network is told in an excellent new book called Bus Fare, a collection of reportage, fiction, history, letters, biography, facts and figures, and other writings on and about buses and their cultural impact, edited by Travis Elborough (who has form, having previously published a book on the Routemaster) and Professor Joe Kerr, “an architectural historian and bus driver at Tottenham garage”.

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Peter Murray

 

Peter Murray, Chair of the London Society, explains the thinking behind our new motto.

“So what’s our elevator pitch?” said Darryl. “What do we say when someone asks what the London Society is all about?” “Antiqua Tegenda, Pulchra Petenda, Futura Colenda”, I answer.

Darryl is not impressed. “Nah! That’s no way to get younger members to join up. Or to get anyone to join up for that matter. Too ancient!”

While the translation of our motto – “look after the old, seek the beautiful, cultivate the future” – might still hold good, we felt we needed something more engaging if the Society is to achieve is aim of growing its membership and increasing its relevance in the discussion around planning and architecture in the capital. We wish to engage the widest possible groups in that debate, so clarity is important.

We asked ourselves: why are we are running the Society and what is the thinking that drives our programme? We picked up on the theme that was as relevant when the Society was founded in 1912 as they are now: that London’s future must be shaped by both contemporary culture as well as its rich and layered history.

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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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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 – Engineering and Infrastructure, and Parks and Open Spaces are two, and the third is London High Streets. Jane Clossick, lecturer in Urban Design and resident high streets expert at Cass Cities, London Metropolitan University explains the thinking behind the series.

The London Society High Streets series of walks and talks will offer an insight into high streets across London and the UK. High streets are very much on the political and cultural agenda. In July this year, local growth and high streets minister Jake Berry announced an expert panel to ‘diagnose issues that affect health of our high streets and advise on the best practical measures to help them thrive’. There is much talk in the media of saving the high street, and anguish about the loss of big retail chains like Maplin and Toys ‘R’ Us. 

In the Society High Streets series, architects, academics, civil servants and activists will give their take on the state of the UK high street, in a series of high street walks in between presentations and cross-disciplinary discussions, each with three presenters. Join us to find out about the high street’s spatial, social, economic and cultural functions and to participate in a conversation about its future. 

The first talk in the series is High streets: Resilience and resourcefulness with more events to be added before the end of the year.

You can contact Jane for more information about the series, or if you’d like to get involved, via Twitter @jane_clossick. The series is supported by The Sir John Cass School of Art, Architecture and Design, and you can find out about many more events at The Cass at www.cassculture.org.

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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 – Engineering and Infrastructure, and London’s High Streets are two, and here Peter Murray talks about the third, Parks and Open Spaces.

London is a greener city than most. Our squares, parks and green belt are sources of urban envy. Mayor Sadiq Khan has nailed his colours to the mast to make London the “greenest global city” – planting more trees in our streets as well as tackling climate change, reducing waste and cleaning the air. He is backing the idea of London as a National Park City, which will help all Londoners have free and easy access to high-quality green space – a similar aim that the London Society had in the 1930s when it pushed for the creation of the Metropolitan Green Belt.

But in spite of these positive policies, the capital’s existing parks are under threat from Government cost cutting, severely impacting on local authorities’ maintenance budgets. At the same time there is local resistance to the increasing number of events in parks, which provide valuable income but upset local residents because they restrict access, are sometimes noisy and damage planting.

So we are planning a series of talks, visits and an ideas competition around the subject of Parks and Open Spaces. We’ll be asking borough politicians about the problems facing Councils where budgets have been cut by 47% in real terms since 2010. In the past four years spending on open spaces, allowing for inflation, has fallen by 18% – with a drop of more than 10% in 2014/15 alone. Local parks should be the pride and joy of neighbourhoods, but without the money to provide sufficient love and care they soon lose their attraction.

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Peter Murray

Based on his site investigations and knowledge built up through his career – with involvement in such major developments as Camden Lock market, Gabriel Wharf, Spitalfields Market and Trinity Buoy Wharf – Eric Reynolds of Urban Space Ltd. continued our look at London’s markets with an illustrated talk at Allies & Morrison’s offices in Southwark Street. Brian Whiteley reports.

Eric’s theme was that railways radically altered all London’s produce markets, with their long distance speedy supply removing the old requirement for cows to be kept close to the city in order to provide fresh milk as it had to be produced and consumed without refridgeration (e.g.right up to the 1890’s cows were kept in basement dairies in Spitalfields); fish could come from Aberdeen without being smoked or smelly; potatoes from Lincolnshire without wearing out teams of horses.

Once the major railway termini arrived on central London’s outskirts in the nineteenth century its traditional central markets gravitated out to them. The Great Northern Railway Company took a major first step in developing a series of warehouses and markets on land at King’s Cross. By the 1860’s the “Ten O’Clock Road” siding to the north of the station saw 39 warehouses located along it, each with its own branch line to take individual types of produce. In 1865 it handled such traffic as 85,000 tons of potatoes and 400 trucks of celery daily – and in the 1920’s recorded seasonal deliveries of 50 tons of rhubarb and 300 trucks of green peas.

