This may superficially appear to be the title page of book about the geology of Croydon but there is something distinctly esoteric about that symbol.
What hermetic secrets are encoded in the Wandle Gravels of Croydon?
I’m off to find out.
“London has always been a city that comes most to itself on grey days or after dark. All its moods and phases then resolve themselves into one spirit of benign gravity.”
– Thomas Burke, Living in Bloomsbury (1939)
The County of London Plan 1943, for me, deserves to be regarded as holy and as beautiful as the Lindisfarne Gospels. Look at the splendour of this Communities and Open Space Survey.
From Wonderful London Vol. I
|the precincts of central London|
Among the mountain of topographical books that I found in Hay last weekend the one that I bought was A Guide to the Structure of London (1972) by Maurice Ash. I was hooked by a glance at these amazing maps and the chapter titles:
1. In search of London’s identity 2. The skin of an onion? 3. The geography of conflict 4. Journeys and sojourns 5. A strategy for identifying London 6. Town trails
|types of housing tenure, 1966|
Ash opens by asking the question of whether London exists, “There is just one question to be asked before one begins a book on the structure of London: Does London exist?”
Due to the diversity between Deptford High Street and Hampstead Heath and lack of common interest he wonders if “the entity of London is a fiction”.
|the central spaces of importance for conservation|
I would love to imagine Ash in conversation with Patrick Keiller’s character Robinson in a grubby formica-tabled worker’s cafe, or perhaps at Brent Cross Regional Shopping Centre. In Keiller’s film, London, Robinson posits that “the true identity of London is its absence, as a city it no longer exists … London was the first metropolis to disappear” (you can watch this part of the film here at 3.44)
|plan for the South East, 1967|
Ash suggests that we should think of London as a region rather than a city, a region that has consumed the Green Belt and moved beyond. He identifies this new area of London the “Outer Metropolitan Area (the OMA), which for statistical purposes at least is bow taken to extend from beyond the Green Belt to about 40 miles from the centre of London”.
|strategic plan for the South East, 1970|
The book ends with six journeys through London that illustrate the thesis within the book: walking circuits in South London around Elephant and Castle, inner East London from Stepney Green, and inner West London from Earl’s Court; and then wider sweeps by car north and south and the outer metropolitan areas.
I wonder what following the same journeys today would tell us about whether London actually exists or is merely a fiction?
maps reprinted by Ash from Research Paper SRI, September 1966
This was the view west from Blackfriars Bridge at around 7.30pm this evening
Paternoster Square felt like the living civic centre that the architects probably hoped for – the Italinate piazza where families take an evening passeggiata