The Herbert Commission: Here are the 52 London boroughs that could have been

The Herbert Commission's proposals for 52 London boroughs. Image: CityMetric.

In the first half of the 20th century, London grew rather a lot. Its official government, however, grew not at all.

The result was that, by the 1950s, the city's built up area had achieved a fairly similar form to the one it has today – but the County of London was trapped behind broadly the same boundaries it had held since 1889, and vast swathes of the inner suburbs (Stratford, Acton, Willesden, Tottenham) were left outside.

How modern London was broken up before 1965. The pink area in the middle was the 28 metropolitan boroughs included in London County Council. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

So, in 1957, the Macmillan government appointed a Commission to review how London was governed, under the chairmanship of Sir Edwin Herbert. Its purview covered an area vastly bigger than the then County of London, covering the whole of Middlesex, huge swathes of Surrey, Essex and Kent, and the southern end of Hertfordshire – in effect, the capital's entire urban area.

I've not been able to find a decent map of the Commission’s review area, but the list of councils it covered suggests it looked a lot like the area now enclosed within the M25. Here's an incredibly rough map, just to give you some idea of what we're talking about here:

A very rough map.

In the event, the Herbert Commission didn't include all those places in its proposed Greater London. It dropped Waltham Holy Cross in Essex; Dartford in Kent; and almost all the Hertfordshire authorities, leaving only Cheshunt in. 

 

Another very rough map.

When the Commission published its final report, in October 1960, it proposed the creation of a new Greater London council, which would cover the entire London region and would deal with strategic functions like planning and emergency services. It also proposed a second tier of new London boroughs.

To be precise, 52 London boroughs.

This is of course rather more boroughs than we actually got. Partly that's because the government decided fewer, larger boroughs was the order of the day.

But partly, too, it’s because several of the outer boroughs were eventually excluded from the new authority – mostly because of frantic lobbying from plush commuter suburbs like Esher and Epsom, that remained determined not to be swallowed by the capital. If you've ever wondered why there's a peninsula sticking out of south western London, surrounded by places that are still in Surrey, this is why.

The Kingston peninsula. 

At any rate, when the new Greater London finally saw the light of day in 1965, it included not 52, but 33 local authorities (32 boroughs and the city of London). In many cases, these were arranged rather differently to those that Herbert had proposed.

Here, though, is a quick guide to the London boroughs we could have won.

Click to expand.

Some notes on names and boundaries

On the map above, I’ve generally used historic boundaries, rather than speculating about how the authorities might have fiddled with them before launching the new boroughs.

I've used the names of existing pre-1965 boroughs, or post-1965 London boroughs, wherever possible. Where it's not, I've given the boroughs the name of the area that is either the dominant commercial district, or geographical centre, of the borough.

It's worth noting that these boroughs, if they had come into existence, would probably not have had these names, or these exact borders. But since I'm already into the realm of municipal science fiction here, it didn't seem worth worrying too much about it.

Anyway, what you really want to know is where these boroughs are, or what they contain. So here's a lengthy guide, which only a mad person would read in its entirety.

That which survives

Nine of the boroughs proposed survived the numerous iterations of the plan and still exist in the present day. Those ones are easy, so let's do them first.

City of London

Tower Hamlets – Previously the metropolitan boroughs of Stepney, Bethnal Green and Bow.

Kensington & Chelsea – Previously the metropolitan boroughs of those names.

Hammersmith & Fulham – Previously the metropolitan boroughs of those names.

Kingston-upon-Thames – Previously the Surrey boroughs of Kingston upon Thames, Malden & Coombe and Surbiton.

Merton – Previously the Surrey boroughs of Wimbledon and Mitcham, and the urban district of Merton & Morden.

Sutton – Previously the Surrey boroughs of Beddington and Sutton & Cheam, and the urban district of Carshalton.

Barking & Dagenham – Previously the Essex boroughs of those names.

Harrow – The great survivor of London government, Harrow has existed in pretty much the same boundaries since 1934. So, there you go.

Incidentally, today's boroughs of Hammersmith & Fulham and Barking & Dagenham were initially known simply as Hammersmith and Barking. They were renamed in 1979 and 1980 respectively. So, now you know.

