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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Can you have capitalism without capital? Brighton, Ankara, Ghent and the intangible economy

The Fusebox, Brighton. Image: WiredSussex.

As you head north out of Brighton on the A23 things take a distinctly granular turn. The cool bars and trendy eateries give way to second-hand shops and nail bars.

Looming over the area, New England House, an eight-storey brutalist office block, is home to Wired Sussex, a collection of digital and media companies, as well as its offshoot The Fusebox. Here, a collection of entrepreneurs, tech visionaries and creative technologists are seeking to transform their ideas into successful businesses. This island of cutting-edge thinking, surrounded by the evidence of the glaring consequences of austerity, could stand as a synecdoche for the suddenly vogueish concept of the “intangible economy”.

Towards the end of last year, on Radio 4’s Start The Week, Jonathan Haskel, author of Capitalism Without Capital, laid out the features of this brave new economy. The ideas are scalable, have sunk costs, their benefits spill over, and they have synergies with other intangible assets. All of these things are, to a greater or lesser extent, attributes featured in the virtual reality games, apps for care home workers, and e-commerce ideas mapped out by the bright sparks in the Fusebox.

Its manager, Rosalie Hoskins, explains that it exists to support the work of small companies doing creative work. Within these clean white walls they can bounce their ideas off each other and reap the fruits of collaboration. “We’ll provide the doors,” she says. But “it’s up to them to open them.”

One innovative thinker hoping to make her entrance is Maf’j Alvarez. She tells me she studied for a masters in digital media arts at the University of Brighton, and describes herself as an ‘interactive artist’. “Right now I am playing with virtual reality,” she tells me. “There’s a lot of physics involved in the project which explores weight and light. It definitely has a practical application and commercial potential. VR can be used to help people with dementia and also as a learning tool for young people.”

The Fusebox, she says, is “about collaboration. The residents of the Fusebox are in all a similar situation.”

The willingness to work together, identified by Haskell as a key element of the intangible economy, is evident in the Fusebox’s partnership with like minded innovators in Ankara. Direnç Erşahin from İstasyon, a centre for “social incubation” based in the Turkish capital, visited the Fusebox toward the end of last year.

“It was a good opportunity to exchange knowledge about the practice of running a creative hub – managing the place, building a community and so on,” he says.

Erşahin and his colleagues have launched a fact-checking platform – teyit.org – which he believes will provide “access to true information”. The co-operation between the Fusebox in Brighton and İstasyon in Ankara  is “a good opportunity to reinforce a data-oriented approach and university and society interaction,” he argues.

But the interaction between wider society and the denizens of the intangible world is often marked by friction and, ironically, a failure of communication.

This point is underlined by Aral Balkan, who runs a company called indie.ie which aims to develop ethical technologies. “There’s a good reason we have a trust problem,” he says. “It’s because people in mainstream technology companies have acted in ways that have violated our trust. They have developed systems that prey upon individuals rather than empowering them.”

A former Brighton resident, Balkan is almost a walking definition of Theresa May’s “citizen of nowhere”. He is a regular speaker on the TED and digital circuits, and I crossed paths frequently with him when I covered the industry for Brighton’s local newspaper. He left the city last year, chiefly, he tells me, in protest over the UK government’s overweening “snooper’s charter” laws.


He has Turkish and French citizenship and is now based in Malmö, Sweden, while working with the city of Ghent on a radical redevelopment of the internet. “Ghent is a beautiful example of how location affects the work,” he tells me. “They don’t want to be a smart city, they want to encourage smart citizens. We are exploring alternatives.”

Karl-Filip Coenegrachts, chief strategy officer at the City of Ghent, is another believer in the synergies made possible by the intangible economy. “The historic perspective has impacted on the psychology and DNA of the city,” he says. “The medieval castle built to protect the nobility from the citizens not the other way around. People in Ghent want to have their say.”

Left out of this perspective, of course, are those who cannot make their voice heard or who feel they are being ignored. The fissures are easy to find if you look. The future of Belgium’s coalition government, for example, is threatened by Flemish nationalists in the wake of a scandal over the forced repatriation of 100 Sudanese migrants. In Ankara, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has purged local government and continues to stamp on any dissent.

In the UK, the gig economy makes headlines for all the wrong reasons. Back in the area around the Fusebox, the sharp observer will notice, alongside the homeless people curled up in sleeping bags in charity shop doorways, a stream of gig-worker bikers zooming from one order to another.

The intangible economy throws up all-too tangible downsides, according to Maggie Dewhurst, vice chair at the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain. She gives short shrift to the idea of ‘capitalism without capital’.

“It does get a bit irritating when they muddy the waters and use pseudo academic definitions. They pretend tangible assets don’t exist or are free.”

In fact, she adds, “The workers are a human resource.”