Livestream talk on 26 November, 6pm, on the Greening of London

I’m presenting a talk on the impact of war on the open spaces of London for the Institute of Historical Research Gardens and Landscapes seminar.

Book here:

greening london

I was asked to talk specifically about the impact of WWII on the capital. There’s already been quite a bit of research done on this, particularly by Marti Hannikainnen, so I’m not going to be presenting anything massively original, rather an overview survey of the main issues, including access to parks and squares, military requisitioning, playgrounds and the reconstruction plans’ open space targets.

reflections on public space under lockdown

stone in Kennington Park

It’s now been 6 months since my last day commuting from work, and nearly 6 months since the start of a lockdown of some form or another in England.

Here are some brief reflections on what lockdown has highlighted about public space.

Table of Contents

    Parks and open spaces

    The first few weeks of lockdown were characterised by confusion – how does the virus spread? does it stay on surfaces and for how long? Is being outdoors more dangerous than indoors?

    In those early weeks the focus was on spread through touching surfaces. So we saw odd scenes like every potential spot that could be construed as a seat being taped off. These images of the stones in Kennington Park, which I know well, taken by Will Jennings, are perhaps the most representative of this sense of panic of the unknown:

    At the same time, government guidance delineated what activities were and were not permitted in public parks and other open spaces. So while exercise, including yoga, was allowed, sitting and sunbathing was not. So we had the unnerving sight in some areas of police patrolling through parks and telling sunbathers off. However seemingly random previous parks’ byelaws had been in the Victorian era (everyone seems to cite the ‘no beating carpets and rugs’ byelaw), this rule really felt like an inversion of all normal order, a world-turned-upside down.

    Several well known parks in heavily populated areas, notably Brockwell Park in south London, closed in the first week of April, as temperatures rose unseasonably. The Easter and May bank holidays similarly caused problems.

    bbc article of sunbathers
    glasgow sunbathers

    Driving to outdoor spaces was also initially prohibited by government guidance, the ban not lifted until mid May. The National Trust closed its carparks and properties to prevent people accessing its outdoor spaces. Another of the now notorious images of the early lockdown period were of Derbyshire police using drones to spot people who had ignored the guidance to go walking out in the countryside.

    The other notorious image, which has quickly become a twitter meme, is this one of a police megaphone shouting at a woman walking:

    By June, the impact of devolution began to surface, with each devolved government setting its own parameters for restrictions and quarantines, which is still creating inconsistencies and public confusion currently (September).

    Throughout this period, the issue of public rights of way and access to the countryside have been heightened, not least by informal and unofficial closures of ROW and signs made by farmers and landowners wishing to protect their livestock and workers.

    This produced a whole genre of covid signs, such as this one spotted by Dr Claire Hickman:

    peak district sign

    The Viral Archive on Twitter has been collecting similar signs and writing/markings on urban open spaces:

    See also Miles King and Guy Shrubsole’s highlighting of illegal ROW closures:

    See Miles’s blog posts at the time about ‘performing lockdown’ in open spaces:

    Once lockdown eased, it also became evident that people were using public open spaces in different ways. Or at least because people were ‘staycationing’ instead of going abroad, they were using their local parks and beauty spots at different times than usual and thus noticing alternative uses by people they would not normally come into contact with:

    burgess park sex acts

    Raves returned to the countryside as young people felt frustrated not to be able to socialise in clubs:

    raves June 2020

    social and economic inequalities

    It very soon became evident that lockdown restrictions highlighted and indeed exacerbated the spatial inequalities of race and class in Britain. Lack of access to private gardens and to public parks was most acute in the most deprived urban areas. The debates over whether public parks should be closed hinged on the issue of how gentrification of parts of London meant that working people, especially of colour, were predominantly those suffering lack of access to open space. And with links being quickly made between pollution and covid deaths, most severely affecting deprived areas, this connection was underlined even further.


    urban spaces

    As lockdown lifted, and the government encouraged us to ‘eat out to help out’, the urban street space changed rapidly and pretty dramatically. Local councils enabled temporary pedestrianisation and street licences allowing cafes and restaurants to have outdoor seating on previously busy roads. In the continued hot summer, there was a brief vision of the ‘continental cafe culture’ that has always been an aim of successive regeneration schemes but never achieved on this scale in practice.

