The Future Of London, 1980's Style

By M@ Last edited 25 months ago
The Future Of London, 1980's Style

Listicles are nothing new. Back in 1988, the Illustrated London News ran a special issue looking to the future of the city. Inside, a roll-call of famous names picked out 50 ways to improve the capital. Contributors included Melvyn Bragg, Auberon Waugh, Sebastian Faulks and Lady Longford (which famous face wrote which suggestion is not revealed).

What did they choose? And did any of these things get fixed in over the next three decades? We've selected 10 of the more interesting ideas for a look-see.

1. Civilise the underground

The tube was a grubby place in the 1980s, thanks to years of underinvestment. The very first item on the wishlist called for the tube (and its passengers) to be smartened up. Line items include a ban on 'Walkmans of every description', outlaw eating and drinking on the tube, celebrity PA announcements (Lord Olivier at Leicester Square), screens to introduce new films or stage productions, and automatic ticket checking machines. The best idea of all: paint the trains to match the line colours.

Did it happen? Partially. The screens are now commonplace, and all tickets can be automatically checked. TfL has even dabbled with celebrity announcements. Impractical though it'd be, we'd love to see the line-coloured trains.

2. Encourage more firework displays

The article bemoans how continental countries let off fireworks for any old celebration, whereas London limits them to 5 November. More please!

Did it happen? Emphatically, yes. London's New Year's fireworks are now among the world's most noted. Meanwhile, the multicultural nature of the city has seen an increase in firework displays for the festivals of different faiths.

3. More inscriptions on streets and buildings

One example from North Greenwich. Image by the author.

The suggestion is to inscribe the stones of London with choice cuttings from novels, plays and poetry. Every stroll would be a literary adventure.

Did it happen? To some degree. While not exactly encountered on every stroll, it's not uncommon to find quotes and bon mots inscribed on walls and pavements. Poems on the Underground, launched in 1986, was already doing something similar.

4. Remove all the Nuclear Free Zone plaques

During the 1980s, '16 barmy London boroughs' declared themselves Nuclear Free Zones by attaching plaques to 'every spare lamp post'. It was a way of telling the Ruskies not to bomb Haringey, say, because it didn't harbour any nukes.

Did it happen? (Removal of the signs; not the obliteration of Haringey.) Apparently so, as we've never stumbled across one of these plaques. We're guessing they slowly disappeared following the end of the Cold War in the 1990s. A forgotten chapter in London's recent history.

5. Hold a pigeon shoot in St James's Park

The feral pigeon population of the West End was out of control in the 1980s. The proposal would allow the public to take potshots at the pests in the Royal Park once every month. This would not only reduce the pigeon population, but also 'provide an outlet for the frustrations of lunching civil servants' — almost literally killing two birds with one stone.

Did it happen? Of course not. Although a ban on pigeon feeding was later introduced to nearby Trafalgar Square by then-Mayor Ken Livingstone.

6. Return the Temple Bar

Temple Bar, back in London. Image by the author.

The famous gateway, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, was removed from the western end of Fleet Street in 1878, as it was known for causing a traffic bottleneck. It was rebuilt in Theobalds Park, Hertfordshire, where it had fallen into a shabby condition by the time of this article.

Did it happen? YES! The whole gate was shifted once again in 2004 and re-erected in Paternoster Square near St Paul's. It is a rare example of a building that has stood in three locations.

7. Brighten up Buckingham Palace

The author bemoans the 'featureless Victorian frontage' (it's actually from 1913) that greets tourists to the Palace. How to relieve the tedium? 'The construction of something like a giant cuckoo clock on the balcony from which life-size models of the royal family would parade on the hour'.

Did it happen? Sadly not.

8. Retractable roofs for sporting arenas

Olympia's retractable roof. Image by the author.

Houston and Toronto have retractable roofs on their sporting arenas. Why should we suffer our sporting events to be cancelled by a bit of rain? Build more roofs!

Did it happen? Unbeknown to the author, London already had a retractable roof at Olympia, though that's not usually considered a sporting venue. In the years since the article, both Wembley and Wimbledon Centre Court have gained retractable roofs.

9. Restore the lost rivers of London

The River Fleet as it looks today. Image by the author.

Tyburn, Walbrook, Fleet... the names of London's buried rivers are well known. According to the article, 'There seems to be no reason why considerable stretches of lost rivers should not be disinterred and landscaped'.

Did it happen? No. There is a reason. Considerable stretches of lost rivers are serving a vital role as part of the sewer system. Do we really want to mess with that? The notion is revived every few years, most recently by Boris Johnson.

10.  Rebuild London Bridge

Old London Bridge, in St Magnus the Martyr church. Image by the author.

Modern London Bridge, opened in 1973, is a sturdy, functional span, but not one anybody could fall in love with. We need to recreate the medieval London Bridge, complete with its houses and shops (though, presumably, the heads-on-spikes can stay in the past).

Did it happen? No. Instead we got the attractive Millennium Bridge and Golden Jubilee bridges. Nevertheless, a habitable bridge over the Thames was yet another idea suggested by former Mayor Boris Johnson, in 2008. Did he have a copy of this 1988 article filed away in his office?

50 Ways to Improve London is available online via the British Newspaper Archive, and requires a paid subscription. Archive images from that article courtesy of the British Library Board, (c) Illustrated London News Group.

Last Updated 14 February 2017