Inside the beltway

The vast majority of the Herbert Commission's proposed boroughs covered areas that are inside Greater London today but ended up arranged differently.

There are 37 of these in all (honestly, don’t read all this, it’s not worth it) – but just for information purposes, here's a brief guide to what they would have contained and which boroughs you'll find them in now.

Westminster – The old metropolitan borough of Westminster. Today, that's the whole of the modern City of Westminster south of Oxford Street.

Marylebone – The old metropolitan boroughs of Paddington and St Marylebone. Today, that's the whole of the modern City of Westminster north of Oxford Street.

Clerkenwell – The old metropolitan boroughs of Holborn, Finsbury and Shoreditch. This area – which includes everything from the British Museum to Old Street roundabout – is today broken up between the boroughs of Camden, Islington and Hackney. (It’s also a very odd shape, which makes me wonder if it would have looked exactly like it does on my map, but hey.)

Camden – The old metropolitan boroughs of Hampstead and St Pancras, which is most of modern Camden.

Islington – The old metropolitan borough of Islington, which is most of, well, you can probably guess.

Hackney – The old metropolitan boroughs of Hackney and Stoke Newington, which is most of modern Hackney.

Southwark – The old metropolitan boroughs of Southwark and Bermondsey; basically, the northern third of modern Southwark.

Greenwich – The old metropolitan boroughs of Deptford and Greenwich, which today make up northern Lewisham and western Greenwich.

Lewisham – The old metropolitan borough of Lewisham, in splendid isolation, and without a riverfront.

Woolwich – The old metropolitan borough, today part of Greenwich

Camberwell – The old metropolitan borough of Camberwell, which is the southern bit of modern Southwark.

Lambeth – The old metropolitan borough of Lambeth, which is the eastern half of modern, well, Lambeth.

Battersea – The old metropolitan borough of Battersea, and part of its neighbour Wandsworth. Today this is western Lambeth and eastern Wandsworth. (We’re guessing a bit about which bits of Wandsworth this borough would contain, but we’re happy with our guess.)

Wandsworth – The rest of the old metropolitan borough of Wandsworth.

Richmond – The boroughs of Richmond and Barnes, previously in Surrey, today forming most of Richmond.

Chiswick – The boroughs of Acton, and Brentford & Chiswick. Previously in Middlesex, these are today part of between Ealing and Hounslow respectively.

Willesden – The old Middlesex borough of Willesden, today forming half of Brent.

Hendon – The old Middlesex borough of Hendon, today forming the western half of Barnet.

Barnet – The urban districts of Barnet, East Barnet (both in Hertfordshire) and Friern Barnet, and the borough of Finchley (both in Middlesex). Today this is all in Barnet.

Wood Green – The Middlesex boroughs of Southgate, Hornsey and Wood Green; today the former is in Enfield, the latter pair in Haringey.

Tottenham – The Middlesex boroughs of Tottenham and Edmonton, today in Haringey and Enfield respectively.

Waltham Forest – The Essex boroughs of Walthamstow and Chingford. Today this is most of Waltham Forest.

West Ham – The county borough of that name, repurposed as a London borough. Today that's in Newham. (A county borough, incidentally, was a borough that had all the powers of a county – a sort of primordial unitary authority, basically.)

East Ham – The county borough of East Ham, now a London borough. Today that's in Newham, too. (In the name of simplicity we've assumed the bits of Barking west of the River Roding and – more confusingly – Woolwich north of the River Thames that ended up in Newham would have ended up in the London Borough of East Ham, too.)

Ilford – The Essex borough that today makes up eastern Redbridge. (The north eastern patch, around Hainault, was actually previously in Chigwell, but also ended up in the new Redbridge; we've assumed it would have been in this parallel reality, too.)

Romford – Then an Essex borough, today the northern part of Havering.

Hornchuech – Then an Essex urban district, which today makes up the rest of Havering.

Bexley – The Kent Boroughs of Erith and Bexley, and urban district of Crayford. Today that's most of Bexley.