    But it came with problems, with concerns about the West End of London being so packed that social distancing was impossible on ‘Super Saturday’ in early July after the pubs reopened:

    super saturday soho

    The implementation of social distancing measures also saw the morphology of streets change in densely populated areas, most physically with the replacing of car lanes with pedestrian routes and cycle paths on some large roads.

    tfl borough high street

    Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, a key demand of the ‘living streets’ movement were also temporarily trialled in some London boroughs.

    low traffic neighbourhoods


    The Open Spaces Society provide a useful summary of the various changes made to both legislation and government guidance related to use of open spaces:

    OSS guidance

    The right of public assembly

    Legal scholars have pointed out the barrage of emergency legislation that has been passed without full parliamentary scrutiny over lockdown, and that much involves restrictions on public gatherings. The increasing vagaries and contradictions inherent involve, as much legislation about gatherings has historically, a series of numbers – 1 household, 1 ‘bubble’, 30 people, now the ‘rule of 6’.

    See the multiple and very informative posts of Adam Wagner @AdamWagner1 :

    As Black Lives Matter and later X-tinction Rebellion protests tried to navigate the restrictions and assert their right to protest, and more illegally as large groups held raves in the countryside, inevitable parallels were made with the passing of the Public Order Acts in 1986 and 1994:

    rave legislation

    Wagner also points out the ambiguities inherent in the legislation’s use of the word ‘mingling’, the first occurrence of such a term in English & Welsh legislation:

    Some legal scholars argue that the government’s ambiguity between regulations, legislation and guidance has exacerbated the situation. See for example Tom Hickman’s paper, ‘The Use and Misuse of Guidance during the UK’s Coronavirus Lockdown’:

    [to finish]

    Alternative Guide to London Boroughs

    The Open House London organisation invited Owen Hatherley to produce a guide to all 33 London boroughs. It’s available here:

    Given that most of the Open House activities can’t take place in person this year (weekend of 19-20 September 2020), this alternative guide provides a brilliant variety of approaches, insights and takes on what it’s really like to live in the material space and architecture of London.

    open house cover
    Open House London cover of the Alternative Guide

    I was honoured to be asked to write the Croydon entry, with a focus on public space.

    It is my first published writing on the borough, and stems from some of the research I’ve been doing for the project that this website is showcasing.

    contents page
    contents page. Look at that range and variety of authors.

    I conclude that the 1950s and 60s redevelopment of Croydon in favour of office accommodation and roads severely diminished the availability or amenity of central open public or civic space in the town centre, a problem that has not been fully remedied by pedestrianisation.

    I also point out the current fashion among the big developers redeveloping Croydon again for calling the open spaces between the new massive towers as ‘town squares’. Squares are back, but they are privately owned and controlled, and I doubt will form a communal space for either residents or the general public.

    london square
    ruskin square
    saffron square
    lansdowne road

    But I also praise the range and extent of green spaces in and around Croydon, and hope they are retained in the face of current rezoning and redesignation of land use under the various plans.

    purley way playing fields
    Purley Way playing fields, July 2020, under lockdown

    I love Open House London. It’s genuinely one of the highlights of the year, marking the end of summer and the start of the new academic year. A final mosey round new places and familiar sites, often in an Indian summer in the last rays of warm sun before it goes cold and dark for the rest of the year.

    I’ve seen some great buildings (notably the Isokon and Pullman Court art deco buildings in Belsize Park and Streatham respectively), been shown round wonderful housing schemes by local residents (Cressingham Gardens, Golden Lane, also the Walter Segal self-builds in Lewisham) and got into the most delightful spaces on my doorstep (St Bernard’s estate in Park Hill, Croydon).

    There are virtual tours and some activities going ahead 19-20 September, and I very much hope everything returns bigger and better next year.

    Zine conversation about parks & protest

    no ball games

    Horrid Covid! online zine invited me to do a conversation with the curator, Helen Kaplinsky, for their issue 4, ‘Parks’. Listen to 30 mins of us talking about parks, privatisation, public space and protest.

    We cover discussion of the origins of parks and ’emparkment’, access to public space, pandemics and legislation, and the development of protest from the local to the global.

