Pages xiii-xxxvi

Survey of London: Volume 1, Bromley-By-Bow. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1900.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying and sponsored by English Heritage. All rights reserved.


In this section


Origin of the work.

In laying before the citizens of London the first volume of a work that may, perhaps, never be finished, but that at least seeks to mark down the main lines upon which her great history could be preserved and studied, it will not, perhaps, be out of place to say a few words as to the origin of the present volume, and those that may follow upon it.

Six years ago the public conscience was stirred by the destruction by one of the leading municipal bodies of a great historic building, illustrated and described in this book (pp. 33–40). Some of those who were influential in saving portions of the wreckage for national purposes decided to form themselves into a committee and appeal to the public, with a view to compiling a register or survey of whatever was still left of interest in the eastern districts of London, and in those parts, still but little touched, into which Greater London was spreading. A line, 20 miles in length, was drawn northwards from Aldgate Pump, and southwards to the Thames, and whatever was bounded by the river on the south, by this line on the west, and by the circumference struck from Aldgate Pump north and east to the two 20-mile radii at either projection, was taken as within the scope of the Survey Committee.

The area selected.

This delimitation of boundary at first sight appears somewhat arbitrary, but a glance at the map will show the reason of the choice. Aldgate Pump was not only a historic spot in itself, but it marked the eastern point of the old City of London, and within the circumference thus drawn, lay not only the great East End, but most of the beautiful eastern suburbs that are rapidly being destroyed to make building room—for slums very frequently; but if not slums, then, at the best, a sort of dreary villadom—for the vast population that is flowing out from the centre or being drawn in from perishing agricultural Essex.

The area embraced the following parishes—

London Parishes.
Mile End.
St. George-in-the-East.
Bethnal Green.
Stoke Newington.
Middlesex Parishes.
Enfield Highway.
Ponders' End.
Essex Parishes.
East Ham.
West Ham.
Upton Park.
Forest Gate.
Manor Park.
Great Ilford.
Little Ilford.
Chadwell Heath.
High Beech.
Waltham Abbey.
Buckhurst Hill.
Woodford Bridge.
Theydon Bois.
Theydon Garnon.
Theydon Mount.
Warley, Little.
Warley, Great.
Noak Hill.
Havering atte Bower.
Ockendon, North.
Ockendon, South.
West Thurrock.
Stanford Rivers.
South Weald.
Harold Wood.
Stapleford Abbots.
Stapleford Tawney.

These parishes were divided up into districts, and apportioned to members of the Survey Committee, who visited them, made drawings and photographs, and filled in forms, of which the one below given is a type. (fn. 1)

These were then sent in to me for editing; where necessary I myself visited the places in question, and the result may be seen in the records of the parish of Bromley. Some thousand drawings, sketches, and notes, covering various parishes, had been thus collected and arranged when a conference of the various organisations interested in Old London was held under the auspices of the London County Council, who, as a result, agreed to print that portion of the work which related to the County of London. This necessarily led to a change in the method employed. The outlying parishes were allowed to stand over, though parishes like Ilford, West Ham, Leyton, and Barking had already been extensively surveyed, and attention was fixed on those nearer home—those, be it said, that are necessarily less interesting to the amateur, whose best work is done on Saturday afternoons and summer holidays.

Development of the work.

As the work developed and the collected material increased, the size of the volumes had to be reconsidered. At first it had been hoped to put ten parishes into a volume; then four parishes, then the parishes of Bromley and Bow together, seemed to be of size sufficient for one issue; and, finally, the parish of Bow has been kept back, although it is already in part set up in print, and Bromley alone has been issued as the first volume of the Register.

The Register.

The portion of the Register thus offered represents, therefore, only a small fragment of the Committee's whole work, whether for Greater London or for the more limited area of the county. The work is necessarily of many hands. In estimating its comprehensiveness, and also its accuracy, these facts have to be taken into consideration; and while we hope and believe that this first volume is an accurate record of what existed in the area surveyed in the year 1894, it is only right to say that neither this portion nor the rest of the work lays claim to completeness: all that may be ventured is that, in the area undertaken, the Committee have tried to make the survey as complete as possible. The variety of hands at work alluded to above has necessitated a somewhat disproportionate and consequently incomplete treatment of parts of the survey, although the labour of each has been revised by myself, and the fact that in some, though very few, cases, we have been unable to obtain permission to visit, may have made us sometimes unwittingly miss out things that should, perhaps, have been recorded.

As each portion of the work has been finally set up in proof by the Council's printers, it has in many cases received further valuable help at the hands of the Council's statistical officer, Mr. G. Laurence Gomme, whose historical and antiquarian knowledge has been placed unreservedly at the Committee's service.

The volume on Bromley.

The present volume is to be taken, therefore, as only a small section of the work we have done, or have before us to do, and, in judging it, we ask that its aim shall be the critic's first consideration. This aim is briefly to stimulate the historic and social conscience of London; and we are glad to have received the help of the County Council in our endeavour to do this. We believe that if such a register as is here offered in this first volume were drawn up of every parish in London, it would go far towards preventing that destruction of the historic and beautiful landmarks of the great city that our Committee have set themselves to try and save; and we think that the parish of Bromley itself is a good illustration of what might have been done.

A glance through the present volume shows that of the sixteen objects or groups of objects deemed by us to be of sufficient importance to be recorded, six have been destroyed during the compilation of this work, and at least two others threatened with destruction. The drawings, photographs or plans in each case recorded as being in the Committee's MSS. collection, and of which some are here reproduced, will show the relative importance attached to the objects surveyed.

The parish of Bromley.

