Barbican After the War

In a single night of incendiary bombing on 29th December 1940, every street from Moorgate to Aldersgate Street, covering thirty five acres, was destroyed. St Giles Cripplegate was burnt out, with only the walls and tower remaining standing. By the end of the war, the area of devastation in the City included a much wider area to the south and east of Barbican itself.

For nearly two decades, Barbican was simply a huge adventure playground for East End children. Something had to be done with it, but what?

The blueprint for a post-war London was the 1944 Greater London Plan prepared by Sir Patrick Abercrombie. One of its central assumptions was that people should live in garden suburbs and commute to work. As a result, there was an inbuilt bias against large residential developments in the City.

But the City was edging in another direction. In 1944 the Improvements and Town Planning Committee of the Corporation of London delivered a report titled “Proposals for Post War Reconstruction in the City of London” to the Common Council. They struck a different note: “It might be advantageous to be prepared to allocate some definite areas for residential development… Areas which at the moment offer possibilities in this direction are in Cripplegate and towards the Tower of London.”

However, when in the same year the City of London Reconstruction Advisory Council asked the Corporation of London directly if it proposed a new residential scheme, the City’s carefully Delphic reply was: “No area is zoned primarily for residential accommodation in the present preliminary proposals.”

In 1947 a firm of planning consultants, Holford and Holden, working with the City Planning Department, presented a reconstruction plan for the Barbican area. Following the guidelines of the 1944 Greater London Plan, the proposal was to construct an entirely commercial area with American-style office blocks. Whatever historic buildings had survived the bombing, were to be left standing as ruins in parks, to be enjoyed by workers at lunch-time. Other plans were put forward. Some even included some housing, despite the strictures of the 1944 Plan. But nothing got beyond the drawing board.

By the early 1950s people in the City were becoming frustrated at the lack of progress. A pressure group was set up with Sir Gerald Barry as Chairman, called the New Barbican Committee. They commissioned their own plan from Kadleigh, Horsburgh & Whitfield, a firm of architects. ‘The Kadleigh plan’ was for a complex of factories, warehouses, offices, shops and community facilities rising from a base 60 feet below ground level – a definite case of bunker mentality!