    Listen now:

    more on historic access to open space

    wyck gardens lambeth

    who has the right to use public space? (1/n)

    brockwell park

    Yet again, research and writing for a chapter in my book that originally was historical and as I thought, non-controversial, has now become urgently relevant in the wake of the current crisis.

    I’ve written (not finished!) a chapter on Victorian public parks, and contests over their use, particularly by political groups for meetings. I’ve got a hard drive full of photos of council parks committee minutes from various boroughs in England across the late 19th century and early 20th century.

    At the time of researching, so far so historical. The relevant research was being done by Dan Hancox on the commercialisation of parks and their temporary closing off for big concerts and other ticketed events, where councils make a little money to the expense of local residents not able to enter their parks for a few weekends a year. Enclosure by privatisation is easy to recognise. (

    But now we have the threat that all public open spaces will be closed, just as the weather warms up, with the lock-down. Morally it’s a trickier issue. Of course, this may be the measure we need to prevent the spread of the virus and to enforce social distancing. Stay at home if you have a garden folks. But it has raised huge debate about the lack of access to public space among urban residents living in small flats with (as is increasingly common) not even a Juliet balcony to get any fresh air at all. The balancing of public health between preventing the spread and maintaining people’s physical and mental health by allowing them to exercise outside is very difficult to work out.

    The issue has centred around Lambeth Council’s decision to close Brockwell Park.

    Brixton Buzz

    It often seems to be the south London parks and Lambeth council that are the lightning conductors for these issues. Perhaps because of the highly urbanised nature of south London, and its gentrification southwards.

    Will Jennings and others on Twitter raise the issue of what is a park and what is a common in these areas:

    The south London commons are in somewhat an unusual position in that they are technically still urban commons, but because their ownership and management passed to the Metropolitan Board of Works in the later 19th Century (and then subsequently to the LCC and then to their respective borough councils), they are regulated more as public parks.

    Lambeth Council byelaws:

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    LCC map of parks 1924
    London County Council map of parks and recreation grounds, 1924

    Survey of London history:

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    Parks, recreation grounds and other council-controlled public spaces have always been heavily regulated with regulations and bye-laws. That was part of the point of parks – they were former commons and open spaces that have been enclosed and regulated both legally by regulations and physically by railings and gates that are usually closed at night, and by park wardens monitoring public behaviour. Urban commons (which differ from rural commons) were often the product of the commons preservation societies’ campaigns from the 1860s onwards. Many were regulated by as many byelaws as parks. Access to open space in urban areas in the late 19th century was always about social control, of improving the morals and ‘civilising’ the behaviour of the population, particularly the working classes and poor who lived in overcrowded urban streets who needed the ‘lungs’ of the park as a respite from their polluted working lives.

    update from a discussion on Twitter on whether London councils have the right to close commons:

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    Jonathan Healey jokingly raised the issue of restrictions on behaviour in public spaces made by clergy and local authorities in the early modern period:

    This moral regulation continued well up to the 20th century. With the new public parks in the later 19th century, Sabbatarians and other religious were keen to prevent the population using them on Sundays, when they should be in church. Organised games (football, cricket) and music (e.g. brass bands on the bandstand) were banned in many public parks until well into the first decades of the 20th century. Debates raged in council parks committees and in the local newspapers about whether leisure activities should be allowed on Sundays, and only gradually were concessions made, for example allowing band concerts after 2pm, but then only playing classical music with no dance tunes allowed.

    musical world 1870 Sunday League on music in parks
    Musical World, 23 April 1870,
    LCC pamphlet 1924
    LCC pamphlet, 1924, Lambeth Archives
    council restrictions on games 1922
    LCC guide to public parks, 1924

    field and court games should be allowed on Sundays from 1pm in winter and 2pm in summer at such parks and open spaces as might be prescribed.

    LCC guide to public parks, 1924

    There were no restrictions on access to public parks during the cholera pandemics, not least because it was still believed that disease spread in the air, so access to fresh air was seen as essential. The Boards of Health were more concerned with patrolling and inspecting other sites where particularly the poor and vagrants congregated or were confined – they set up inspections of lodging houses and backstreet pubs for example.

    The restriction on use of public parks and commons for political meetings is another story I’ve related elsewhere and which will be the main focus of my chapter on ‘Railings’, and its most obvious expression was during the Hyde Park riots of 1866 when the crowd tore up the railings in protest at their exclusion.