It is sad to think of what might have been done with the parish, had there but been a little historical judgment, a little co-operation between the public bodies and the private holders of property to whose care the parish has been entrusted in the last few years; and our Committee are bold to think that had the survey been in existence seven years ago, perhaps some of the worst of the vandalism might have been prevented.

A reference to plates 32-36 of this book and to the map will show the beautiful conformation of the old high street, and also the points marked in red that we have recorded: a walk through the existing parish will show how this high street has been spoiled and disgraced, how its line has been disregarded, how everything in it has been sacrificed to the immediate requirements of the moment; as if those who have had the handling of it in the last few years had said:—"This is a slum, let the history or the beauty go, for the poor anything is good enough, and at all hazards we must make things pay." Where stood the picturesque 17th and 18th century houses with their tiled roofs and richly moulded timber cornices and canopies now stands a grim and melancholy casual ward. Where was the stately house of the Adams' time is now the goods depôt of the London and Tilbury Railway. Where stood "Tudor House" in its garden is now the somewhat conventional "open space," with a view of the factory chimneys beyond; where, next it, was the Old Palace of James I. is now a gaunt, uninteresting Board School; and where clustered the picturesque gable and chimneys of the half-timber inn of the "Seven Stars" is now a flaming gin palace of four stories.

These are merely cited as instances of the so-called "improvements" in this particular parish that have taken place during the last six years, the period covered by our survey. Our Committee do not wish to imply that a good deal of this was not inevitable, but they plead that a good deal of it was unnecessary, and could, with proper municipal direction or advice, have been prevented.

Bromley as an example of what is happening all over London.

Perhaps it may not be fair to take the parish of Bromley as an example of what is happening over the whole of London; but sometimes one is apt to ask whether their historic conscience is entirely lost to the citizens of London, so swift, so complete, so apparently needless—and, alas! so ignorant—is often the destruction of the records of their past.

I was anxious to test how far the example of Bromley was a fair one, to discover how far this disregard of the historic conscience could be illustrated by what was happening over the whole of London, so I asked representative members of the various societies whom the Council has called in from time to time to assist in the work, to help me in making a list of beautiful or historic objects, whether in buildings, or in what may be called the amenities of London, that have been either destroyed or threatened with destruction during the last six years—the time over which we have been at work.

List of things threatened or destroyed in London during the last six years.

I cannot in every case vouch for the accuracy of the information supplied me, and in some instances where things have been only threatened, the threat in itself may have aroused sufficient opposition to lead to its withdrawal; but all will, I think, be agreed in looking through my list, that we are confronted with a very serious state of things, and that the time has come when we should face the question of how best to preserve history, for the honour of our own and future ages; that the time has come when our municipalities should regard it as a part of the duty they are called upon by the ratepayers to fulfil, and when we should adopt some such course as is adopted in the towns of Italy, of Germany, of France, even of America, for preserving reverently and generously the great things committed to our charge.

I place the list with the notes as they have been sent to me, putting first the things that have been destroyed since 1894, and next the things that have been threatened. I wish we might say that both were complete; but this is far from being the case.


(a) Inside the Administrative County of London.

Stratford-place The work of Robert Adam. In part, but so that the symmetry and dignity of the whole plan is destroyed.
Haymarket Colonnades One of the best-planned late Georgian streets in London.
Adam-street, Adelphi One of the finest specimens of Adam's work (almost entirely).
The Rolls Chapel Containing the monument of Dr. Young, which was the work of Torrigiano, and also the mediæval chancel arch.
The City Churches The church of St. Michael, Wood-street, of ancient foundation, was rebuilt by Wren after the Great Fire, and pulled down in 1897 under the Union of Benefices Act. On its destruction, the lower part of the tower was found to be mediæval, and the walls were on the ancient foundations. The parish is now united with that of St. Alban, Wood-street.
The church of St. Michael, Bassishaw, also of ancient foundation, was in part also destroyed in the Great Fire, and rebuilt by Wren, who, as was his custom, worked in as much of the old building as he could. It is also being destroyed under the Union of Benefices Act, the parish being united to that of St. Laurence Jewry.
The church of St. George, Botolph-lane, also rebuilt by Wren after the Fire, has been closed for years. It is, we understand, condemned under the same Act.
The Old Palace of Bromley Built in 1606. Described in this volume (pp. 33–40).
Tudor House, Bromley Described in this volume (pp. 21–23).
Alfred Stevens' Lions Before the British Museum railings.
The Embankment Garden of Chelsea Hospital In part, and one of the finest cedar trees in London.
The "Old Bell Inn" The last galleried inn in London on the Middlesex side of the water.
Church-Row, Hampstead In part.
St. Mary Woolonth Church The interior destroyed.
Old Merchants' Houses In the City Nos. 10 and 11A, Austin Friars. No. 10 had a fine staircase. It was panelled, and the ceiling was painted on plaster with allegorical figures in the style of Sir James Thornhill. Built into the basement was an arch which had formed part of the cloister of the Augustine Friars.
No. 4, Coleman-street, with its "Cedar Room," of date between 1610–1625. On the destruction of the house a quantity of mediæval pottery was found in a well beneath.
The 17th Century Houses on the south side of Barnard's Inn When the latter was converted for the purpose of the Mercers' School.
Clement's Inn With its brick garden-house.
Hare-court, Temple In part.
Dick's Coffee-House No. 8, Fleet-street, that was of 17th century date. Very famous in the literature of the 18th century.
Ashburnham House, Dover-street Now replaced by flats.
Coleherne-court, Earl's-court Date about 1750. Recently destroyed, the site and garden, some two or three acres, to be built over.
Bullingham House, off Church-street, Kensington This was the house where Sir Isaac Newton died. The house and extensive garden have been built over.
The 13th Century Crypt, Laurence Pountney-hill No. 4 that was. This was in perfect condition, and it was let by the Merchant Taylors' Company on building lease and destroyed.
The last portion of the Blackfriars Monastrey, on the north side of Ireland-yard. Destroyed this year.
Bedford-square Many Adam interiors destroyed.
Russell-square The whole planning of the square spoiled by block buildings, and facades of many of the houses spoiled.
Fitzroy-square The elevations spoiled, and stonework painted over.
Hanover Chapel, Regent-street, W.
The "Cock Tavern," Fleet-street.
Harley House, Marylebone-road With beautiful timbered garden, and some of the finest planes in London.
Emanuel Hospital, West-minister.
Church-Row, Aldgate 16th to 18th century date.
Cass's School, Aldgate 18th century date.
The Wardrobe, Stepney Adjoining, and formerly part of Gwynne House. It was destroyed by the London County Council in widening the thoroughfare.
17th Century Merchant Houses, Bow Opposite Bow Church.
Mitre-square, Aldgate With the remains of the Priory.
Palestine-place, Bethnal-green A group of 18th century buildings.
The "Catherine Wheel Inn," Bishopsgate. Part of the courtyard, with the galleries of the old inn.
The 18th Century Rectory and Boundary Wall, Bow Where the front garden was has now been built a new bank premises, completely spoiling the line of the High-street and blocking out the view of the tower of St. Mary's Church.
The "Seven Stars" Inn, Bromley See descriptions in this volume (pp. 41–42).
Sir Francis Drake's House in the City No. 35, Basinghall-street that was.
17th and 18th Century Houses in St. Leonard'sstreet and High-street, Bromley See descriptions in this volume (pp. 24, 43–45).
Half-Timber Houses in Mile End and Whitechapel Roads Mostly destroyed by the new railway improvements. These were of dates varying from 16th to 18th century; they are partly recorded in the Committee's Register.
Coopers' Almshouses, Ratcliff Recorded in the Committee's Register.
Skinners' Almshouses, Mile End Recorded in the Committee's Register.
Nos. 84 and 85, Highstreet, Putney Early 18th century houses, with fine staircases. Pulled down by the General Omnibus Company.
The Gables, Wandsworthcommon Two houses of late 17th century date Replaced by a pauper establishment.

