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Colouring London

the Survey ofLondon4 October 2019

Some of our readers will have noticed the Survey of London’s recent appearance alongside Layers of London in The Telegraph, which published an interview with Peter Guillery under the title ‘Meeting the historians bringing London’s past to life with maps’. We would now like to share tidings of an inspiring map-based project that is working to advance understandings of London’s history and evolution, while contributing to issues relating to its future. Colouring London is a new crowdsourcing platform designed to collect information on every building in the capital, launched formally only yesterday. This innovative project has been developed by the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA), part of the Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment at University College London, with funding from several academic and government organizations. The Greater London Authority, Historic England and the Ordnance Survey are core partners. The Survey of London is one of the project’s collaborators, offering advice on how to incorporate historical detail and sharing data from current research in Marylebone, Oxford Street and Whitechapel.

The Colouring London website, showing building age data in Camden

Colouring London has been designed to collect and visualize information about the built environment, inviting participation from any and all. The website provides a free knowledge exchange platform for data relating to all of the capital’s buildings and structures. As users contribute data, the footprints of individual buildings are colour-coded instantly to build legible maps about the city. In addition to submitting information, reading and interpreting the maps, users will be able to download the data. The website is currently in the early stages of testing, which makes your involvement and feedback all the more important. This blog post offers some guidance on contributing to Colouring London by mining for data in the Survey of London series, an essential source for information about the city’s buildings and places.

Polly Hudson, a researcher at the Bartlett and the instigator of Colouring London, has designed the website to harness information on building age, characteristics and lifespans. Data on the built environment is currently incomplete, fragmented and inaccessible, as organizations are slow or reluctant to release information to the public. The difficulty of collecting information about buildings and places is at odds with its inherent value. The Survey of London traces its beginnings to the Arts and Crafts architect, designer and social thinker Charles Robert Ashbee, who believed that to mark down a record of the historic environment is an essential and enriching public good. In the present day, accurate and comprehensive data about the city is also instrumental for urban analyses that contribute to research on significant issues, from sustainability to the housing crisis. These data also feed into scientific research on the reduction of energy use through the adaptive reuse of buildings and the use of predictive models relating to the vulnerability and resilience of cities in the future. For this type of research to be successful, knowledge needs to be converted into numerical data.

In the long term, there are plans for Colouring London to collect, store and visualize a broad spectrum of data relating to the built environment, spanning twelve categories such as land use, building type, designer and constructional details. For the initial testing phase of the project, a smaller number of categories have been launched, including:

Location

Location: This category covers the basic but essential data required to locate buildings accurately, such as address and coordinates. The colours on the map indicate the percentage of data collected. This screenshot shows that the locational information for King’s Cross Station and St Pancras Station is almost complete, whereas smaller buildings in the neighbouring streets are still waiting to be coloured in.

Age

Age: This section includes estimated construction date and façade date, with options to add sources and links. This screenshot shows the grid of streets east of Langham Place, covered in the Survey of London’s South-East Marylebone volumes (published in 2017). If you have used the Survey’s volumes to find construction dates, please use the drop-down box to mark ‘Survey of London’ and include a link to the online version.

Size and shape

Size and Shape: This category relates to the form of the building, including the number of storeys, height and area. This screenshot shows the streets lying west of Tottenham Court Road and expresses the height of the Post Office Tower in relation to its neighbours.

Planning

Planning: This category links the building to conservation areas, local lists and the National Heritage List for England administered by Historic England. This screenshot shows buildings which are located in conservation areas around Aldwych and the Strand.

Like me

Designed to welcome positivity and inclusivity, the ‘like me’ function is a tick-box inviting users to pinpoint buildings that are admired and thought to contribute to the city. This screenshot shows the British Museum and Bedford Square.

Since its beginnings in 1894, the Survey of London has amassed a wealth of information about the city, its districts and buildings. Fifty-two ‘main series’ volumes, which generally cover historic parishes, and eighteen monographs on individual sites of particular interest have been published, with the next ‘main series’ volume on Oxford Street expected to follow in Spring 2020. The hallmark of the Survey of London series is accessible and readable writing, based on a combination of detailed archival research, secondary sources and field investigation. The volumes contain a vast amount of reliable information – data, essentially – relating to the construction, form and evolution of buildings over time. All of these data may be uploaded to Colouring London.

It is possible to sign up to the Colouring London website within a few minutes, and start colouring building footprints immediately by adding data. If you would like to focus on making contributions about a particular building, street or area, please start by referring to the Survey’s Map of Areas Covered (see below). This map provides a guide to the geographical remit of each volume in the series. From here, a catalogue on our website contains links to online versions of volumes, available via British History Online or in the form of draft chapters uploaded to our website. The detail and scope of the volumes vary significantly, with a shift from the 1970s towards a more inclusive and contextual approach. Today the Survey aims to deal with buildings of all types and dates; with this in mind, it may be worth turning to the latest volumes if you would like to produce a fairly comprehensive map of a particular area. On the other hand, referring to earlier volumes will present an interesting challenge, with the opportunity to trace separately the recent history and evolution of a street or wider area.