Orpington – The Kent urban districts of Orpington, and Chislehurst & Sidcup. These are now eastern Bromley and southern Bexley respectively.

Bromley – The Kent boroughs of Bromley and Beckenham, and urban district of Penge, now all safely ensconced in modern Bromley.

Croydon – The old county borough, now the northern half of the London borough of the same name.

Twickenham – Then a Middlesex borough, now part of Richmond.

Hounslow – The Middlesex borough of Heston & Isleworth, now part of Hounslow.

Southall – The Middlesex borough of Southall, and urban district of Hayes & Harlington. These are now split between Ealing and Uxbridge.

Uxbridge – The borough of Uxbridge and urban districts of Ruislip Northwood and Yiewsley & West Drayton. Then they were all in Middlesex, today that's most of Hillingdon.

Ealing – The Middlesex borough of the same name, now part of Ealing.

Wembley – The Middlesex borough of the same name, now the northern half of Brent.

London over the border

And then, there are the six Herbert boroughs which extend beyond today's London.

In the north there's...

Enfield – Which contains the old Middlesex borough of Enfield, as well as the Cheshunt urban district. In the event, the latter was excluded from London, and remained in Hertfordshire.

Woodford – Odd one, this, combining two boroughs which made it into London (Leyton, and Wanstead & Woodford) with an urban district (Chigwell) which remained in Essex. The main thing that these areas have in common now is proximity to the more urban chunks of Epping Forest and the Epping branch of the Central Line. They don't obviously look like a single borough, but let’s assume Herbert and co knew what they were doing.

Moving to the south west...

Staines – The urban district of Feltham (then in Middlesex, now in Hounslow), combined with the urban districts of Staines and Sunbury-on-Thames (today in the Surrey borough of Spelthorne).

Coulsdon – A merger of two Surrey urban districts: Coulsdon & Purley, and Caterham & Warlingham. In the event, the former got swallowed by Croydon, while the latter remains in Surrey as part of Tandridge.

And finally, there were two proposed boroughs that today remain outside London entirely:

Elmbridge – Today a Surrey borough, created from the merger of the urban districts of Esher and Walton & Weybridge.

Epsom – Two Surrey urban districts, Epsom & Ewell and Banstead. Today, the latter is part of Reigate & Banstead, while the former stands alone.

In some ways this bigger London would have made a lot of sense. Most of the suburbs it included which didn't make the final cut – Chigwell, Cheshunt, a huge chunk of Surrey – are contiguous with the capital proper, and serve mainly as dormitory suburbs for it.


 Had it come to pass, though, it would still have meant slightly arbitrary borders in some areas. (Such borders are, seemingly, inevitable.) The Kent town of Dartford, for example, merges into the Bexley suburbs, but was ultimately excluded by Herbert. The Hertfordshire town of Watford is served by both London Underground and London Overground trains – yet that didn't make the cut either.

And a larger number of smaller boroughs would probably have meant weaker boroughs too. What this would have meant for the development of London’s government and its infrastructure is unknowable – but today’s city would almost certainly look different in ways we can’t even imagine.

Anyway. We got to talk about borders for a bit and play with a nice map, and isn't that the important thing, really?

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

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A Century after radical leftists were elected to its city hall, Vienna’s social democratic base is slipping away

Karl Marx Hof. Image: Kagan Kaya.

Karl Marx-Hof, a kilometre-long municipal apartment block in Vienna’s wealthy 19th district, was first named after the father of the communist movement by Austria’s Social Democratic Workers’ Party (SDAP) in 1927. Its imposing structure borrows from an eclectic mix of modernist, Bauhaus, art deco, neoclassical and baroque architectural styles. In the mould of early soviet experiments, the building, nicknamed The Palace of the Proletariat, housed shared childcare services, gardens and washrooms.

The building is Vienna’s most prominent physical reminder of a period known as Red Vienna, when left-wing radicals found themselves at the helm of the Hapsburg’s former imperial capital during the aftermath of the First World War. 