(b) Outside the Administrative County of London, but within the Greater London Survey.

Rokeby House, Stratford Where now stands a music hall.
Kew Bridge One of the few remaining stone bridges on the Lower Thames.
Salway House, Leyton Of 17th century date, gate piers only left.
Grove Hall, Woodford.
The Abbey Wall, West Ham This was early Norman work, and destroyed by the Great Eastern Railway.
17th and 18th Century Houses in High-street, East Ham.
Salisbury House, Ilford The garden has been built over and the front blocked out.
Ivy Lodge, Plaistow Elizabethan date, destroyed by the West Ham Corporation.
The Greyhound Inn, West Ham
Fairmead Hall, Highstreet, Stratford Elizabethan date, L shaped plan.
Leasowes, Leyton 16th to 18th century, containing beautiful panelling, wrought iron gates and other detail.
Sunny Side, Leyton
Lea Hall, Leyton
Stratford Green Built over in part by the new Technical Schools.
Capper's House, Leyton Recorded in the Committee's Register.


(a) Inside the Administrative County of London.

Chelsea Hospital.
Trinity Hospital, Mile End Saved in great measure by the agency of the Survey Committee. (See the Trinity Hospital Monograph issued by the Committee.)
St. Mary-le-Strand Church.
St. Clement Danes Church.
St. Mary's, Stratford Atte Bowe, Church Saved in part by the agency of the Survey Committee and recently restored by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. (See the Bow Church Monograph issued by the Committee.)
16a, Brook-street One of the most beautiful pieces of Adam's work in London.
The Inner Temple Gatehouse Together with 17, Fleet-street, the reputed Chancery of Cornwall; but now saved by the action of the City and the London County Council.
St. Mary Woolnoth Church Exterior only (by conversion into a station).
The Jewel Tower, West-minister.
The City Churches.
St. Ethelburga, Bishopsgate Threatened under the Union of Benefices Act.
Lincoln's Inn Fields The western side, with the Inigo Jones Mansions.
Christ's Hospital.
Sir Joshua Reynolds' House in Leicester-square.
Turner House, Chelsea Now saved.
Thomas Carlyle's House in Cheyne-row But now saved mainly by the enterprise of Chelsea residents and American subscribers.
Sir Isaac Newton's House.
Newgate The facade of this is one of the best works of the younger Dance.
Bromley Churchyard, with the Hughenot tombs.
Chestnut House, Old Ford, Bow Late 18th century date, but containing carved oak and stone fireplaces of early 17th century date.
Fernside, Wandsworth Common.
Ironmongers' Almshouses, Kingsland-road, N.E. Now saved.
Temple Gardens In part.
Golder's Hill Estate, Hampstead Since saved.
Churchyard Bottom Wood, Highgate Since saved.
Latchmere Allotments, Battersea.
The Burial-ground of Bridewell Hospital At the corner of Tudor and Dorset-streets, E.C. The Corporation intend building on it.
The Blind School, S.E. The generating station for the Baker street and Waterloo Railways.
Grove Hall, Bow.

(b) Outside the City and County of London, but within the Greater London survey.

