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  • Writer's picturePeter Berthoud

The Royal Academy's Wartime Vision for a New London

Updated: Sep 26, 2022

In 1940 Sir Edwin Lutyens, President of the Royal Academy, formed a committee to prepare a report on the “ideal” possibilities that could be achieved when it came time to rebuild London after the war.

In 1942 the committee produced their report, London Replanned.

This is the second of two posts featuring some of the plans from this document. To read part one which features ideas for the redevelopment of Piccadilly Circus, The British Museum and Covent Garden, amongst other places, click here.

The RA committee had grand plans for South Kensington, this is a view of the V&A. The building facing it is "A New National Theatre".

London Replanned: The V&A and the New National Theatre
London Replanned: The V&A and a New National Theatre
The opportunity is taken of bringing all this neighbourhood into relation with the Victoria and Albert Museum. Thurloe Square is reformed on the axis of the main entrance to the Museum, with an ideal site for the National Theatre in the centre of the space so created. Round the Square would be hostels and other buildings for the University of London.

Here is another grand vision, this time for a magnificent "Processional Way" running from Buckingham Palace to Victoria Station.

Processional Way to Buckingham Palace from Victoria
Processional Way to Buckingham Palace from Victoria
A new processional way is created from Victoria Station to Buckingham Palace, the main point of arrival from the Continent. The forecourt of the Station is much improved and enlarged to deal with Station traffic well as through traffic. It is presumed that a new front will be designed for the Station.

Here is a map of the planned route and associated works.

Buckingham Palace to Victoria map
Buckingham Palace to Victoria works map
From the new place formed by this avenue, opposite the South side of the Palace in Buckingham Gate, a diagonal road is aligned on Westminster Cathedral, thereby also revealing a view of the principal facade from Victoria Street. The thoroughfare is continued along the North-East side of the Cathedral as part of the Bressey route connecting South Kensington with Lambeth Bridge.

Hyde Park Corner would have been remodelled too.

Remodelling Hyde Park Corner
Remodelling Hyde Park Corner
The improvements follow the design by Sir Edwin Lutyens, which was exhibited some years ago. The Triumphal Arch is moved to a new position further down Constitution Hill, and a traffic roundabout of adequate scale is thus obtained. The arrangement of statues and planting of trees follow the original design.

Here is a view of the planned improvements.

Hyde Park Corner remodelled
Hyde Park Corner remodelled
The new development is the improved entrance to Hyde Park and the closing of Hamilton Place and lower Park Lane. The drawing shows No. 145 Piccadilly remodelled to balance Apsley House, the main entrance to Hyde Park being between the two buildings, whence the existing roads to Marble Arch are continued as a double parkway. The” Ionic Screen “is shown repeated to the East.

The committee's unqualified enthusiasm for roads makes this a plan very much of its time. Here is an ideal "Ring Road Through a Suburban Area" and an explanation of the rationale behind it.

An ideal Ring Road Through a Suburban Area
An ideal Ring Road Through a Suburban Area
A drawing illustrating one of the two types of arterial traffic routes recommended, segregating local traffic from through traffic by difference of levels. In one scheme, through traffic is carried by a central viaduct. In that illustrated, the local traffic uses the central strip, flanked by raised one-way arteries, here shown with shops underneath.
The arterial road is accessible only by wide-spaced ramps, visible in the drawing near the traffic circus. In the centre of this an important building is shown, the island site approachable by subways, and adjoining the traffic arteries but not communicating with them. Nor is it possible for the adjoining housing, flats and terrace houses, to have contact with through traffic, which, in both schemes, is segregated as securely as in a railway. Consequently a speed of travel is possible along the raised arteries quite sufficient to compensate for the extra mileage involved by going round, instead of through, the Metropolis, and so to attract all through motor traffic.

The committee had grand ambitions for the roads around London Bridge too, here is their plan for "Southwark Circus".

Plan for Southwark Circus
Plan for Southwark Circus
London Bridge Station is removed to a new position, as shown on the general plan. The great fall in the level from the Bridge to Borough High Street has materially influenced this plan, in which a traffic circus is formed at the bridgehead, preserving the Church of St. Thomas, standing in a green space.
All buildings of major interest are preserved chief of these, Southwark Cathedral, which is freed from the encroaching warehouses and given a proper “Close,” approached from the Bridge by steps and from the lower level by suitable carriageways, which also open up a view of the river. The buildings on each side of the bridge are balanced in design, and the vista to the South is by a tall building, possibly an extension of Guy’s Hospital on the axis line of the Bridge.
From "Southwark Circus" a new fast motor road is obtained over the line of the old rail tracks, providing a much needed direct route to Greenwich and the coast. The low level Embankment Road is extended as far as Hays Wharf.

Here, along with a lot of new roads, the committee wanted to create a new park as well.

A New Park for London
A New Park for London
The Surrey bank of the River is developed with Embankment gardens and office buildings. At St. George’s Circus, the geographical centre of London, a new Park is formed to provide circulation between all the bridge roads that radiate from this spot. and to give the much-needed open space to this crowded district. It is anticipated that the older portions of the district will be entirely rebuilt.

At Tower Hill another station is removed.

Tower Hill
Tower Hill
The existing Tower Hill Improvement Scheme is adapted, with a view to making the historic fortress as much a centre for East London as Westminster Abbey is for West London. Tower Hill is opened up as a space or garden, from All Hallows Barking Church and the Port of London Authority building (both of which are thereby shown to better advantage), to the Mint. The removal of Fenchurch Street Station enables a big roundabout to be planned N.W. of the Mint, where the Inner Circular Road and City Loop-way connect with the City Embankment traffic and traffic over Tower Bridge. The bascules of the latter are shown raised in the drawing to emphasize the need for a continuous crossing at this point. Below the bridge a riverside garden and warehouses are shown on the site of Katharine’s Docks. The large octagonal building prominent in the drawing North of the traffic circus is a suggested office block with garden court or car park at the junction of the two circular roads already mentioned.

Perhaps by emphasising the need for "a continuous crossing" at Tower Bridge the committee had even more far-reaching plans that they were reluctant to share with the public?

The Country Life special, in which the plan was published, was supported by advertising from many construction firms, presumably hoping for contracts when the plan came to fruition. I especially liked this one from Butterly, the firm that built St Pancras.

Butterley advertisement "Riding Dow to Bangor in an Eastern Train"
Butterley advertisement "Riding Down to Bangor in an Eastern Train"


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