After the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy in 1918, the SDAP won the fledgeling republic’s first elections held under universal suffrage and commenced an ambitious programme of social and economic reform. Leading intellectual lights of the party sought to unite the two great strands of the 20th-century labour movement, reconciling parliamentary socialism and revolutionary communism under their new current of non-Bolshevik “Austro-Marxism”. Karl Marx-Hof epitomised their radical ambitions. “When we are no longer here”, Mayor Karl Seitz told an assembled crowd of workers at the building’s opening in 1930, “these bricks will speak for us.”

When I visited Karl Marx-Hof on a sunny day in June, Monica and George, two of its residents, were walking their two Chihuahuas around the estate’s leafy, quiet courtyards. “We moved here last year,” Monica tells me. “It’s really nice because you’ve got a lot of green space in the middle of the city.”

The young couple are the beneficiaries of a generous system of public housing provision. Vienna has a relative abundance of high-quality municipal flats compared with most large capitals. “We weren’t waiting long for the flat – moving in here was really fast”, Monica says. Currently, 60 per cent of Vienna’s residents live in either municipally owned, subsidised housing, or in social homes run by not-for-profit cooperatives. The remaining portion of private homes is subject to strict rent controls and regulations.

The social democrats and their less radical successors have remained the dominant party in Vienna since the city’s first election, save for an 11-year hiatus of fascist dictatorship from 1934, followed by Anschluss and Nazi occupation from 1938. The city remains a red statelet in an otherwise conservative country. Indeed, Austria is now more associated with the far right than the radical left. But even Vienna is no longer immune to the trend of waning support for centre-left parties that has gripped European countries since 2008, and cracks are beginning to appear in its social democratic project.

Two exhibitions in the city – one in the former communal wash house of Karl Marx-Hof, the other in the grand Wien Museum MUSA – note the achievements of Red Vienna’s experiment in local socialism: the introduction of pensions and unemployment support; the establishment of a nascent public healthcare system; the opening of kindergartens, schools run on Montessori principles, public baths, open-air swimming pools, libraries, parks, leisure facilities, arts centres; and, of course, a programme of mass council house building, all paid for by a system of progressive income taxation coupled with duties on luxury goods, including servants, champagne, private cars and riding horses.

Unlike the Bolsheviks, (and partly because, as a provincial government, it lacked the powers to do so), the SDAP did not expropriate or nationalise factories or private industry without compensation, but instead paid former owners whenever buildings or land passed from private to public hands. The party built what it perceived to be the chrysalis of a new egalitarian society, while leaving the market and private ownership of the means of production largely intact. In many ways, its policies palliated the worst effects of early 20th century industrial capitalism like slum housing, mass unemployment and extreme poverty. Red Vienna laid the ground for the modern European welfare state, inspiring other social democratic governments across the continent to implement similar policies after the Second World War. 


“Back then the social democrats were good,” Monica tells me, attempting to calm her excitable dogs by pulling on their leads. Does she intend to vote for the social democrats in the upcoming national elections in September? “We vote for the blue ones,” she answers. Monica and George will cast their vote for the Freheitliche Partei Osterreichs (FPO), the Freedom Party, an organisation founded after the Second World War by a former Nazi minister of agriculture and high-ranking SS officer. “It’s because of all the refugees and all the violence that’s going on here,” she claims. “Shootings are more frequent in Vienna.”

Austria has one of the lowest murder rates in the world, almost half that of England and Wales, and Vienna itself is known for its relative safety compared to other European capitals. But hundreds of thousands of refugees have travelled through Austria over the last four years. Many have made the city their home, but most have transited towards Germany, at Angela Merkel’s invitation. The mass movement of people from across the Mediterranean to central and northern Europe has ruptured the country’s social-democratic pact. In 2016, Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party narrowly missed out on victory in the presidential election, receiving 46 per cent of the vote.

“Lots of people say they’re just racists,” Monica continues, visibly uncomfortable with the idea that people would attribute malice or prejudice to voters like herself. But she hastens to add that her views, and those of her partner George, aren’t necessarily typical of Vienna’s affluent 19th district. “There are very rich people here, so they vote for the party who protects their interests… You’ll see a lot of big houses, so I think the OVP, the People’s Party, would do well.”