The Great House, Leyton With its panelled rooms and Thornhill paintings.
Lake House, Wanstead With its banqueting hall and paintings.
Pymme's Park, Edmonton But now saved by the action of the Middlesex County Council.
Valentines, Ilford The ground being gradually cut up for building.
Crabrook, Ilford "    "     "
The Angel Inn, Ilford A 17th century coaching inn. The old sign only left.
Ilford Hall, Ilford Stands in a fine garden.
Great Desideratum Club House, Ilford.
Boleyn Castle, Upton Park Fully described in the Committee's Register. A fine Tudor building, with garden and grounds.
Pest House Common, Richmond.
The Home Field, Chiswick.
Totter Down Meadows, Tooting Sold to the London County Council for building artizan dwellings.
The Old Tithe Barn of Cumberland House, Planistow Probably the tithe barn of West Ham Abbey, and reputed the largest in Essex.
Hare Hall, Romford Now saved; a stone-fronted house, built in 1769 from the designs of Payne.
Giddea Hall, Romford The house of an ancient manor of Westminster Abbey; it was originally built by Sir Thomas Coke, temp. Edward IV., rebuilt by John Thorpe in the early 17th century, which was again destroyed in 1720, and the present building erected by Sir John Eyles.
Shern Hall, Walthamstow A 17th century manor house, with beautiful grounds.
Rectory Manor, Walthamstow. Of early 19th century date, but containing some earlier fitments.
The Temple House, East Ham A beautiful little example of early 18th century garden architecture.
Rancliffe House, East Ham.
Ray House, Woodford.
Manor House, Woodford.
Walwood House, Leytonstone. The grounds cut up and built upon; the house still standing.
Strype's Vicarage, Leyton This was the residence of the famous antiquary. It has been saved by conversion into a church-house.
The Old Town Hall, Barking A beautiful Elizabethan building, carried on an open timber arcade, and standing in the market-place alongside of the abbey gateway.

Where the above-mentioned are in private hands, it is, of course, difficult to bring public pressure to bear; but it is as often as not the case that a public or semi-public body has been responsible. Thus examination will show that, among others, responsibility for the care of, or blame for the destruction of, the places above enumerated has lain with such bodies as the London County Council, the London School Board, the Charity Commissioners, the Elder Brethren of the Trinity House, the Office of Works, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, the War Office, the Bedford Estate, &c.

The historic record of London.

In some cases it would have been difficult, perhaps impossible, to retain some of the buildings, &c., specified, even with the most conservative intentions or the most generous expenditure; but the fact of its being possible to draw up within the limited period of six years such a list as the above, is in itself a very serious indictment against the common sense and the administrative capacity of the citizens of London. It touches their credit with posterity. That they should be so ready to thoughtlessly destroy the noble and beautiful things committed to their charge argues an indifference and a want of trust that it will be difficult at some later time, perhaps even impossible, to explain away. "Quem deus vult perdere" can be not inappropriately applied to the guardianship of our historical heritage. Are we incapable, or not, of maintaining our trust as the centre of empire? The question is a grave one, the trust may be taken from us.

The greatest city of England—of the whole world—should not only look to the preserving of her historic record, she should go out of her way to see that immediate, that short-sighted considerations, whether public or private, should not intrude themselves. To the Canadian, the Australian, the American, the son of a new world of our own blood, this great London that he comes home to see is interesting not for its modernity, not to him even for its life, it stands to him as a symbol for the majesty of history. We ought not to let parochial considerations prejudice this idea. It was a wise axiom of William Morris' that whenever a great piece of history or a noble work of art was threatened with destruction, it was because "somebody wanted something." There was no real desire on the part of the public to destroy a Trinity hospital, a "Wren" church, an Elizabethan palace, an open space. The public was ready for a lead always if the case could be fairly put before it; but there was somebody behind who was more pushing, some brewer who wanted to enlarge his yard, some impecunious landlord who wanted to realise, some building speculator who had a scheme to develop, some official in a Government department who wanted to show a good balance-sheet for the year—somebody who wanted something.

A means of safeguarding the historic record.

It should be the object of a wise municipality to have a means by which the public interest should be safeguarded against the private encroachment that is implied in its not having a first say in matters of this kind. I do not mean that the municipality should buy up every old house, pledge itself to turn every open space into a garden and so forth, but that there should be some means by which the public should be first consulted when any question arose that affected the history or the dignity of London; and the proper body to supply this means would seem to be the London County Council. It has obtained the necessary statutory power; it has already taken action in one case under that power, and if properly advised in each case it would be the most authoritative body to bring about the desired results.

Expert opinion and the London County Council.; A suggested organisation.

But what is it that actually happens? A piece of London history comes under the hammer, let us say, and the Council may or may not get information in time to act. If it is asked to step in and do something, there is at present no proper machinery by which the Council may consult the views of those who have made this subject their special study. Nobody has any locus standi. Nobody can take any action. The inevitable result is that two things happen, each of them bad. An agitation, which almost invariably resolves itself into an attack, is started in the public Press, and the individual members of the Council are lobbied by the parties interested on both sides. This is unfair to the public, but it is unfairer still to the members of the Council. But if expert opinion were so organised as to be able to advise the London County Council quickly and effectively in all cases of this kind, it would be a great step forward in the safe-guarding of London's right to the enjoyment of her own history.

Co-operation of Municipality with private enterprise.