    A later debate about access to parks and commons was during both world wars. Some (though not as many as perceived) of the Victorian railings had been removed for the metal salvage effort during WWII, and much debate in the council parks’ committee minutes concerned whether there should be extra wardens employed to police the parks now that access was easier. Even for parks that retained their railings, some had to be left open at night because air raid shelters were constructed within them. This led to a large rise in juvenile delinquency and petty vandalism to for example the toilets or cricket pavilions recorded by the parks committees, and there was pressure on them to restrict or police them using the air raid wardens to prevent further criminal damage.

    The town planning schemes and idealistic or indeed simply pragmatic reconstruction plans after both wars sought to maximise access to open green space for all residents (see my previous blog), although in already congested urban centres this was often done aiming at an average acreage per 1000 population rather than trying to make sure every residence was within easy reach of an open space. The space syntax of this accessibility is something I need to do more research on. With the selling off of playing fields, the renewed densification of urban centres as family houses have been split up into several flats, with front gardens turned into driveways and back gardens also sold off or only accessible to the ground floor flat, and especially with all the office block conversions allowed by the easing of planning regulations for permitted use, and new build flats only having those useless julienne balconies, the main issue debated today is that yet again, many people, including young professionals as well as people in lower income bands, have no access to any open space apart from their local parks.

    Further reading:

    Hazel Conway, People’s Parks: The Design and Development of Victorian Parks in Britain (Cambridge University Press, 1991)

    Manchester committee to promote innocent recreation

    philips park

    My tweet while researching in Manchester Archives got more likes than I expected:

    tweet manchester committee


    I’ve been looking through the Parks and Cemeteries committee minutes from council records in various parts of England from the start of the parks movement in the 1840s to the present day, and they are bringing up all sorts of oddities like this.

    This Manchester committee had a strict definition of what was ‘appropriate’ music: Haydn, Beethoven, Mozart, Mendelssohn, ‘national anthems’ (presumably God Save the Queen and Rule Britannia), and specifically ‘avoiding all “dancing” music’.

    I need to do more research on who actually formed the committee (I have noted R Adeane Barlow as the Hon Sec), but it’s from 1856, the second volume of Manchester parks committee, created after the formation of the first public parks in 1846-7: Queen’s Park, Philips Park, and Peel Park (transferred over to Salford corporation). Societies and associations made requests to the council for permission to use the parks for meetings and events. For some groups the councils issued licences and took a cut of their profits, while for others like charities, they issued one-off permissions.

    This request from the committee of promoting music was typical of the wider ‘rational recreation’ promoted in the mid 19th century by anxious middle classes and paternalist gentry, worried about the vices of gambling and drinking and blood sports engaged in by the urban poor. Highly regulated parks were also seen as one solution to problems of the poor hygeine and lack of exercise and fresh air experienced in the slums. There’s a long historical debate about the extent to which the middle classes attempted to ‘civilise’ the working classes from the 18th century onwards by a clamp down on popular recreation, and to what extent it succeeded (Storch, Cunningham).

    philips park


    This concern not to be providing “dancing” music demonstrates the interesting conflict with the cultural and religious norms of the time  – there was still a strong Sabbatarian tradition, particularly in Manchester, that meant that much leisure activity and entertainment was prohibited on Sundays. So the parks committee minutes also have several motions debated for and against allowing bands to play and sports and games matches to be held, even informally, on Sundays. The next entry in the minutes is a deputation from the Sunday School Teachers of Manchester, stating their objections to the ‘introduction of bands of music into the public parks of this city on Sundays’. This led to debate in the parks committee, who after several motions and amendments, decided not to allow the bands on Sundays.

    There was much clerical pressure on local authorities to ensure that there would be no alternative distractions that would lure people away from divine service at church. So even the argument that rational recreation would keep people out of the pubs was not enough for many parks bye-laws, particularly in Manchester, from prohibiting music and games on Sundays.

    It was a political issue. Here’s a couple of tweets from Dr Kathryn Rix of the History of Parliament:



    rix tweet


    Hazel Conway has written extensively about the history of the Victorian parks movement, so I won’t repeat all she’s done. But she points out how early Manchester was in forming public parks, largely on the initiatives of paternalist city fathers like Mark Philips, MP, who had presented evidence to the select committee into public walks in 1833 and then promoted the formation of parks from 1844. He pointed to continental examples such as Dresden, where the population ‘enjoy themselves rationally’ and the promenades of Rouen, the ‘Manchester of France’. Typically therefore, one of the first parks was named Philips Park to the east of the city centre.

