11 OCTOBER 1924, Page 9



ENGLISH towns are the most haphazard in Europe. The national sense of justice and the consequent respect shown for the rights of owners have always militated against grandiose experiments in town-planning, while at the same time permitting individuals to destroy much that in national interests should have been preserved. Wren's magnificent scheme for the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire was killed in 1666 for reasons which would have been equally fatal to it in any year before or since. If any public authority, whether Government or municipality, were backed by a public opinion which cared about these things it might have some chance against the vested interests. But public opinion in England is curiously indifferent to the satisfaction and pride which most foreigners feel in a fine lay-out. As a nation we have little, if any, sense of vista. We do not care whether streets are straight or crooked. Any schemes on paper for improvements on the lines of straightness or axiality are called attempts at " Haussmannization," and that disposes of the matter. At the same time there can be no harm in trying to visualize how Napoleon III. would have dealt with London if the London of to-day had been the Paris of the Second Empire, that is to say, a city on which the taxpayer's money could be spent in millions— more or less with his approval—to increase the glory of the nation in general and that of the reigning dynasty in particular.

One of the first problems which the Emperor and Baron Haussmann would have attacked would surely have been the south bank of the river. No other great capital would tolerate the dingy collection of wharves and ramshackle buildings which now fringe it. With the exception of the old Shot Tower there is not a building of any architectural merit on the river bank to the east of the County Hall. But it would be obviously impossible completely to disregard the claims of the river trade, and Napoleon III. and his advisers would probably have decided that these interests were not incompatible with a more seemly appearance of the shore opposite the Victoria Embankment. Why should not the wharves remain and the road be carried along above them on a series of great arches ? This road would be thirty or forty feet above the level of the river at high tide and it would be fringed with the warehouses and offices con- trolling the wharves below and communicating with them. Strict regulations would prevent the unloading of barges on to the road and the transport of their cargoes across it. The road would remain an unencumbered artery of traffic, magnificent office accommodation close to the heart of the City would be provided, and the river Thames would gain the appearance of an imperial water-way which it cannot at present be said to possess. From the County Hall to Lambeth Palace no one would wish to change the river as it now is. Rut the little stretch of embankment which follows is bordered by houses which seem quite out of keeping on such a site and further west—or more properly south, for here the river is running almost due north and south—by Doulton's Factory, with its thin chimney trimmed to look like a campanile in the Veneto. What a site for the central buildings of the University of London ! This little stretch of embankment is all too short and the road soon plunges into the dreary wastes of Vauxhall and Nine Elms. Here again it might be continued on arches all the way to Battersea Park.

Battersea Park is unique in Central London in having a river frontage, and how much more might be made of it ! How delightful it would be if along the whole river front there stretched a colonnade open to the river but roofed over—a Stoa Poecile where the philosophers of Chelsea might deambu- late on the rare days when the sun was too hot and on the many when it rains.

When they had got as far as Battersea Park the megalo- mania of even Napoleon III. and Baron Haussmann would have been assuaged,and London might again have laid claim to the proud description applied to her by William Dunbar more than four centuries ago : " Soveraign of Cities, seemliest in sight."

The forty-seventh annual report of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings has just been circulated. It offers more than usually interesting though melancholy reading, and amongst other information it records the demo- lition by the Barking Urban District Council of their beautiful old Court House, with the following comment : "Were it not that it has actually taken place it would hardly be credited that any civilized community would tolerate such a deed. It proves again how much there still remains to be done by the Society in its work of education, and shows also how strong an obligation lies upon all men and women to whom our ancient buildings are a delight to stand by the Society and render it whatever aid they can."

The language of the report is not too strong, and it is most important that public opinion should be even more fully aroused to the fact that every year the visual history of England is being gradually whittled away not by time but by the hand of man. The beautiful marble back and the Corinthian pilasters which adorned the well-known Hiscock tomb in the Temple Churchyard have recently been removed. If they have disappeared permanently their loss will be deplorable.

The Society is in urgent need of further funds to carry on its excellent work, and all who are interested in preserving, wherever possible, the architectural heritage we have received from our forefathers should obtain the report which may be purchased for two shillings at the Offices of the Society, 20 Buckingham Street, Adelphi, W.C. 2.