Map of areas covered by the Survey of London (please click here to download a pdf version)

Alternatively, contributors to Colouring London could upload information from one of many gazetteers printed in Survey of London volumes. These lists contain concise descriptions and facts, such as key dates, architects and builders. Maps printed in the volumes will assist in comparing buildings listed in the gazetteer to building footprints on the Ordnance Survey’s MasterMap, which is the base for Colouring London. If you are not familiar with a particular street, it is worth visiting it in person or referring to online street views to check whether buildings still exist.

Gazetteers in recent volumes:

Volume 46, South and East Clerkenwell (2008)

Volume 47, Northern Clerkenwell and Pentonville (2008)

Volume 48, Woolwich (2012)

Volume 50, Battersea (2013)

Volume 51, South-East Marylebone (2017)

Volume 52, South-East Marylebone (2017)

Populating Colouring London with age data from Survey volumes

If you are entering construction dates on Colouring London, please use the drop-down box to indicate the source and include a link to the online version of the relevant publication. This screenshot shows Farringdon Road, covered in the Survey’s Clerkenwell volumes (2008). For the purpose of simplicity, the database does not allow ranges to be entered. When the construction date for a building is listed as a range (such as 1882–3), please choose the earliest date (1882). If the façade date differs from the remainder of a building (for example, in cases of façade retention), please enter it in the box below.

We hope this guide will inspire our readers to contribute to Colouring London, and make use of the wealth of information collected and compiled by the Survey of London. This innovative website provides an exciting opportunity to collaborate with a broad network of people – from architects, historians and amenity groups to citizen scientists, local residents and students – to produce beautiful and meaningful maps of London.

Useful links

Colouring London

List of Survey of London volumes

Survey of London on British History Online

The Survey of London, December 2017

the Survey ofLondon29 December 2017

Recently we have been looking through our archive on the history of the Survey of London, which traces its beginnings to the 1890s. These large cloth-bound boxes brimming with letters, newspaper cuttings, photographs and pamphlets include detailed reports on the progress of the Survey.

A pamphlet recording the progress of the London Survey Committee, as the Survey was formerly known, at Midsummer 1929.

As it is customary during the festive season to reflect on recent achievements, current research, and plans for the future, we think it might be timely to share an update on the current progress of the Survey. 2017 has been an important year for the Survey of London, marked by the publication of Volumes 51 and 52 on South-East Marylebone by Yale University Press, supported by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art. We are delighted that these volumes, which document a rich and varied part of the capital, have been received with glowing reviews:

  • “Superbly researched, well written and comprehensively illustrated…” – John Martin Robinson, Country Life, October 2017.
  • “These two [volumes] cover a chunk of the historic West End in unrivalled detail following years of rigorous research…” – Robert Bevan, Evening Standard, December 2017.

The draft chapters for these volumes have been made freely available online via our website.

Covers of Volumes 51 and 52 of the Survey of London on South-East Marylebone, published in Autumn 2017. 

The Survey is following up its two volumes on South-East Marylebone with a study of South-West Marylebone, covering the area west of the boundary of the previous volumes as far as Edgware Road. A comprehensive study of Oxford Street is also underway to produce a volume covering both sides of the street from Tottenham Court Road to Marble Arch. As the longest continuous shopping street in Europe since the eighteenth century, Oxford Street is a unique phenomenon. Though it has witnessed almost continuous change, it has never lost its popularity. The traffic, the crowds and the modes of transport will be an equal part of the Survey’s study along with the buildings and shops of Oxford Street. Publication date is estimated as 2019.

View of Oxford Circus taken from the roof of Spirella House, 266270 Regent Street, looking north-west. (© Survey of London, Lucy Millson-Watkins)

Research is continuing in Whitechapel, an area with a multifaceted history that is currently in the throes of intense change. In Autumn 2016 the Survey launched a public collaborative website, ‘Histories of Whitechapel’, with the involvement of the Bartlett Centre of Advanced Spatial Analysis at UCL and supported by a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. This ongoing project is an experiment in the public co-production of research, which during the last year has encompassed oral-history interviews, walking tours, exhibitions, and film viewings, all in addition to the combination of rigorous research, field investigation and architectural drawings that is the mainstay of the Survey of London series.

View of Whitechapel Road in 2015, looking east towards the City. (© Survey of London, Derek Kendall)

As many of our readers will know, the Survey has been based at the UCL Bartlett School of Architecture since 2013. Research has recently begun towards an in-depth study of University College London for the Survey’s monograph series, which is devoted to buildings and sites of particular note. The forthcoming monograph will focus on UCL’s Bloomsbury campus, the historic core of the university’s estate. Publication date is intended as 2026, to coincide with celebrations for the bicentenary of the university’s foundation.

View of UCL’s main quadrangle from Gower Street, looking east towards the dignified Corinthian portico of the Wilkins Building. (© UCL Creative Media Services, Mary Hinkley)

Areas covered by the Survey of London in 2017, including current studies in Oxford Street, Whitechapel and South-West Marylebone. Please click to extend the map and view a list of volumes.