    Unlike in other towns and cities, however, the three Manchester and Salford parks were promoted and funded by private subscription and charitable endeavour rather than direct council involvement in the acquisition of the land; it was only after their formal opening that the corporation took over their control and maintenance.

    philips park
    Ben Brierley statue, Queen’s Park, 2018

    I’ll be looking more at which councils allowed political meetings in their parks; having surveyed the volumes for the WWII period, Manchester seems very open to allowing left wing groups to hold meetings, in complete contrast to Croydon, who refused permission for them all, and this contrast is something I need to go into much more detail relating to the politics of local government.

    Further reading:

    the greening of London – some reflections

    abercrombie greater london plan 1944

    There are two excellent books that chart the planning processes that shaped open green space in London in the 19th and 20th centuries:

    • Matti O Hannikainen, The Greening of London, 1920-2000 (Routledge, Abingdon, 2016)
    • Peter Clark, Jean-Luc Pinol and Richard Rodgers, eds, The European City and Green Space: London, Stockholm, Helsinki and St Petersburg, 1850-2000 (Routledge, Abingdon, 2006)

    greening of london book




    Another related and useful book is by Hazel Conway, People’s Parks: the design and development of Victorian Parks in Britain (Cambridge University Press, 1991)

    Most of the current literature on the history of ‘greening’ policies is London-centric, Conway’s book an earlier exception. Apart from James Greenhalgh’s work on Manchester, there is otherwise very little on municipal bodies’ policies to open space in urban areas and, especially, residents’ use of such spaces. This project will seek to fill in some of these gaps.

    What was distinctive about London?

    London was particularly unusual because it had so many different layers of jurisdiction – overlapping and mutable administrative geographies. So the borough councils were overlapped by the regional authorities – the LCC and then the GLC. In amongst these authorities were the City of London, and also, important with respect to parks and open space, the Crown Estate and Royal Parks. The Green Belt was a dominant theme in shaping the relations between inner and outer London authorities and the regional authorities, but as Hannikainen and Clark show in their books, the political changes and motivations that the borough and regional councils brought to decision making in response to bigger political changes in government and policy shaped all aspects of green space within the city as well as on its outskirts.

    POST WAR PLANNING AND RECONSTRUCTION IN BRITAIN: PROFESSOR ABERCROMBIE'S GREATER LONDON PLAN 1944Greater London Plan, 1944, Imperial War Museum, Non-commercial licence, © IWM ((MOW) T 6228,

    The dominance of Abercrombie and Forshaw’s County of London Plan (1943) and Greater London Plan (1944) in accounts of 20th century planning also underline the uniqueness if not the exceptionalism of the metropolis. Historians of planning and modernism tend to get somewhat caught up in the utopianism of the wartime reconstruction plans, envisaging a world that could have been had it not been for those pesky municipal authorities prioritising cost and efficiency in the provision of housing and new roads over the more idealistic elements of the plans. Notably, the aim of providing 4 acres of open green space per every 1000 inhabitants, though remaining an aspiration, was hampered by factors not fully considered in Abercrombie’s plans, notably land values, and national and local governments’ reluctance to radically interfere in existing forms of land use and ownership by private owners and developers. (Hannikainen, p. 97; Garside, ‘The failure of regionalism’, p. 106).

    Kennington Common, 22 Feb 2018
    Kennington Park

    Hannikainen points out the exceptionalism of London compared with other cities in creating over 800 acres of public green space, which he attributes to the fact that the authorities were ‘vested with new legal powers and following a coherent town plan’ (p. 94).

    Although Abercrombie also created earlier plans for Hull and Sheffield amongst other towns, it was often local planners and officials who created the plans for other towns. And also crucial was that the postwar financial, political and social demands of retrenchment and rehousing tempered and reduced the importance of providing extensive open space in these plans.

    I need to compare this complex mix of administrative geographies and policies with the municipal governments of other areas in England. Was London the exception or to what extent did the story of policies on open space in English towns follow the patterns found by Hannikainen and Clark?