The OVP is the more traditional centre-right party of Austrian politics, and wins the most seats in the 19th district. Yet the city’s voting patterns are diverse. This is partly a result of the policies of successive social democratic administrations placing the integration of social classes and income levels at the heart of their municipal agenda. Subsidised housing can be found alongside wealthy private apartments in the city centre designed by Renzo Piano, and at the foot of the city’s vineyards near up-market wine taverns. Kurt Puchinger, chair of wohnfonds_wien, the city’s land and housing fund, tells me that the council “do not want to have a situation where you can identify the social status of a person by their home address.”

Despite the SDAP’s century-long efforts to promote social cohesion, recent years have seen the rise the FPO’s vote share at the expense of the left. Favoriten is a more solidly working class area of Vienna in the 10th district. There, according to Monica, “most vote for the Freedom Party because they are for stopping migration.” She pauses to consider her words. “Not stopping. Trying to find a way to filter them and control them. Every country has a problem like this.”

Monica’s feeling for the electoral preferences of each of the various Viennese districts proves accurate. After the war, Favoriten elected communists as their local representatives. The district's loyalties quickly switched to the social democrats, and until 2005 the party could comfortably expect to receive over half the votes there, consistently getting more than double the votes of both the far-right Freedom Party and the centre-right People’s Party. But in the most recent 2015 election, the Freedom Party won 24 seats and 38 per cent of the vote, only two points and one seat behind the social democrats. In Austria nationally, the People’s Party, headed by a 32-year-old leader, Sebastian Kurz, with Patrick Bateman overtones, has formed a government with the Freedom Party – but their coalition collapsed ignominiously in May.

Neither Austria as a whole, nor Favoriten in particular, are outliers. In France, Le Pen’s National Rally polls well in the Communist Party’s former “ceinture rouge” outside Paris. In Britain, Labour’s post-industrial heartlands are turning towards the Brexit Party, while blue collar workers in America’s rust belt have backed Donald Trump. And in Vienna, neither the impressive legacy of the SDAP nor the continually high standard of living (the city was rated as the world’s most liveable for the 10th time in 2018 by Mercer, the consultancy giant) is enough to stem the tide of right-wing populism.

Until he was unseated as leader following a corruption scandal in May, Heinz-Christian Strache positioned the FPO as the party of the working class, a guarantor of Austrian identity, and the protector of a generous welfare system now threatened by an influx of migrants. “We believe in our youth,” ran one of his slogans, “the [social democrats] in immigration.”

Sofia is a masseuse who has lived in Karl Marx-Hof for 19 years with her partner and his son. “People are angry with the social democrats now because of refugees,” she told me. “They should change this... They should say ‘we are on the left but we can’t accept everybody here.’” The view that the party have abandoned their traditional voters is widespread, but Sofia isn’t fond of the alternatives. “The FPO – the Nazis – you can’t vote for the Nazis… anyone who votes FPO isn’t my friend… But I won’t vote for the People’s Party because they do everything for rich people, not normal people.”

Sofia reserves her strongest criticism for the youthful Sebastian Kurz, who is likely to become head of another People’s Party-led coalition after elections in September. “I’m scared of him,” she says. “I think he’s a psychopath. I think he’s not a normal person.”

Like many Viennese, Sofia admires the legacy of Red Vienna: “The socialists did a lot of really good things. We are the only city in the world that has so much state housing. And they brought in pensions, health insurance, a lot of things.” But she’s not sure they will get her vote in 2019. In an era of polarisation and anti-establishment rhetoric, the most fertile yet unoccupied political ground seems to be for a radical, redistributive economic programme, coupled with a more conservative vision of shared responsibilities and values, national sovereignty, and sociocultural issues.

“Even in the working class areas of the city,” sighs Kurt Puchinger, the city’s housing fund chair, “less people are voting social democrat. And this is a pity.” 100 years since the old radical Social Democratic Workers’ Party was first elected by a restive, war-weary working class, the working class remains restive, but while the SDAP’s flagship Karl Marx-Hof still stands, the bricks no longer seem to be speaking for them.