Forming the county of London

It comes as a surprise to many people that London, as a county, did not exist until 1889. Before that most of what people know as “London” was in the counties of Middlesex and Surrey. For example, Southwark was in Surrey and Stepney was in Middlesex. The City of London was a small self-administrative area that was never part of any county, and remains so today.

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The County of London came into being on 21st March 1889 and was administered by the London County Council (always shortened to LCC) who took over the management of roads, drainage, fire services, community health (including slum clearance) and, by 1904, education and trams. Most of these services had previously been managed by the Metropolitan Board of Works (MBW) and the LCC was, in the early days, a simple replacement using the same staff and taking over their headquarters, Spring Gardens, off Trafalgar Square. The main difference between the MBW and LCC was that the latter was politically aligned and the main officers were elected. Apart from elected officers, the LCC had to appoint a Chairman as leader and the first was an inspired choice; Archibald Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery. The Earl decided not to interfere with the day-to-day work of the elected officers and just provided guidance and support. As a result, the Council progressed with its “Liberal” aims with particular advantage to the Housing Department.

The Housing Department was led by experienced men who employed young architects who were given scope to develop the Council’s buildings, whether housing, fire stations or public buildings. The county did not have limitless funds; far from it. The County had to justify all spending and their housing was expected to make an annual profit, through rents, of 5%. This led to a conflict between the architects, who wanted to build modern and healthy buildings, and the London rate payers who wanted everything to be built as cheaply as possible, if built at all. Sometimes it was successful, sometimes a careful balance, and sometimes the numbers simply did not add up.

In 1907 the “Progressives” lost control of the Council and the “Municipal Reformers” took over. They were aligned to the Conservatives and no more building schemes were started before WW1. To their credit though, all schemes in the planning and building stages were continued and completed.

The sub-menus above give more detail on the early days of the LCC, and the financial and legislative environments in which the architects worked. This is followed by details on every housing scheme undertaken by the LCC before World War 1. All building stopped in WW1 but the three garden estates under construction were completed when hostilities stopped. Little social housing was started after WW1, despite government campaigns such as “Homes fit for heroes” and various Acts.