Survey of London: Volume 1, Bromley-By-Bow. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1900.
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"I have long had thoughts of drawing up something for London like St. Foix's
Rues de Paris, and have made some collections. I wish you would be so good in the
course of your reading to mark down any passage, to the end as where any great houses
of the nobility were situated, or in what street any memorable event happened. I fear
the subject will not furnish much till later time, as our princes kept their courts up and
down the country in such a vagrant manner."
Horace Walpole to the Rev. Mr. Cole, Strawberry-hill, April 16th, 1768.
In 1896, 21st January, on the motion of Sir John Lubbock (now Lord Avebury), the Council resolved—"That the following addition be made to the order of reference of the General Purposes Committee—'To consider and report in the case of the contemplated destruction of any building of historic or architectural interest, what course of action the Council should adopt.' "
The result of this resolution was to make the General Purposes Committee of the Council the committee entrusted with the work of preserving, as far as the Council could, buildings of historic interest. The Committee took active steps to carry out the Council's wish, and on the 23rd February, 1897, reported to the Council what they had done with a view to giving effect to the above-mentioned resolution. In the first place the Committee deemed it essential that a list, as complete as possible, should be obtained of all buildings of historic or architectural interest in London, and they appointed a sub-committee to deal with the matter. With a view to obtaining the necessary particulars for such a list, a communication was addressed to certain societies, several of whom expressed their willingness to assist the Council. Subsequently it was decided that the best means of arriving at a satisfactory and expeditious mode of procedure would be to hold a conference with the various societies who had been asked to kindly assist the Council in the matter, and accordingly a conference took place at the County Hall on 4th December, 1896. Representatives from the following societies attended, viz.—Architectural Association; British Archæological Association; City Church Preservation Society; Committee for the Survey of the Memorials of Greater London; Kent Archæological Society; Kyrle Society; London and Middlesex Archæological Society; London Topographical Society; National Trust for Places of Historic or Natural Beauty; Royal Archæological Institute; Royal Institute of British Architects; Society of Antiquaries; Society of Arts; Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings; and Surveyors' Institution.
In the course of an interesting discussion, during which the representatives of the various societies expressed their gratification at the Council taking action in the matter, and the hope that the interest shown by the Council would stimulate greater public interest in ancient buildings, Sir Robert Hunter, representing the National Trust for Places of Historic or Natural Beauty, stated that the members of different societies were all of opinion that some register or list of buildings, interesting by virtue of their antiquity or architectural beauty and associations should be compiled. In support of this it was contended that at the present time there was considerable ignorance as to what London possessed in the way of buildings of interest, and that frequently it was only realised that a building was of historic interest when that building was in danger of being removed. The Trinity Almshouses were cited as an instance. A list or register would, it was thought, remove in a great measure the risk of losing such buildings. The Committee for the Survey of the Memorials of Greater London having already commenced to prepare such a register, it was thought that good purpose would be served if that committee were to continue its work in connection with the preparation of the register. In the end the conference passed a series of resolutions as follows—
(1.) That it is desirable that a register or list be made of buildings of historic or architectural interest in London; and that the register be in such a form as to admit of amplification, both as to buildings and detail of buildings, according as future information comes to hand.
(2.) That it is desirable to form a general committee to include representatives of the different societies interested in the matter, and that the Council be requested to appoint representatives on such committee.
(3.) That the existing Committee for the Survey of the Memorials of Greater London, having already made a register of buildings in the east end of London, be requested to continue its work; and that it is desirable that similar registers be compiled for the rest of London, it being understood that such registers are formed for the use of the London County Council.
(4.) That the General Purposes Committee of the Council be requested to consider the desirableness of the register being printed from time to time by the Council with suitable drawings and illustrations.
The Committee thereupon made known to the Council that the Committee for the Survey of the Memorials of Greater London had already taken steps to compile a register of historic buildings in London, had collected a considerable amount of material, and had generously offered to hand over to the Council the result of its labours, so far as they related to London, if the Council would print the register. On the 27th July, 1897, the Council resolved to print the register, and voted the necessary sums for the purpose.
A still more important step was taken in 1898 by obtaining from Parliament the statutory power to protect buildings and places of historic interest. The terms of the statute are as follows—"It shall be lawful for the Council if they think fit to purchase by agreement buildings and places of historical or architectural interest or works of art, or to undertake or contribute towards the cost of preserving, maintaining and managing any such buildings and places, and to erect and maintain or contribute towards the provision, erection and maintenance of works of art in London" (London County Council (General Powers) Act, 1898, section 60).
Besides this the Council has acquired statutory power in several Acts of Parliament obtained by railway companies to take possession of all objects of archæological interest excavated by railway companies operating in London.
The Council has by these acts taken all possible steps to do what is necessary in the preservation and recording of places of historic interest in the county. It has been the pioneer among the local authorities of the country in the matter, and the statutory power which it obtained in 1898, or something equivalent, is now likely to be extended to all the county councils of the kingdom, with the result that places of beauty and historic interest may not be swept out of existence without good cause being shown.
The report of the Committee for the Survey of the Memorials of Greater London upon the first instalment of the register best explains the use and interest of the work thus begun, and it is accordingly appended hereto.