The Forty plan for the Barbican area

The City of London’s first reconstruction plan was published by the City’s Improvements and Town Planning Committee in 1944. It had been written by the City Engineer, F. J. Forty, and became know as ‘the Forty plan’. The plan was extremely conservative. It advocated more or less simply rebuilding what there had been before the War.

The Ministry of Housing and Local Government was  concerned that the plan did not appear to take any account of the Abercrombie plan for Greater London (of which the City was obviously part).  On 9 December 1944, ministry staff went to review the draft plan and were extremely critical of it.

“We are not only disappointed, we are frankly alarmed. Never since 1666, has there been such an opportunity to re-plan parts of the City, and, if the plans we saw are adopted, this opportunity will once again be missed. Indeed, it will be more than missed; it will be deliberately passed by.”

One reviewer said:

“There is no such nonsense in it as vision, or adventure. The attitude obviously was how business can be brought back into the nearest equivalent of its old quarters, without loss of ground rent to anybody.”

In October 1944, the Royal Fine Art commission weighed in as well, similarly criticising the plan for serving only the interests of the city businesses and taking no account of the wider public interest. (Holford helped draft the letter.)

The Royal Academy also bemoaned the lost opportunities for comprehensively re-planning the City and criticised what they saw as the intention of the authors to please property owners and not give sufficient consideration to infrastructure such as railways.

The ministry accused the plan of “waiting for developers to shape the city instead of planning for them”.

Forty fought back, with support from Improvements and Town Planning Committee members. The plan was described as “uncannily like post-Fire London”. Forty did not see this as criticism.  Instead, Forty he even asserted that the Great Fire had not been a missed opportunity at all and that what had been built since then should be restored.

The Minister refused to approve the plan and pressed the City to appoint expert consultants, and not rely on the City Engineer. The ministry’s preferred consultants, the architect, Charles Holden, and the ministry planner, William Holford, who were eventually appointed – but the City dug their heels in for the best part of a year.

You might think that the end of this story of withering criticism and disapproval must have ended with Mr Forty quietly retiring. Not a bit of it. He was still in post nearly 15 years later when he almost succeeded in severely damaging Chamberlin Powell and Bon’s residential estate scheme by insisting on an extension of Golden Lane, running diagonally through the estate and splitting it in two. This was a real risk for a long time, and it was not finally dropped until 1960.