Eric Wilkins, Father of the Barbican

In the 1950s, pressure was growing in the City Corporation for a large residential development. Eric Wilkins and other supporters of this idea in the City mounted a campaign in 1953. Wilkins argued that the City needed a large resident population to provide a legitimate electorate for local government.

The problem however was that not only did they have to win over a majority of the City councillors, but any development then had to be approved by the London County Council (“the LCC”) and the LCC were operating on the basis of the 1944 Greater London Plan which was unwelcoming to residential development in central London.

In 1953 the Government relaxed the planning process, and in 1954 the Corporation of London put forward their own scheme, which was a less ambitious version of the Kadleigh plan. This was based on existing planning applications for a commercial development, but with the addition of a small housing estate in the middle.

In 1954 the LCC became more closely involved in the discussions about what to do with the Barbican site. They were already involved in plans for a commercial development of the surrounding area.

The LCC produced a 1954 Plan which, for the first time, introduced the idea of a podium as part of a proposed “pedway” system of raised footpaths in the City. Their plan also incorporated a residential development.

In November 1955, the crucial meeting of the City’s Court of Common Council took place to decide whether to take the matter further or to drop the idea of a residential development. The vote was narrowly in favour of going ahead. But in fact the scheme would never have got off the ground if they had counted the votes correctly. Eric Wilkins, the tireless advocate of a residential scheme, proposed the motion to develop the Barbican area in accordance with the Chamberlin, Powell & Bon scheme. After two hours of arguing, the Lord Mayor, Sir Cuthbert Ackroyd, put the matter to a vote on a show of hands. Sir Cuthbert looked them over and declared the motion lost.

One of the members demanded a formal count. This came out at 69-67 in favour of the motion. The Barbican scheme was officially launched. It was not until some hours later that it was discovered that, by mistake, three of the tellers had been counted as councillors. In fact, the motion had not passed at all; it had been lost by one vote. But it was too late. The embarrassing fact was hushed up and the scheme was allowed to proceed.