Survey of London: Volumes 29 and 30, St James Westminster, Part 1. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1960.

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'Preface', in Survey of London: Volumes 29 and 30, St James Westminster, Part 1, (London, 1960) pp. . British History Online [accessed 14 April 2024]


Sixty years ago the London County Council published a slim paper-bound quarto volume entitled The Survey of London: being the first volume of the Register of the Committee for the Survey of the Memorials of Greater London, containing the Parish of Bromley-by-Bow. This volume, in less than a hundred pages of text and illustrations, recorded the historical monuments of a little-known East End parish, all the material having been collected as a labour of love by the members of the Survey Committee, which had been established in 1894. But perhaps the most remarkable feature of the book was the introduction, written by the editor, C. R. Ashbee, who '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' took the opportunity to make a number of far-sighted suggestions. First and foremost, he and his Committee wished '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 aesthetic interest'. The objective, however, was to be 'not so much the making of a paper record, as the preservation of the things recorded', and Ashbee envisaged the establishment of a committee before which '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'.

In the Diamond Jubilee year of the Survey we may well ask ourselves how far we have progressed towards the achievement of these aims. Today many fine buildings are threatened by the massive rebuilding projects which are taking place all over London, and the need for preservation is at least as great as it was sixty years ago. But while there have been grievous losses, there have also been successes. In 1898 the London County Council became the first local authority to obtain statutory powers for the preservation of buildings of historic or architectural interest, and in general the monuments of the past now enjoy a far greater degree of protection than they did sixty years ago; many have been, and many more will be, saved and it is at least impossible to destroy without the open consideration for which Ashbee called.

There has, in fact, been a marked change in the public attitude towards the problems posed by historic buildings, and so far as London is concerned the Survey may justly be considered to have played a part in the making of this change. The register which Ashbee and his colleagues began to compile in 1894 anticipated by exactly fifty years the clause in the Town and Country Planning Act of 1944 which provided for the listing of all such buildings in England and Wales. In 1894 there was no National Trust, no Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, and (with the notable exception of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings) few of the societies now concerned with the preservation of architectural and natural beauty had yet started their great work. Thanks to the efforts of all these bodies, and to those of the press, there now exists a widespread and lively interest in the monuments of the past, which at least ensures that their problems are publicly discussed.

The work of recording is still far from complete, but with thirty volumes of the Survey now on the shelves it may fairly be claimed that something truly worth while has been achieved. No other great city in Britain has attempted to compile a comparable study of the history of its fabric, and if progress seems slow, the quality of many of the buildings already described provides a sufficient justification.

The preparation of the two volumes now completed began in the latter part of 1956, and work has proceeded continuously since the beginning of 1958. The area described was the Court suburb of post-Restoration London, and despite a number of important losses by demolition it still contains a splendid galaxy of domestic buildings reflecting the wealth and taste of its aristocratic inhabitants. With the sumptuous club-houses of Pall Mall and St. James's Street, and the noble interior of St. James's Church, it yields in magnificence to no other part of London.

On behalf of the Council I express my warm thanks to all those persons, clubs and other bodies whose generous help has made the preparation of this study possible. In particular I should like to thank the Crown Estate Commissioners for granting access to their records, from which a large part of the historical material has been obtained.

The Council also owes a debt of gratitude to Mr. J. H. MacDonnell, Mr. Ian L. Phillips, Mr. T. F. Reddaway and Sir John Summerson, who as co-opted members of the Town Planning (Architectural and Historical Buildings) Sub-Committee have given valuable help in discussion of the preparation of these volumes.

The historical portions of the text, and the editing of all the material, are the work of Mr. F. H. W. Sheppard, Mr. P. A. Bezodis, Mrs. Marie P. G. Draper, Mr. D. Bevan and Mrs. Marion A. V. Ball, all of the Clerk's Department. The architectural portions, both graphic and textual, have been prepared in the Architect's Department under the general supervision of Mr. W. A. Eden, Architect in Charge of Historic Buildings. Mr. Walter Ison, besides acting as Architectural Editor, has himself written the greater part of the descriptive matter, the remainder, with minor exceptions, having been contributed by Mr. A. H. Grogan and Mr. J. M. W. Laithwaite. The production of the drawings was directed by Mr. F. A. Evans, and many of the photographs were taken by the Architect's Photographic Unit under the direction of Mr. G. N. Finnissey.

County Hall
Richard Edmonds
Chairman of the Town Planning Committee