Campaign for restoration of ironwork scrapped in the war
In this special report we reveal the mish-mash of breeze blocks, picket fences and gaps that still stands in place of the stripped ironwork in London today. Examples can be found throughout the city and country, but here we concentrate on our neighbouring district of Queens Park, a designated Conservation Area.
The Queens Park estate was planned and built by a Victorian philanthropic society about 1875, to provide decent accomodation for workers who were crowding into city slums as the industrial revolution gathered pace.
They specified the best modern amenities at the time, superb craftsmanship and decoration, with wide thoroughfares arranged in grids like planned cities such as New York, a grid of avenues, numbered First through Sixth, and streets labelled A to O. The London A to Z lists fourteen First Avenues, by the way. Queens Park is in W10, City of Westminster. The streets were subsequently given names starting with the letters A to P, drawn from those who were instrumental in their building: Alperton, Barfett, Caird, Droop, Enbrook, Farrant, Galton, Huxley, Ilbert, Kilravock, Lothrop, Marne, Oliphant and Peach.
Apparently there was never a J Street. Farrant Street and Peach Street no longer exist (though there is a new Peach Road nearby). Maybe Farrant was where the park is south of Ilbert Street in the picture above, I don't know, but looking at a map and the sequence of street names, it looks a likely position for it. Peach Street was demolished by a 500 pound German bomb dropped by parachute. I don't know how many people were killed but it left a big crater and the whole street was demolished. Debris from the blast was blown into the air and landed as far away as our own dear Willesden where "it fell among people coming out of a cinema." (What cinema, readers?)**
This is what the ironwork should look like. It is thought that the exercise of removing the ironwork was largely for propaganda purposes to raise morale by giving blitzed Londoners the impression that they were contributing to the war effort, and so minimise despair or revolt. Aluminium and some other metals were in short supply, so some pots and pans collected would have been recycled, but cast iron was secretly ferried down the Thames and dumped, so much of it that it became a hazard to shipping. Ref: London's Lost Railings in WW2.
Above is an example of the mish-mash of fencing that has replaced the railings. You can see where the cill guards are missing too.
This charming fellow would not be able to sit where he is on the window cill if the cill guard hadn't been removed. Note the missing railings.
Some houses were stripped bare, and still stand as they were left. The first houses on the streets seem to have been more completely denuded than the more far-flung, some of which appear to retain one or two original cills (not sure, maybe restored.)
Some of the cill guards have been replaced or partially replaced. It is a very expensive exercise, and your non-roving reporter could never afford it when he lived in a beautiful two-up-two-down not dissimilar to one of these.
Here you can see the worst and best that can be done with the old buildings. The corner house has inappropriate aluminium casement windows. The house on the right has been fully restored with authentic sliding sash windows retained, and all the ironwork replaced.
And what a corner house! The corner houses on Fifth Avenue have turrets! There are many surprising details on the estate. You will see masterpieces of ornamental brickwork, plaques and other things I'm too lazy to find the names of (architraves?) if you get a chance to visit the area.
At the end of this picture down Caird Street, look closely at the terrace across the T-junction with Third Avenue. There is a gothic arch between two houses there.
The availability of grants has not resolved this problem. People still cannot afford the work, or would rather put breeze blocks and picket fences in place of the missing ironwork. The National Lottery could afford to do this, and would it not be a very good use at least comparable to funding of museums and sports facilities?
An enquiry to them produced an application pack and details of the Townscape Heritage Initiative, which would be the way to go about this project. They don't initiate projects, but provide support and funding to local bodies, so Westminster City Council might be expected to organise this for Queens Park. But it would make more sense for the Mayor of London, currently a Mr. Ken Livingstone of Cricklewood (shouting distance from where this article is being typed) to take a leading role, as all London boroughs must be affected.
Come on National Lottery and Mayor Livingstone, help us put back the ironwork! It would boost everybody's morale again to put the railings back. This is not the vain sort of cosmetic surgery, this is the kind that is indicated for the alleviation of disfigurement. The Luftwaffe did not do this, it was a homemade bout of self-harm. The Herald has done its bit by highlighting the issue, now it's up to you to do something about it.***
We wrote to Ken Livingstone and received a response from an assistant stating that the work was outside of the mayor's remit. Eventually we wrote to Westminster City Council with our suggestion for a Townscape Heritage Fund project and received this letter from David Clegg, Head of Design and Conservation (North) in response.
Report by Feargal Mooney. Photos by Ossian Lennon
* This revised version was posted in September 2006. Thanks to Mr S W Lane for corrections. (Ref: Letter from Mr S W Lane)
** John Hyde writes from Torrox Costa, Spain: "Could it have been the Palace or Odeon in Chamberlayne Rd?" (Ref: Letter from John Hyde)
*** Thanks to Queens Park Library, Fourth Avenue, for permission to photograph pages from the Westminster City Council Queens Park Estate Design Guide pamphlet (1995.)