This map shows London’s 1940s plan for a new underground rail network

St John's Wood station, 1939. Image: Getty.

It's a scary world out there right now. We still don't have a plan for Brexit. The Arctic isn't freezing like it ought to. Donald Trump is Donald Trump. So, let's take a moment off from our busy schedule of legitimate existential terror to talk about something pointless but comforting.

In 1943, London County Council commissioned Sir Patrick Abercrombie and John Henry Forshaw to produce the County of London Plan: a document explaining how the city would be rebuilt after the War to ensure it had adequate housing, transport and green space.

The Abercrombie Plan, as it became known, is one of the great urban planning documents, and one of the great “What ifs”, of British history. It proposed a system of “ringways”, motorway-grade orbital roads, and arterial roads connecting them; in between, urban areas would be separated by a network of parks. Some scraps of this plan came to pass (the Westway, the North Circular, the M25). Mostly, though, it never happened: as it turned out, people didn't want to demolish the city to build great big motorways through it. 

Less famously, the Abercrombie plan also proposed a bunch of new railway tunnels. Which brings us to our map:

Click to expand.

It's not the easiest map to read, so here's what we're looking at:

Project A: The North Bank Loop, a new underground route taking trains from Battersea, to Victoria, Charing Cross and Cannon Street and on to Wapping and Deptford.

Project B: A second loop, taking trains that run into London Bridge underground into a new route connecting the stations on south and north banks of the Thames.

Project C: A deep level replacement for what is now Thameslink, carrying trains from Elephant and Castle through Blackfriars and onwards towards King’s Cross.

Project D: A new deep level version of the northern Circle line, freeing up the existing route to become a freight route (the “Inner Goods Ring”). Not shown on the map, there were also proposals for an Outer Goods Ring, somewhere or other – details on that are a bit sketchy..

Had the plan gone ahead, moss mainline trains from the south would be redirected to one of the new lines. All this, it was intended, would allow the city to tear up a bunch of overground railway linses and bridges, making it possible to redevelop the then-largely industrial South Bank.


These plans went through various iterations over the next few years. New lines appeared, too, including one variously known as “Route 8” or “Route C”: a fast, deep level tube line lining Finsbury Park and Brixton, which eventually appeared, in the late 1960s, as the Victoria line.

But mostly, it never happened. From the perspective of 2016, when the South Bank – railway viaducts and all – is doing rather well, this seems rather a good thing.

Some of these ideas still look pretty good, however. Imagine a sort of circular Crossrail, improving connections between the south London railway network and central London and freeing up space at the mainline terminals. We can dream, can't we?

Anyway, hope you enjoyed that. We now return you to the end of the world.

(Hat tip: David Turner.)

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

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What does the fate of Detroit tell us about the future of Silicon Valley?

Detroit, 2008. Image: Getty.

There was a time when California’s Santa Clara Valley, bucolic home to orchards and vineyards, was known as “the valley of heart’s delight”. The same area was later dubbed “Silicon Valley,” shorthand for the high-tech combination of creativity, capital and California cool. However, a backlash is now well underway – even from the loyal gadget-reviewing press. Silicon Valley increasingly conjures something very different: exploitation, excess, and elitist detachment.

Today there are 23 active Superfund toxic waste cleanup sites in Santa Clara County, California. Its culture is equally unhealthy: Think of the Gamergate misogynist harassment campaigns, the entitled “tech bros” and rampant sexism and racism in Silicon Valley firms. These same companies demean the online public with privacy breaches and unauthorised sharing of users’ data. Thanks to the companies’ influences, it’s extremely expensive to live in the area. And transportation is so clogged that there are special buses bringing tech-sector workers to and from their jobs. Some critics even perceive threats to democracy itself.

In a word, Silicon Valley has become toxic.

Silicon Valley’s rise is well documented, but the backlash against its distinctive culture and unscrupulous corporations hints at an imminent twist in its fate. As historians of technology and industry, we find it helpful to step back from the breathless champions and critics of Silicon Valley and think about the long term. The rise and fall of another American economic powerhouse – Detroit – can help explain how regional reputations change over time.

The rise and fall of Detroit

The city of Detroit became a famous node of industrial capitalism thanks to the pioneers of the automotive age. Men such as Henry Ford, Horace and John Dodge, and William Durant cultivated Detroit’s image as a centre of technical novelty in the early 20th century.

The very name “Detroit” soon became a metonym for the industrial might of the American automotive industry and the source of American military power. General Motors president Charles E. Wilson’s remark that, “For years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa,” was an arrogant but accurate account of Detroit’s place at the heart of American prosperity and global leadership.

The public’s view changed after the 1950s. The auto industry’s leading firms slid into bloated bureaucratic rigidity and lost ground to foreign competitors. By the 1980s, Detroit was the image of blown-out, depopulated post-industrialism.

In retrospect – and perhaps as a cautionary tale for Silicon Valley – the moral decline of Detroit’s elite was evident long before its economic decline. Henry Ford became famous in the pre-war era for the cars and trucks that carried his name, but he was also an anti-Semite, proto-fascist and notorious enemy of organised labor. Detroit also was the source of defective and deadly products that Ralph Nader criticized in 1965 as “unsafe at any speed”. Residents of the region now bear the costs of its amoral industrial past, beset with high unemployment and poisonous drinking water.


A new chapter for Silicon Valley

If the story of Detroit can be simplified as industrial prowess and national prestige, followed by moral and economic decay, what does that say about Silicon Valley? The term “Silicon Valley” first appeared in print in the early 1970s and gained widespread use throughout the decade. It combined both place and activity. The Santa Clara Valley, a relatively small area south of the San Francisco Bay, home to San Jose and a few other small cities, was the base for a computing revolution based on silicon chips. Companies and workers flocked to the Bay Area, seeking a pleasant climate, beautiful surroundings and affordable land.

By the 1980s, venture capitalists and companies in the Valley had mastered the silicon arts and were getting filthy, stinking rich. This was when “Silicon Valley” became shorthand for an industrial cluster where universities, entrepreneurs and capital markets fuelled technology-based economic development. Journalists fawned over successful companies like Intel, Cisco and Google, and analysts filled shelves with books and reports about how other regions could become the “next Silicon Valley”.

Many concluded that its culture set it apart. Boosters and publications like Wired magazine celebrated the combination of the Bay Area hippie legacy with the libertarian individualism embodied by the late Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow. The libertarian myth masked some crucial elements of Silicon Valley’s success – especially public funds dispersed through the U.S. Defense Department and Stanford University.

The ConversationIn retrospect, perhaps that ever-expanding gap between Californian dreams and American realities led to the undoing of Silicon Valley. Its detachment from the lives and concerns of ordinary Americans can be seen today in the unhinged Twitter rants of automaker Elon Musk, the extreme politics of PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, and the fatuous dreams of immortality of Google’s vitamin-popping director of engineering, Ray Kurzweil. Silicon Valley’s moral decline has never been clearer, and it now struggles to survive the toxic mess it has created.

Andrew L. Russell, Dean, College of Arts & Sciences; Professor of History, SUNY Polytechnic Institute and Lee Vinsel, Assistant Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Virginia Tech.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.