The Survey of London’s favourite festive photographs

the Survey ofLondon21 December 2017

Thank you for taking the time to read the Survey of London’s blog posts over the last year. Here follows a selection of our favourite festive photographs from our past and current studies of the capital’s built environment. Happy Christmas and all good wishes for the New Year.

Oxford Street

The character of Oxford Street is defined above all by its shops, and Christmas is its busiest time of the year. In 2015 we asked Lucy Millson-Watkins to photograph the lights, sights and decorations of Christmas on Oxford Street. Here is a selection of the photographs that she took, first published online in a blog post which considered the festive season on Oxford Street and its enduring traditions.

Oxford Street at dusk, looking east. (© Survey of London, Lucy Millson-Watkins)

Christmas bauble decorations strung across Oxford Street in December 2015. (© Survey of London, Lucy Millson-Watkins)

Boots, with understated decoration. (© Survey of London, Lucy Millson-Watkins)

Whitechapel

Last December it was announced that the Whitechapel Bell Foundry would close in May 2017, and this year has witnessed its closure and the end of what has been a remarkable story. Business cards claim the bell foundry as ‘Britain’s oldest manufacturing company’ and ‘the world’s most famous bell foundry’ – the first not readily contradicted, the second unverifiable but plausible. The business, principally the making of church bells, had operated continuously in Whitechapel since at least the 1570s. It had been on its present site with the existing house and office buildings since the mid 1740s. Derek Kendall’s wintry photographs of the bell foundry in 2010 provide an insight into its historic buildings and the preservation of traditional craftsmanship until its closure. If you would like to read the Survey’s full account, please click here to find the draft text on the Survey’s ‘Histories of Whitechapel’ website.

Shopfront at the east end of 32–34 Whitechapel Road in 2010. (© Historic England Archive, photographed by Derek Kendall)

Inner yard of the bell foundry, looking north-west in 2010. (© Historic England Archive, photographed by Derek Kendall)

Tuning shop in 2010. (© Historic England Archive, photographed by Derek Kendall)

University College London

There is a Survey of London monograph on University College London in the offing. UCL’s first architectural expression was the grand neoclassical building constructed in 1827–9 to designs by William Wilkins, its portico and dome a prominent statement. Only the central range of this scheme was completed, yet successive wing extensions have formed a dignified quadrangle in Gower Street.

The Corinthian portico and dome of the Wilkins Building is instantly recognizable and has been adopted by UCL as its logo. (© UCL Creative Media Services, Mary Hinkley)

View of the Wilkins Building from Gower Street, looking east. (© UCL Creative Media Services, Mary Hinkley)

Even the railings in front of the Cruciform Building, formerly University College Hospital, received a generous helping of snow in February 2009. Alfred and Paul Waterhouse’s triumphant red-brick and terracotta hospital was built on a cruciform plan in 1896–1906. (© UCL Creative Media Services, photographed in 2009 by Mary Hinkley)

Battersea

Clapham Common is one of London’s most-prized public spaces, notable for its wide-open character and the clear sense of definition and urbanity imposed by its boundaries. An essentially triangular and uniform area of some 220 acres, it has lost less ground to development than most metropolitan commons. Archery was a popular pastime in the eighteenth century, as were boxing and hopping matches, and occasional fairs which attracted larger gatherings. Today the common boasts a mixture of formal and informal planting, tree-lined roads, sports facilities, play areas, and broad open spaces. The ponds and the bandstand (1890) are notable remnants of improvements effected in the nineteenth century, when cricket, football, tennis, golf, horse riding, model yachting and bathing were all enjoyed on the common. If you would like to read the Survey’s full account of Clapham Common from the Battersea volumes (published in 2013), please click here to download the draft chapter on ‘Parks and Open Spaces’ from our website.

Clapham Common, the north-western panhandle under snow in 2013. St Barnabas’s Church on Clapham Common North Side is within view in the distance, its pitched roofs adorned by a dusting of snow. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Sledging on Clapham Common in 2013. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Clapham Common under snow in 2013, view towards Clapham Common North Side. (© Historic Englnad, Chris Redgrave)

South-East Marylebone

The brick church and lofty spire of All Saints, together with the twin clergy and parish buildings that front it towards Margaret Street, comprise a renowned monument to Victorian religion and architecture. Exuberant and compact, the group was built in 1850–2 by John Kelk to designs by William Butterfield, yet the interior of the church with its painted reredos by William Dyce was not completed and opened till 1859. Butterfield continued to embellish and alter All Saints throughout his lifetime, and it is always regarded as his masterpiece. Among decorative changes to the interior since his death, the foremost were those made by Ninian Comper between 1909 and 1916. Recent restorations have reinforced Butterfield’s original vision of strength, experimental colour and sublimity. A full account of this astonishing church has been published in the Survey’s volumes on South-East Marylebone, published in 2017. Please click here to read the account of All Saints’ Church in the Survey’s draft chapter on Margaret Street.

View of All Saints’ Church, Margaret Street from the west. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

North aisle, looking north-east. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

Nativity scene on the wall of the north aisle. The tilework at All Saints was designed by Butterfield, painted by Alexander Gibbs and executed by Henry Poole & Sons in 1875–6. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)