Practically no one has anything good to say about what the Victorians did to London, and no one at all about the impact of the twentieth century on the metropolis; yet practically everybody agrees that London today is the most civilized and agreeable of the world's great cities. To have brought into existence the London we know today someone, sometime, must have done something right. This book will try to discover what the Victorians did to London and what, in so doing, they revealed about themselves.
The first chapter sets out some of the aesthetic, social, and moral ends that Victorian London was designed to embody and promote. The chapters that follow examine in detail the ambivalent love-hate relationship the Victorians sustained with the London their Georgian parents had bequeathed them. They will show how they transformed the inner structure and outward appearance of central London, while on the outskirts they developed, in villa suburbia, their most extreme repudiation of earlier patterns of urbanity. Subsequent chapters deal with attempts to create a better environment for, the working classes, and to improve communications throughout the expanding metropolis, in the context of Victorian social values.
For the past quarter-century I have been trying to find out what makes London unmistakably itself, what has given it that special mixture of qualities so much easier to enjoy than to define. At first I sought the answer in the policies of its great landed proprietors, exercising a wise and personal guidance over the operations of their leasehold estates. Being fortunate enough to gain access to the archives of two of the best-managed estates -- those of the Duke of Bedford and the Foundling Hospital -- I did indeed find proof of intelligent and enlightened planning, although more from the initiative and perseverance of the agents of the respective landlords than from the landlords themselves.
By 1964, after further research and reflection, the significance of my earlier findings seemed to point towards a more discouraging interpretation. 'For all its minor triumphs,' I then concluded, 'the history of the great London estates remains one of partial victories and strategic retreats.' The ground landlord, I found, was only one element in a complex pattern of varied and conflicting actions that made the metropolis what it is. If the great aristocratic landlords, with their unmatched legal and economic powers, and their determination to exercise them, were unable to achieve more than very moderate success in their attempts to impose considered town plans on their portions of London; why, I argued, was there any ground to hope realistically that the far weaker political agencies of modern town planning might succeed? To the rhetorical question -- 'Are the goals of town planners attainable in a . . .