Sixty years ago the London County Council published a slim paper-bound quarto
volume entitled The Survey of London: being the first volume of the Register of the Committee
for the Survey of the Memorials of Greater London, containing the Parish of Bromley-by-Bow. This volume, in less than a hundred pages of text and illustrations, recorded the
historical monuments of a little-known East End parish, all the material having been
collected as a labour of love by the members of the Survey Committee, which had been
established in 1894. But perhaps the most remarkable feature of the book was the introduction, written by the editor, C. R. Ashbee, who 'in laying before the citizens of London
the first volume of a work that may, perhaps, never be finished, but that at least seeks to
mark down the main lines upon which her great history could be preserved and studied'
took the opportunity to make a number of far-sighted suggestions. First and foremost,
he and his Committee wished 'to see made for the whole of London a Register, of which
the present is the first volume, and we wish to see recorded in it all that London yet
possesses of historic or aesthetic interest'. The objective, however, was to be 'not so much
the making of a paper record, as the preservation of the things recorded', and Ashbee
envisaged the establishment of a committee before which 'every "case" of impending
destruction should be openly considered and the result of its deliberations forwarded to
the London County Council with a view of action being taken thereon'.
In the Diamond Jubilee year of the Survey we may well ask ourselves how far we have
progressed towards the achievement of these aims. Today many fine buildings are threatened by the massive rebuilding projects which are taking place all over London, and the
need for preservation is at least as great as it was sixty years ago. But while there have been
grievous losses, there have also been successes. In 1898 the London County Council
became the first local authority to obtain statutory powers for the preservation of buildings
of historic or architectural interest, and in general the monuments of the past now enjoy
a far greater degree of protection than they did sixty years ago; many have been, and many
more will be, saved and it is at least impossible to destroy without the open consideration
for which Ashbee called.
There has, in fact, been a marked change in the public attitude towards the problems
posed by historic buildings, and so far as London is concerned the Survey may justly be
considered to have played a part in the making of this change. The register which Ashbee
and his colleagues began to compile in 1894 anticipated by exactly fifty years the clause in
the Town and Country Planning Act of 1944 which provided for the listing of all such
buildings in England and Wales. In 1894 there was no National Trust, no Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, and (with the notable exception of the Society for the
Protection of Ancient Buildings) few of the societies now concerned with the preservation
of architectural and natural beauty had yet started their great work. Thanks to the efforts
of all these bodies, and to those of the press, there now exists a widespread and lively
interest in the monuments of the past, which at least ensures that their problems are
The work of recording is still far from complete, but with thirty volumes of the Survey
now on the shelves it may fairly be claimed that something truly worth while has been
achieved. No other great city in Britain has attempted to compile a comparable study of
the history of its fabric, and if progress seems slow, the quality of many of the buildings
already described provides a sufficient justification.
The preparation of the two volumes now completed began in the latter part of 1956, and
work has proceeded continuously since the beginning of 1958. The area described was
the Court suburb of post-Restoration London, and despite a number of important losses
by demolition it still contains a splendid galaxy of domestic buildings reflecting the wealth
and taste of its aristocratic inhabitants. With the sumptuous club-houses of Pall Mall
and St. James's Street, and the noble interior of St. James's Church, it yields in magnificence to no other part of London.
On behalf of the Council I express my warm thanks to all those persons, clubs and
other bodies whose generous help has made the preparation of this study possible. In
particular I should like to thank the Crown Estate Commissioners for granting access to
their records, from which a large part of the historical material has been obtained.
The Council also owes a debt of gratitude to Mr. J. H. MacDonnell, Mr. Ian L.
Phillips, Mr. T. F. Reddaway and Sir John Summerson, who as co-opted members of
the Town Planning (Architectural and Historical Buildings) Sub-Committee have given
valuable help in discussion of the preparation of these volumes.
The historical portions of the text, and the editing of all the material, are the work of
Mr. F. H. W. Sheppard, Mr. P. A. Bezodis, Mrs. Marie P. G. Draper, Mr. D. Bevan
and Mrs. Marion A. V. Ball, all of the Clerk's Department. The architectural portions,
both graphic and textual, have been prepared in the Architect's Department under the
general supervision of Mr. W. A. Eden, Architect in Charge of Historic Buildings. Mr.
Walter Ison, besides acting as Architectural Editor, has himself written the greater part
of the descriptive matter, the remainder, with minor exceptions, having been contributed
by Mr. A. H. Grogan and Mr. J. M. W. Laithwaite. The production of the drawings
was directed by Mr. F. A. Evans, and many of the photographs were taken by the Architect's Photographic Unit under the direction of Mr. G. N. Finnissey.
Chairman of the Town Planning Committee