We are constantly met in our desire to adapt things of a past age to the needs of our own with the difficulty of their inappropriateness. I have heard Mr. Sidney Webb say that it might become a serious question for the Council to have upon its hands a number of old empty houses for which there was no particular purpose, and which had to be kept up. The difficulty is, however, not so great as it seems. A purpose should, and I consider can, always be found if we go the right way to work; but the right way is not necessarily the purely utilitarian way. A Committee ought to be formed to put itself in touch with all the various social agencies that are each in their way seeking to work in the direction of the raising of the standard of life in the community. There is the Church, there are the various Nonconformist centres, the clubs, the University settlements, the trade unions, there are the societies, antiquarian, historical, and so forth, there is the National Trust, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, and other organisations. It will, I think, usually be found that when any of these bodies are approached in the right manner, sympathetically, and on account of what I have called the historic conscience, they respond in a like way. If the County Council would instruct its Committee to act with such a committee permanently, the results would, I am convinced, well repay the endeavour.

The recent case of the destruction of Tudor House by the London County Council itself rather illustrates what I mean. Here was an Elizabethan house, not perhaps in itself intrinsically valuable, but which there was no great need to destroy. The illustrations and description given in this volume will show that it possessed æsthetic and historic interest. An offer was made for its maintenance and upkeep as a University settlement; but the wise assimulation of the two municipal services of education and recreation was never really placed before the Council, and the project was lost.

Larger questions involved.

I have ventured to go thus fully into the question of what might be done if the Council pursue the wise course it has already started upon of calling to its assistance, and giving the lead to, the various bodies, societies, and voluntary associations who are each in their own way working for the ennobling and improvement of London, but I think that there are still some greater and more important questions that would be touched upon, that might even be more wisely settled than they are at present; these are the housing question, the question of parks and open spaces, the question of museums, and the question of nomenclature.

The reflections here following are offered, not so much as my own, but as held for the most part by my colleagues on the Survey Committee, and deduced by us from the experience we have had during the progress of our work. That the suggestions they call forth appear, in many cases, incompatible with the method under which modern municipal government has to be conducted, or that they trench upon the province of other Government departments is not our concern. Our object is merely to state facts, or to show up what we believe to be abuses from the point of view—social, historical and æsthetic—from which we handle our subject. It is for the legislators to devise the way out.

The housing of the poor.

Of these questions by far the most important for the life, moral and physical, of the community is the housing question. What is it we find? We who have searched and recorded what remains of things that are beautiful or health-giving or dignified in those districts of London beyond the far East-end, whither its vast population—its poor—gravitate, perhaps have better opportunities than others of knowing. We hear much talk about the housing of the poor in the centre, we see great experiments being tried, we see masses of the population drifting outwards. But what happens to them, what becomes of them, where do they go? The answer to this our Committee can supply in its search work. We find that for every slum destroyed in the centre, half a dozen are run up in the suburbs; we find that while the legislators are theorising and experimenting as to how the poor should be housed inside the County of London, the jerry builder is solving the problem for them outside, to the infinite loss and detriment of the community. We find estate after estate, park after park, coming under the hammer, the trees cut down, the roads stupidly planned; everything, in short, sacrificed to the financial exigencies of the few people immediately interested.

It needs no prophet to foretell that all this work will some day have to be undone at great cost and great loss. To any one who has studied the needs and requirements of the poor who are drifting into these new and dreary suburbs of Greater London, for the most part outside the county area, it is clear enough that what is being offered them is a mere makeshift, a habitation in which life of any dignity or nobility is impossible, a condition of things that is seldom better, sometimes worse, than the slums and side streets of the centre from which they have been driven.

The needless destruction of great estates.

The building contract system strikes at the root of all nobility in planning—architecture is non - existent. Building Acts are but little protection against bad or slovenly building; the difficulties of distance and travelling are added to the ugliness of life; for the children nothing is done; nothing is done to protect the open spaces, the trees or gardens, that might with proper planning be preserved; if there is any beautiful object of the past, some house, perhaps, that could be utilised for library, club, museum, school or parish purposes, it is torn down and sold to the wreckers for its value in old materials; while as for that quality of beauty in old roads or streets, the lie of the land, the disposition of the buildings, &c., all those things that make a locality interesting, and that were instinctively felt and understood by our ancestors, they are merely dismissed by the people who pride themselves as practical, with suspicion and contempt.

There are at least ten such estates at the present moment, some of them with parks and gardens that the care of centuries has brought into being, some with historic houses, whose interiors will bring high profit to the Wardour-street dealers for West-end mansions, that we have recorded as about to be destroyed. Since the starting of our work, perhaps twenty such have been broken up. We consider that a wiser, a more far-sighted policy, would so handle those estates that they should conduce to the well-being and the healthier life of the poor whose habitation they are to become. There is no reason why the estates should not be properly laid out, the roads planned in accordance with the existing trees and avenues, the gardens preserved for common enjoyment, and whatever fragments of local history there may be to start with, saved for the pleasure of the community that is to come—no reason, except the sordid utilitarianism of the system under which they are destroyed.

We Londoners flatter ourselves that with the more enlightened municipal government which we enjoy we now take more thought for the well-being of the community than was taken in such matters in the beginning of the present century or at the end of the last. But are we sure that we are not deceiving ourselves? Is any attempt made now to lay out a suburban estate such as was once the Bedford Estate in Bloomsbury, or the Tredegar Estate in Bow?

Writing to me in 1895 on the work of the Survey, one of the older members of our Committee, to whom its work is much indebted, and whose words for their pathos as well as their direct bearing upon the subject I make free to quote here, said—

"I have been grieved to see so many places cut up and destroyed—mansions and buildings pulled down during the last 40 years. When I lived there (at Bow) it was all fields around. We could see from our landing window 29 church spires—from Shoreditch to Forest Gate—and St. Paul's Cathedral, and the first mistletoe I gathered (or saw) was on a tree in Bearbinder-lane, a name now almost forgotten. Then the walk over to Limehouse was by Bromley Fields, and part of the wall of the Convent was existing in Three Mill-lane—and the Palace now gone too! At Leyton, the Grange with its five avenues existed, and we used to walk over cornfields to the church, where now hundreds of houses are. Harrow Green was a quiet country spot with the old cage and pound, and Leytonstone, a rural Quaker retreat; Wallwood House in a pretty little park; Walthamstow a drowsy village in the fields, now a perfect horror; Wanstead the same, but too urban now; Upton, Plashet, East Ham and Little Ilford, charmingly quiet and untouched—and I might go on so."