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Peter Murray

Thanks to Studio Egret West for hosting Alec Forshaw’s talk on Smithfield. Brian Whiteley reports on the evening’s talk.

Historical Background / Evolution – Smithfield (originally “smooth field” in old English) started out as a Friday livestock market outside the Roman city walls – probably around 1000 years ago – making it the oldest surviving London market still trading in its original location. By the Tudor period, it started to expand to eventually trade five days per week, dealing in livestock, meat and vegetables. The land for the market was given to the City Corporation by the Crown in a Royal Charter of 1638. Today the land could still revert to Crown ownership if a market ceased to permanently operate there.

Its location outside the original city walls probably saved the market from the 1666 Great Fire and by the early 19th century, it found itself at the centre of a rebuilt and rapidly expanding city. Such was demand from London’s growing population that animals were being driven increasingly great distances (e.g. Scottish cattle) to be marketed there and then slaughtered and butchered. At the time, a common sight on the suburbs’ main routes was of cattle, horses, geese, etc. being herded down, e.g. along Edgware Road or Holloway Road en route to Smithfield.

By the mid 19th century writers such as Charles Dickens were highlighting the market’s ramshackle buildings, the dirty and dangerous conditions there for animals and humans and in particular the unsanitary conditions the meat slaughtering was having at the heart of the city in Newgate Street – with waste going directly into the Fleet and Thames. The noise and bustle of livestock and traders assembling there, together with the associated streams of animals coming through the suburbs was causing widespread concern. A major public gathering – St Bartholomew’s Fair every August – was also held at Smithfield. The noise, drunkenness and misbehaviour it brought merely added to public concern about the need to take action.

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Peter Murray

 

The Society’s new motto of “Valuing the past; looking to the future” will be apparent in everything we do in 2019, with talks, lectures, debates and panel discussions that will look at the future of London through the lens of our city’s history.

The main themes this year include the use and development of Parks and Open Spaces in the capital. The green space in the city is the envy of other capitals, but government cost-cutting has had a negative impact on local authorities’ maintenance budgets and at the same time there is local resistance to the increasing number of events in public parks. This year the Society will have a series of talks and visits around the subject, as well as an ‘ideas competition’ to ask how parks can meet the needs of visitors, residents and fund raising.

We also have a great series of talks, walks, tours and other events on the evolution and challenges to London’s high streets. It’s a truism that London is a collection of villages and neighbourhoods, and vibrant high streets are important to the individual character of each area. How do these places survive? What can planners, architects, local and national government, and us as individuals, do to keep these centres vibrant and thriving.

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Peter Murray

 

Over 200 members gathered at the Jarvis Hall in Portland Place to hear Ben Derbyshire, President of the RIBA, talk about ways to deal with London’s housing crisis, and the challenges faced by architects and planners. Barry Coidan reports.

Building Greater London – or how do you make our city better when nobody wants new neighbours?

In setting the scene Ben painted a less than rosy picture of London’s housing. We have a broken housing market. The supply of new homes is well short of the target of 66k a year set by the Mayor of London. Rent takes up far too much of people’s take home pay – averaging around 57% with “Buy to Let” landlords unwittingly exploiting those who can’t afford to buy.

You could characterise London as a divided city. Divided over new developments with opposition to almost any – the haves excluding the have nots. Yet there’s space to build. London’s housing density compared with other major capital cities is much lower: outer London boroughs average 16 dwellings per hectare. London is also aging, in terms of its population and major infrastructure.

The capital has so much going for it! It is creative, it is sharing, energetic and productive. Ben’s manifesto “Let the People Build” drew on this energy and creativity to show how London could accommodate its growing population in a humane and invigorating environment.

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Peter Murray

In the latest talk in our ‘Planning for 10 Million’ series, Alex Lifschutz (Lifschutz Davidson Sandiland) and Colin Wilson (London Borough of Southwark) discussed the recent history of “Affordable Housing and the Planning System from Margaret Thatcher to James Murray.” Barry Coidan reports.

Alex Lifschutz bravely began by describing a planning/regeneration project that went badly wrong. His firm was involved in the original plans for the “Regeneration of King’s Street, Hammersmith.” On paper there was nothing wrong with it. Affordable housing along with less affordable homes with the development centred on Hammersmith Town Hall and a fine old cinema. Unfortunately, the scheme was overblown the local authority wanting to get as much out of the development (and developers) as possible. There were two plans, there was massive opposition by residents. The much loved local Cineworld cinema was at risk. The second plan, however, was approved at a stormy Council meeting and the cinema was to be razed to the ground.

New developers moved in and demolished the Cinema. Control of the Council changed hands and the new Labour administration stopped the development. Anger and disappointment followed. Planning and design had played second fiddle to commercial interests. That imbalance proved disastrous: the outcome was a much loved cinema demolished and nothing for the Community.

Thankfully we moved onto an uplifting success story. Coin Street Community Builders. Twenty years ago this area of London was bleak, unattractive, with few shops and restaurants, a dying residential community and a weak local economy. Today it is thriving mixed and balanced neighbourhood: a destination for millions of Londoners and visitors from overseas, with a thriving residential and business community benefiting from ever-expanding community facilities and services. How did that happen?

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