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Film created by Blackboxfilms and Polly Hudson Design for English Heritage. Archive images courtesy of Historic England Archives and London Metropolitan Archives. Booth Poverty map courtesy of the Museum of London

Until the mid 18th century the pace at which development, demolition and urban expansion occurred was relatively slow. In 1750, on the eve of a revolution in industry, transportation and medicine, the population stood at around 6.5 million. During the 19th century however it was to grow sixfold. During this period the percentage of Britain's population living in urban areas rose from approximately 20% to 80%. Not only did the number and size of new cities increase but also the amount of low density surburban development, and demolition within city cores.


The 1800s saw housing built both rapidly and cheaply, with overcrowding rife and multioccupancy common particularly in earlier buildings in poorer areas. Open sewers and contaminated water led to frequent outbreaks of cholera and life expectancy, at below 40, was under half what it is today. Planning laws first developed as a means of improving sanitation and health, with a burst of legislation occurring from the 1840s. A brief overview of British planning history  can be found at


During the same period London's population expanded from one to seven million, and thousands of buildings were built for the capital, along with hundreds of miles of road and railway track.


By 1889 difficulty in coping with the scale of London's infrastructure led to the formation of the London County Council, known as the LCC.  A significant aspect of its work involved the clearance of slum housing and the creation of new commercial areas and transport links.


Around the turn of the century in areas such as Holborn - seen in the Kingsway film hundreds of London’s ancient buildings were swept away within a single development plan. Those lost in Kingsway including medieval, tudor and early 17th century structures which were some of the few to have survived the Great Fire of London of 1666.  


At the time of Kingsway's development, only a handful of buildings (including the Tower of London) were under any official type of care. However early conservation societies, and individuals, were already working to record and preserve London’s older building stock. They included Laurence Gomme, clerk to the LCC and contributor to the Survey of London, which together with The Society for Photographing Relics of Old London and the Victoria County History (VCH), meticulously recorded buildings before they were lost. Both the Survey of London and the VCH continue their important work today. Other influential groups at the time included the Society of Antiquaries, Europe’s first conservation body, and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB). Their work, together with the growth in documentation, would lead in 1913 to 'scheduling', the beginning of legal protection from demolition for sites and monuments in Britain.

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