The wisdom of the policy of reservations.

Instead of planning vast stacks of model dwellings in the heart of the great city, would it not be a wiser course to secure some of these beautiful districts in the immediate suburbs, such as our Committee has marked down as doomed from its point of view, and lay them out intelligently for the future citizens of London? We believe that were the means for doing this made easier, the actual work of housing could be done not only much more cheaply but much more beneficially for the health and life of the poor, and we are convinced that had this been done 25 or 30 years ago, much of the misery, the ugliness and the degradation of East London as it now exists would have been saved.

I have often thought that if a few philanthropists were to form themselves into a committee for buying up land in the outlying districts of London, and be content to hold this till the times were ripe, binding themselves to make no return beyond perhaps a 3 per cent. dividend when the new area ultimately came to be built over, and at the same time made it their object to save the amenities of each district they handled, the results would be better than any Peabody or Rowton or Boundary-street undertakings. It would, in fact, be carrying out in practice that wiser and more far-sighted policy of "reservations" pursued in Massachusetts, and from which not only our philanthropists, but our municipalities might take a lesson for the future of Greater London.

Parks and open spaces.

If the housing question is the most important, that of parks and open spaces appears to us, from the conclusions which our investigations have forced upon us, to be inseparably connected with it. To us it seems that while the municipalities are allowing the real parks on the outskirts of London to be destroyed, they are only playing with the subject. The question should be treated much more broadly and on a larger scale. It is too apt to resolve itself into a mere matter of ring fences and band-stands. Every year what is practically a new town of from 20,000 to 50,000 inhabitants, is thrown off from London. What we would like to see is some means by which the existing parks and open spaces that are being sacrificed for these mushroom towns should be safeguarded and preserved.

I am not saying that it is not a wise plan to buy areas in the heart of the metropolis for purposes of "lungs," but what we want to insist on is the comparative waste and extravagance of the system by which small and costly areas are preserved at a very high charge to the rates, when large and beautiful tracts could be acquired at often agricultural prices in the near suburbs. All the time, moreover, the population is drifting away from the centre, and we are laying up for the future an exaggeration of that very problem which we are now trying inadequately to solve. Were the population of London stationary and non-migratory, our method of going to work would be sound enough, but at present it is short-sighted, haphazard, and recklessly wasteful. My Committee plead for a larger, wiser, and more statesmanlike manner of handling the problem; a manner that shall take into consideration the drift of population, the gravitation of trades, the effect of the new railways now under construction, and the great decentralising influence of the bicycle and other methods of locomotion. We plead that the parks and open space problem shall not be treated in the rather parochial way in which it is at present treated, that it shall be regarded as part of the greater question of the amenities of municipal life, and that, perhaps, by some combination among municipalities, or by some action taken in conjunction with private individuals, a wiser and more farsighted policy in such matters should be adopted. (fn. 2)


Among the other questions of importance to the community that in the opinion of the Survey Committee would receive a more intelligent consideration were that Court of Appeal of which I spoke above instituted, we place that of museums and of nomenclature. People fail entirely to recognise the great importance of both these things to the community. They are educational factors of the highest influence, provided that intelligent consideration is given them. At present both are practically disregarded, they play no part in municipal life.

To most people a museum suggests cases of stuffed animals, or at best something dead and unconnected with living things. A lumber room into which you put stuff which you do not want to throw away, but are at a loss to know where else to bestow it. The manner in which our great collections have been gathered and housed, all at random and hugger mugger, has lent colour to this. We who have watched during the last six years the breaking up of what we consider should be the real store-houses, plead that the spirit of collectomania is not the spirit upon which a museum should be formed. Every museum, we consider, should have a definite purpose, a historical setting, a reference to the locality in which it is placed, and above all should be connected in some way or other, whether through the school, the technical college, the church, or the industries of the locality, with the life of the district in which it is situated.

Municipal collections and centres of study.

That there should be one central collection is in itself questionable, though admissible perhaps from an educational point of view for students. But it need not be large in order to be educational. The genuine student, moreover, will go to where the things are he is in search of, and the result, as a rule, of gathering all things together under one vast roof as at South Kensington, means that the classification is incoherent, and the things so huddled up that they are unapproachable. Many of the priceless treasures stripped from beautiful houses and churches in London suburbs and at present at South Kensington, might as well be in Wardour-street cellars, for all the benefit either the student or the community reap from them. What we would like to see would be a number of small municipal museums in different parts of London, connected in one way or another with local organisations, and, wherever possible, set in some historic house and surrounded by the garden that is already in existence. Among the great houses that our Committee has surveyed which we consider would well serve such a purpose, and some of which are now threatened with destruction, or will shortly be, we would name (fn. 3) Pymmes Park, Edmonton, with its Elizabethan interior; Great House, Leyton, with its Thornhill paintings and beautiful oak-panelled rooms; Lake House, Wanstead, with its painted banqueting chamber; Boleyn Castle, Upton Park, with its charming Elizabethan work, its memories of the unfortunate queen whose name it retains; Eastbury House, Barking, and Parsloes, Dagenham, with their wonderful interiors and the records they share between them of the Stuart families and the Gunpowder Plot; all those places, and they are only a few of those that might be mentioned, are surrounded by beautiful gardens, there are still flowers and trees in them that it would be impossible to plant again in new ground under London atmosphere, and all could be connected with some existing local organisation, and become centres for small historic collections of the different and scattered parishes in which they are respectively placed.

