The Royal Academy's Plan for London 1942
Updated: Sep 26, 2022
In January 1940 Sir Edwin Lutyens, President of the Royal Academy (RA), invited architect members of the RA, and others, to form a committee.
The committee's task was to prepare a report on the "ideal" possibilities that could be achieved when it came time to rebuild London after the war. Its work was undertaken with the approval and backing of King George VI.
In 1942 the committee produced their report, London Replanned and submitted it to all the relevant authorities. Shortly after it was published by Country Life with copies selling for 2/ 6d.
On the cover we have this idealised view of Saint Paul's cathedral.
The RA saw this as one of their "most important proposals".
A new view of St. Paul’s is opened from the river, and will appear as an avenue with grass centre, flanked at one point by the existing College of Arms. On the river front, barge houses for Royal and Civic ceremonies, or similar buildings for public purposes, are suggested, and these should flank a flight of river steps for use on ceremonial occasions and form an architectural foreground to the magnificent view. The avenue would not be a traffic thoroughfare, and would be crossed by the south arm of the City Loop-way, carrying Embankment traffic from Blackfriars to the Tower.
Here is an accompanying map showing planned "improvements" to the road system around St. Paul's.
At no point could the committee be accused of lacking ambition or vision. This is their view of a post-war London looking from Westminster towards The City.
And here is the committee's proposal for Piccadilly Circus.
The size of the Circus is doubled to meet the traffic requirements. This involves the removal of the London Pavilion and other buildings to a point in line with the Haymarket, from the centre of which a new terminal building is seen, and closing the South end of Shaftesbury Avenue and adjacent streets. A new main Street continues Piccadilly Eastwards from the Circus, passing approximately along the line of Lisle Street to a new circus North-East of Covent Garden.
North of the Circus an open space (or piazza) for pedestrians is formed, in front of a public building or possibly a theatre. The architecture reproduces that of Regent Street for the purpose of this drawing, but the whole question requires careful consideration at the appropriate time.
The committee seemed very keen on circuses, whatever their shape, and indeed roundabouts of all types. There is another one to be seen here in their plan for Charing Cross and Trafalgar Square.
Charing Cross Station is removed and a road bridge provided, with suitable access to adjoining streets. In the Strand a large roundabout is formed between King William Street and the present Station, to distribute the traffic and as an architectural feature, with underground garages entered through archways. Charing Cross Road is re-aligned in its lower length to bring the traffic to the roundabout and to overcome the congestion between St. Martin’s Church and the National Gallery. The Westminster City Hall is rebuilt approximately on its old site with improved road facilities.
Trafalgar Square is enlarged on the South side, thus bringing the Nelson Column into the centre of the Square. Obstructions to the Admiralty Arch and Northumberland Avenue are removed, and the building brought into proper architectural relation to the Square. To the North, the new Eastward extension of Piccadilly is seen carried over Charing Cross Road by a viaduct.
So a new road bridge instead of Charing Cross station and its rail bridge and a new viaduct too. Here is the RA's proposal for another bridge, Waterloo, and the surrounding area on the North bank of the Thames.
A large roundabout is formed on the Lyceum site connecting the Bridge on the South with the Strand, Aldwych and the new northern approach.
A suitable building is designed to close the vista from the bridge ; Savoy Chapel and churchyard are opened up so that they can be seen from the Strand.
Some of the RA's ambitions for Covent Garden, depicted below, were actually realised, albeit decades later.
COVENT GARDEN - A GARDEN AGAIN
The Market is removed to a position on the Ring Road, where ft will have better rail and road facilities, and will no longer add to the congestion in Central London. The site of the Market becomes a garden, as originally was the case. The old colonnades and pavilions are preserved as an historic feature, making a pleasant theatre promenade.
Here is a map of the area from the plan.
A new Opera House is shown on the North side (1). and a new Concert Hall on the South (2). These buildings, together with Drury Lane Theatre (3) Would form a centre for the musical and dramatic arts, as distinct from Shaftesbury Avenue. devoted, as heretofore, to general theatrical enterprise.
North of Covent Garden the new extension of Piccadilly from Piccadilly Circus is seen dividing at a roundabout just North of the existing Opera House, whence a new thoroughfare connects with the British Museum and London University.
And here are those plans for the British Museum and University of London.
The development of the University of London adds immeasurably to the importance of Bloomsbury, where the British Museum has hitherto been tucked away without any adequate approach. The old mean streets In front of the Museum are cleared away, and a broad vista, or forecourt, to the facade is opened from Holborn, where a traffic circus is created. The forecourt is flanked with new hostels for University students, and contains St. George’s Church, freed from obscuring buildings and forming a fine contrast to the Museum beyond. From the Holborn traffic circus a new road connects Bloomsbury with Covent Garden.
And, after the demolition of all those "mean streets", this is the view we might have enjoyed.
In a companion post, I feature the committee's plans for: South Kensington, Buckingham Palace, Victoria, Hyde Park Corner, a model Ring Road, Southwark & London Bridge, a new Park for South London, a garden on Tower Hill and a rather nice advert from the people who brought us Saint Pancras.
If you feel the need to immerse yourself in still more unrealised grand plans for London there is an excellent series of features on Unbuilt London on the Londonist site and last year I also wrote about Mr Cawston's 19th Century vision for the city.