WW2 - Rebuilding London
London has always grown by taking over adjacent towns or villages…and so it overtook the newly create towns.
Peter Ackroyd, London: The Autobiography
After the end of World War II, London was a city in desperate need of large-scale rebuilding. As ever after a period of destruction, architects and planners saw the opportunity for remodelling at the same time. And while all this was going on, the population reorganised and rejuvenated itself.
Across London there was a huge amount of damage due to the war, and particularly the Blitz. Even before the war ended, planners such as Patrick Abercrombie came up with proposals to reconstruct the capital, with a balance between housing, industrial development and open spaces. This eventually gave rise to estates such as Lansbury in Poplar and Loughborough in Brixton.
Abercrombie's 'County of London Plan' also included a more careful definition of the 'Green Belt'; a strip of land encircling London that is made up of parks, farmland and recreation grounds, and subject to strict regulations concerning building and development. Further out, Abercrombie proposed the construction of satellite towns around an 'Outer Country Ring'. In fact, many Londoners moved out to the eight 'New Towns' such as Stevenage and Harlow after the war.
Back in London, the first 10-storey council housing block opened in Holborn in May 1949. High-rise housing –another Abercrombie recommendation - was touted as the solution to London's growing population, replacing housing lost during the war and London's slums. By the 1960s, over half a million new flats had been built, many of them in tower blocks. The first major public building to be constructed in London after the War was The Royal Festival Hall on the Southbank. Opened as part of the Festival of Britain in 1951, it later became the first post-war building to be awarded Grade I listing.
In the centre of the capital, the Corporation of London was faced with reconstructing the area between Moorgate and Aldersgate that was obliterated in just one night of the Blitz. Out of the ashes rose the Barbican, comprising office blocks, an arts centre, a museum, housing and a school. At the time it was Europe's biggest reconstruction project, although it was a while coming: it only officially opened in 1969 and wasn't completed until 1975. Within just a few years of the end of the War, the cultural landscape of London started to change too. On 21 June 1948 a ship called the Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury with almost 500 Jamaicans on board. They were the first of waves of African and Asian immigrants over the next few years. Some were coming to join or rejoin the RAF, while others were escaping unemployment at home or simply wanted to visit 'the mother country'.
This was promoted as an opportunity to help Britain recover. Among the major employers were the new National Health Service and London Transport. Some of those arriving on the Windrush were given temporary accommodation at Clapham Common and eventually formed a community in nearby Brixton. Others settled in Notting Hill, now home of the annual Carnival celebrating the cultures and traditions of London's Afro-Caribbean communities.
Did you know?
More than 2,700 housing tower blocks were built in the 50 years after World War II.