The lost opportunity in Bromley.

It is private enterprise that will do all this and form the collections if the municipality will take the lead intelligently. When our Committee was at work in Bromley a variety of local records and objects dealing with the history of the parish was offered to us, but we had nowhere to place them, and knew not what to do with them. It would have been perfectly easy to have formed a historical museum in Bromley within the last six years, as beautiful almost as the Musee Plantin in Antwerp itself. The Old Palace described in this volume would have been its fitting home, and this could have been attached without any difficulty to the new school erected by the School Board. There was the nucleus there of one of the most beautiful collections in London; and I know many residents in Bromley and East London generally, who would have been only too glad to have given records of local history, and also money to assist in such a project. It would have meant establishing a "Monument Historique," such as is constantly done in similar cases in every city in France and other countries more enlightened in these matters than ourselves. It would have been possible to construct in this Palace a complete visual picture of the old parish of Bromley from the time of Chaucer, when the monastery stood there, through the period of the Royal manors into the time of the merchant princes. There would have been the records of the Armada heroes who came and settled there, of the the Scotch colony, who brought with them their foreign craftsmanship of the plaster ceilings, of the Huguenot refugees, whose tombs still stand in the churchyard, and of the Bow and Bromley pottery makers of the last century; in short, an epitome of the life of a London parish preserved in a most exquisite setting, and of the utmost value for its beauty and its living interest to the young citizens who are bred in what is now a disgraced slum. Had it but only been for the comparison between what is left and what might, with a little intelligent guidance, have been preserved, it would have been good to have seen that thing done. Every chance, every hope of it has now in these brief six years been swept away!


It is, perhaps, in the matter of nomenclature that the historic record is most affected, and where the aid of the private student, the historian, and the antiquary would be most at the community's services if the questions involved in it came under the consideration of the Court of Appeal. There is a good deal to be said for leaving everything that has to do with the naming of streets and districts to the haphazard choosing of individuals; under normal conditions, they may be said to choose rightly, by instinct. But the conditions under which historic estates are torn down and built over by speculative contract are not altogether normal. The Englishman has a healthy objection to the French system of changing all the names at the whim of the municipal officer in power; he deems it a sad break in the historical continuity. But when a whole page of history is wiped out for him in his own London, and a jerry builder and an estate surveyor let loose to name the streets after their various sentimental associations of foreign travel or otherwise, it does not appear to him that his proceedings are one degree less foolish than the freaks of his French neighbour. What should be aimed at is some sort of compromise. The historic association and the whims of the individual that may or may not go to the making of new history should be combined.

It is difficult to realise how important often this apparently trifling question of nomenclature may become. The instances in Bromley itself, and already referred to, may be again cited. The name "Tudor" House from the Tudor of the Scotch colony who lived there in the reign of James I. had been practically lost, merged in the numbering, while the Old Palace merely appeared as No. 4 and 6, St. Leonard's-street. Had the name been preserved, it is just possible that the School Board authorities, who were quite unaware of what it was they were purchasing, might have received that timely warning, which they so regretted not having had, when it was too late. Another illustration that may be cited is the recent naming of the new Borough of Poplar, which includes the parishes of Bow, Bromley and Poplar. Had the nomenclature been considered from the historic point of view, the naming would certainly have been different. There are occasions when it may be advisable to obliterate history, or to make new history in preference to retaining the old, but there is never any excuse for doing this unintelligently or wantonly.

Instances of successful action on the part of the Council.

It would perhaps be unfair in an introduction to a work of this kind, which aims not only at giving a record but also at suggesting a policy, to omit mention of some of the instances where the principles our Committee seek to emphasize have been carried out practically. The recent acquisition by the London County Council of No. 17, Fleet-street, the reputed Chancery of the Duchy of Cornwall, is a good instance in point, but perhaps more important still is the Council's Strand improvement scheme. That this was considered with the definite intention of preserving the two Strand churches, shows that the Council deliberately accepted its responsibility as custodian of the amenities of London, and though it is uncertain as yet whether the scheme may or may not lead to the destruction of the west side of Lincoln's Inn Fields where stand the Inigo Jones houses, it is impossible not to agree with the soundness of the policy which inspired it. Another exercise of a wise, civic forethought, due perhaps rather to the enterprise of the private societies than to municipal action, was the defeat of the so-called "Westminister improvement scheme." By this ingenious "scheme of improvement" we were threatented with the destruction of most of what was interesting in old Westminster, we were to lose the historic Jewel Tower, a portion of the Embankment garden, most of the good 17th and 18th century houses in the district, and in return for these concessions, and the opening of a very ill-planned and pettily conceived thoroughfare through the slums, we were offered an enormous block of flats close up beside Victoria Tower. Fortunately this scheme is a thing of the past, but it is well that we should not forget how nearly it got through Parliament, and how easily such a thing might occur again. This rushing through of ill-considered proposals or of undertakings devised mainly in the interest of their promoters, is another of the things that the Court of Appeal would help to counteract.

Further cases could be given of the way in which the municipalities have helped in the preservation of the amenities of greater London, but perhaps the best illustration of the readiness of the leading municipality of London to further the work here indicated is to be found in the printing and issuing under its auspices of the present volume, the first of a series which it is hoped will mark down the history of London.

The completion of the work.

