It’s a pity that Town Planners can’t be in some way held responsible for the decisions that they make. There are very few instances of architects or planners being held to account for shocking decisions.
If in my fantasy world there was a supreme court for atrocious planning decisions, then the first defendants in the dock would be the City of London Corporation Planning Department members back in the late 50s and early 60s. Probably their biggest crime against outstanding architecture was their decision to demolish the London Coal Exchange in 1962 to facilitate the widening of Lower Thames Street.
The building was one of the first constructed from cast iron built several years before the hall at the Great Exhibition. Cast iron decorations from the 1849 Coal Exchange building were selected as the model for the dragon boundary markers for the main entrances to the City of London.
Despite becoming a Grade 2 listed building in 1958 it was earmarked for demolition, sparking a clammer of objections. A letter to the Times newspaper calling for it’s preservation was signed by many leading experts including German Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius which described the building as “a landmark in the history of early iron construction”.
The architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner went further placing the threatened building among the twelve irreplaceable buildings of 19th century England “It expresses an era of urban revolution as no other surviving building is capable of doing … The Coal Exchange is a national monument in the fullest sense of the phrase, and its destruction would be unforgivable.” The Victorian Society under John Betjeman’s leadership lobbied for it’s reprieve and questions were asked in the House of Commons, but sadly in November 1962 demolition commenced for “The vital widening of Lower Thames Street“. So vital in fact that the site of the now demolished Coal Exchange sat empty for another ten years without any further work being carried out.
Had the decision been deferred until all the land needed for the widening of the road been purchased by the Corporation, then perhaps attitudes would have changed and the pressure being put on the decision makers would have reversed the decision.
I can only imagine how fantastic this building would have looked today, sitting opposite the old Billingsgate fish market on the now widened Lower Thames Street.
So acting as judge and jury in my fantasy court I will don my black cap and pronounce the City of London Corporation “GUILTY” for their heinous crimes against historical London buildings and sentence them to life in Milton Keynes.