Un­told his­tory of Lon­don’s bor­oughs

Half a cen­tury has passed since Hilling­don and all of the other Lon­don bor­oughs came into be­ing, and their story is be­ing told in a new book. re­ports.

Harefield Gazette - - NEWS -

IT IS hard to imag­ine a Lon­don with­out Eal­ing or Har­row, or a time when Hilling­don was just ru­ral farm­land out­side the bor­der, but it wasn’t all that long ago that the 32 Lon­don bor­oughs that we know and love didn’t ex­ist at all.

In April this year, the Lon­don Bor­oughs cel­e­brated their 50th birth­day. Pro­fes­sor Tony Travers, who works in the Depart­ment of Gov­ern­ment at Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics, has writ­ten a book cel­e­brat­ing half a cen­tury of Lon­don bor­oughs.

Lon­don’s Bor­oughs at 50 tracks the growth and de­vel­op­ment of Lon­don since the new sys­tem of lo­cal gov­ern­ment was in­tro­duced in 1965 and roots out some of the quirki­est sto­ries about each Bor­ough’s past.

Tony said: “One of the great joys of do­ing a book is that you have to come up with ex­tra nuggets of his­tory which have prob­a­bly been de­noted but are never told as part of the his­tory of Lon­don.”

The sec­tion on Hilling­don ex­plores the early days of the bor­ough when it was still a very new ad­di­tion to Lon­don, with its farm­land just be­gin­ning to be en­gulfed by the ur­ban sprawl.

The Labour leader there in the 70s was a mu­nic­i­pal ex­pan­sion­ist who over­saw the build­ing of the Civic Cen­tre in Uxbridge where Hilling­don Bor­ough Coun­cil has its head­quar­ters.

“It is prob­a­bly the most im­por­tant civic cen­tre built by any coun­cil since 1965,” said Tony.

He said that it is com­pa­ra­ble only to the civic cen­tre built in Kens­ing­ton and Chelsea in terms of the im­pact it had at the time and how ar­chi­tec­turally strik­ing it was.

The book un­cov­ers some in­ter­est­ing sto­ries on all the west Lon­don bor­oughs and it is th­ese lit­tle snip­pets of his­tory that have helped form each bor­ough’s unique char­ac­ter.

Houn­slow, for ex­am­ple, prided it­self on be­ing a highly mod­ern­ized mi­cro wel­fare state.

In footage from films made about the area shortly af­ter the bor­oughs were cre­ated, you can see a crane de­liv­er­ing a new com­puter to the coun­cil of­fices.

“The com­puter was as big as a car,” Tony laughed, “And by hav­ing it, Houn­slow was the zenith of moder­nity.”

Eal­ing and Brent were im­por­tant in­dus­trial cen­tres and it was in th­ese ar­eas that women first be­gan to be­come part of the labour force.

“The fac­to­ries mak­ing tele­vi­sions and wash­ing ma­chines were part of a so­cial as well as an in­dus­trial rev­o­lu­tion,” said Tony.

Tony’s book also touches on Kens­ing­ton and Chelsea’s ex­tra­or­di­nary tran­si­tion from poor to wealthy and how, as ho­tels sprung up along Cromwell Road, it earned it­self the nick­name ‘Costa Cromwellia’.

One thing Tony high­lights in the book was how much of a con­tentious is­sue road build­ing be­came in Lon­don af­ter 1965 and how the new bor­ough coun­cils ac­tively shaped Lon­don’s de­vel­op­ment into the city it is to­day.

The Greater Lon­don Coun­cil (GLC), which was of­ten at odds with the bor­ough coun­cils, pro­posed a net­work of ma­jor roads run­ning out­wards from the city cen­tre, and all linked to one an­other, which would have re­sem­bled a gi­ant spi­ders web.

Thanks to op­po­si­tion from the new bor­ough coun­cils, th­ese plans never saw fruition and the GLC was even­tu­ally abol­ished in 1986.

It isn’t the first book that Tony, who lives on the bor­der of West­min­ster and Cam­den, has writ­ten about lo­cal gov­ern­ment and pol­i­tics and it is a sub­ject that is clearly very im­por­tant to him.

“I think that for most peo­ple, ‘gov­ern­ment’ is what they see out­side their front door. This is what has more of an im­pact on your life,” he said.

“Lo­cal pol­i­tics are the ba­sis of all our pol­i­tics. Even mem­bers of par­lia­ment are lo­cally based and in that sense what the coun­cil does is im­por­tant demo­crat­i­cally.”

Writ­ing the book was no mean feat and to un­earth th­ese sto­ries took months of re­search.

“I was re­ly­ing on na­tional col­lec­tions of news­pa­pers and na­tional news­pa­per ar­chives, lo­cal his­tory so­ci­eties and books about ar­chi­tec­ture,” he said.

“But you can’t re­ally un­der­stand a place un­til you go and ex­plore it in real time. Hilling­don still has some coun­try­side in it which is even more in­ter­est­ing for a big city bor­ough.”

Given the al­most con­stantly chang­ing na­ture of Bri­tain’s lo­cal gov­ern­ment sys­tem how­ever, what does the fu­ture hold for Lon­don’s bor­oughs?

Ac­cord­ing to Tony, change at the mo­ment isn’t some­thing high on the agenda for the old­est lo­cal author­i­ties in the coun­try.

“I think that the bor­oughs as they are cur­rently are broadly un­der­stood,” he said. “Over the 50 years they have ex­isted they have done a lot. Most coun­cils’ so­cial ser­vices de­part­ments work well, most have rea­son­ably good schools.”

While he couldn’t pick his favourite bor­ough, Tony un­der­stands why ev­ery­one in Bri­tain says that their own bor­ough or dis­trict is their favourite. “All the bor­oughs have a char­ac­ter,” he said, “and they are all very in­ter­est­ing.”

n The town crier in the Lon­don Bor­ough of Hilling­don in the 1960s. Tony Tr Travers’ book Lon­don’s Bor­oughs at 50 chron­i­cles the story of the Cap­i­tal’s lo­cal co coun­cils from 1965 un­til the present. In­set be­low, Tony Travers Photo Hil­ing­don Coun­cil

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