The question now is, can the work, even with the Council's assistance, be carried through, and if so within what period of time? The answer to this depends on one thing only—the readiness of the public to assist the endeavours of the Survey Committee, and to follow the lead thus set by the Council in printing the records which the Committee has so far succeeded in collecting. It is, after all, individuals who do the actual work, and it is to individuals that we appeal. All who have had experience of the difficulty of organising amateur work will know how hard it is not only to keep such work up to the necessary standard of efficiency, but to maintain it permanently. On the other hand, there is a certain quality of enthusiasm needful for the production of the greatest works that cannot be bought, and that has no actual commercial value. What I seek for is a mean between the two. A small paid staff will always be necessary to do the work of noting, copying, tracing, transcribing, indexing and correspondence, and the experience now gained by Mr. Ernest Godman during his six years' work as Secretary of the Committee, is a very valuable aid to its work. A survey of one parish, such as this volume presents, could hardly be accomplished by voluntary labour alone, much less a survey of several hundred parishes. But there are numbers of men, artists, antiquaries, young architects, amateur photographers, householders, landlords, lawyers, clergymen, who, if rightly approached would give help, and I think gladly, in the production of a historic record of their own time.

The parishes in the County of London together with the City number 192; if Greater London be included, as indicated at the outset in the Committee's first scheme, the total would amount to something like 400. Thus, taking the County of London and the City it would, if one volume be brought out a year, take more than one hundred years to complete a survey commencing in 1894. As for the cost, it is impossible even taking the printing and publication as provided and the higher labour as given, to produce a volume at less than £100 for clerical and out-ofpocket expenses, and this would still leave the Committee at the mercy of the amateur staff in the matter of time.

An appeal for £10,000.

I believe, however, that if a time limit of ten years were set, and a sum of say £10,000 placed at the Committee's disposal, the work could be done in the time and the London County Council have upon its shelves at the close of this period a complete historical survey of London. The whole of the sum in question would be expended in payment to clerks, assistants, draughtsmen and photographers, who should do the work of supplementing the voluntary labour which would be given as heretofore by members acting upon local committees, and interested in local records.

The object of this introduction is to call attention to the larger issues of the work, to point to its living purpose rather than to its dry bones, and to appeal to all citizens of London into whose hands it may chance, to help in an undertaking that should commend itself to them if they have the social welfare and nobility of the great city at heart.


To sum up in conclusion the points which we have here sought to bring out: they are as follows—

1. We wish to see made for the whole of London a Register, of which the present is the first volume, and we wish to see recorded in it all that London yet possesses of historic or æsthetic interest.

2. We think that this should be done by private enterprise, aided and guided by the municipality.

3. The objective, however, is not so much the making of a paper record, as the preservation of the things recorded.

4. To this end we believe that a committee should be appointed representative of all the bodies in London who are engaged upon work dealing with the historical remains of London. Before this committee every "case" of impending destruction should be openly considered, and the result of its deliberations forwarded to the London County Council with a view of action being taken thereon.

5. We believe that the thing to aim at as regards method is a combination not only between private and municipal enterprise, but between the various municipalities that go to make up greater London; and the formation of such a committee would conduce to this end.

6. We consider that the question of the proper housing of the poor is one of the questions involved in the work we have before us; and that it should be studied in connection with the larger issues of which it is a part, and which go to make up the amenities of life in a great city.

7. We consider that the subject of parks and open spaces should be regarded from a larger point of view than it is at present, and that the right policy is rather to preserve the existing parks, trees and gardens on the outskirts of London than to open costly areas in the centre.

8. We hold that a system of municipal museums, or storehouses of history and local life, should be established in conjunction with the various existing centres of municipal or social life, and that the great houses with beautiful interiors and fine gardens that every year fall to the jerry builder, should be used for such purposes rather than destroyed.

9. We would urge that more consideration should be given to the subject of nomenclature.

10. In fine, we plead that the object of the work we have before us, is to make nobler and more humanly enjoyable the life of the great city whose existing record we seek to mark down; to preserve of it for her children and those yet to come whatever is best in her past or fairest in her present; to induce her municipalities to take the lead and to stimulate among her citizens that historic and social conscience which to all great communities is their most sacred possession.

C. R. Ashbee,
On behalf of the Committee
for the Survey of Greater London.

Essex House,


  • 1.
  • 2. Since writing the above, I have come across an instructive confirmation of the facts which our Committee seeks to bring home, and upon which its conclusions are based, in the recently published Blue Book on Education and Population in London. In the General Report of Mr. T. King, Her Majesty's Senior Inspector of Schools, relating to the Metropolitan Division, which comprises the district of the School Board for London, the County of Middlesex, and portions of Essex and Hertfordshire, he says— "Streets and dismal crowded courts of small houses are destroyed, and gigantic warehouses, or still more enormous 'buildings,' are being erected in their place. In both cases the poor are driven to herd together again in some new den, whilst the workmen seeks a home outside London, unless he can find rooms in a 'building.' Thus a considerable decrease of population is being caused in many parts of London, and, though the loss may be balanced to some extent by increases in other parts where building is still in progress, yet competent judges consider that London, as at present constituted by law, will not increase much in population, as it cannot in extent. On every side, however, great towns, too closely joined to London even to be called suburban, are daily increasing, from Stratford round to Chiswick, and from Wimbledon round to Greenwich, where alone within the boundary of London, there is still extensive space for building. On the east and northeast of London the increase of population is extraordinary; and the workmen's trains on the Great Eastern Railway alone transport daily men enough to fill a large town, men who leave their wives and families at home."
  • 3. Now fortunately saved owing to the wise action of the Middlesex County Council.