    POST WAR PLANNING AND RECONSTRUCTION IN BRITAIN: ELEPHANT AND CASTLE, SOUTH-EAST LONDON Elephant and Castle proposed reconstruction, 1944, Ministry of Works, Imperial War Museum, Non-commercial licence, © IWM ((MOW) T 6758)


    This is the general chronology of policy changes they chart:

    • 18th century

    As part of the ‘urban renaissance’ (as charted by Peter Borsay), squares and promenades were developed in improvement of town centres and private estates. Most of these squares were for residents only.

    • mid 19th century

    gradual opening of royal parks to the public, though still highly regulated. Kew Gardens and the botanical and zoo gardens in Regent’s Park were opened to the public in the 1830s and the park itself, a project of the Crown Estate commissioners and intended as a private estate park, was fully opened in the 1840s. (Reader, in Clark et al, p. 31).

    The cholera outbreaks of the 1830s and 1840s led to growing concern about industrial and smoke pollution, and the slums – Victorian sanitary movement characterised open spaces as ‘breathing spaces’ or ‘lungs’.

    1833 Select Committee on Public Walks revealed the lack of access that working class people had to the countryside. Local elite concern for the potential for social disorder in overcrowded slums also fuelled the rise of the public parks movement.

    St James’s park opened in the 1840s; Victoria Park 1845, and Battersea Park in 1860.

    The emergence of the commons preservation movement from the 1860s onwards drew attention to the enclosure of commons and forests on London’s periphery.


    • 1920s – 30s

    Secularisation had an impact on people’s leisure time, and pressure was put on councils to allow organised games in their parks on Sundays. The trend towards more organised and commercialised outdoor entertainment also put pressure on the borough councils to provide shows in their parks, enabled by the LCC (General Powers) act of 1935. Hannikainnen argues that the introduction of electric lighting and amplifiers into park entertainments (notably in an attempt to lure people away from sitting in cinemas) ‘marked a break with the natural order of park life that was based on the amount of daylight, and outdoor entertainment began to encroach on areas traditionally limited to outdoor spaces’ (p.76). Arguably the upper and middle-class pleasure grounds of the 18th and early 19thC century had provided this with their evening shows lit by candlelight and gas, but the change in this respect concerned open public parks and the lower classes.

    • WWII and post-war reconstruction

    Huge areas of green space were requisitioned by councils and the military during World War II. Some types of space were closed off – i.e. for military purposes – while others were effectively opened out through conversion to allotments.

    The 1950s and early 1960s ‘marked the most intensive period in the provision of new public green space in London during the 20th century’ (Hannikainen, p. 113).  A major force was the decision by the LCC and borough councils to privilege public interest over private property ‘as a national policy in town planning and in the actual reconstruction of London’ (Hannikainen, p. 108). Compulsory purchase orders of war damaged sites were an important part of the development of new open spaces.

    • 1960s-1980s

    Increased wealth and leisure time of the working classes drew them indoors again, while the subsequent economic decline left parks underfunded and therefore a cycle of under-maintenance and becoming no-go areas because of crime developed.

    By the mid 1960s, the planners’ view of the Green Belt was less about giving Londoners open space for leisure and health and more about curtailing London’s growth (Reader in Clark, p. 39)

    A major change that developed gradually from the 1960s onwards was a growing interest in the preservation of nature. Arguably this began formally with the creation of National Parks and Sites of Special Scientific Interest from 1949, but the idea that nature should be conservation for environmental reasons rather than solely for human enjoyment only really had an impact on the preservation of open green space from the 1970s.

    The economic crisis of the 1970s and the new political priorities of the Conservative government in the 1980s, together with the re-organisation of London councils in 1963-5,  saw the provision of new green space become dependent on external and private funding.

    De-industrialisation also impacted on what sorts of open spaces were ‘greened’, notably ‘blue space’ = the docklands, canals and rivers from the 1980s onwards.
    • 1980s-2000
    The redevelop of the Docklands  promoted three new practices in planning: (Hannikainen, p. 171):
    • preference of the government for public-private partnerships instead of municipal planning.
    • town planning focused on a single project instead of a comprehensive redevelopment, reducing the powers of the municipal authorities and participation of the public in the planning process.
    • reduced role for public green spaces in the plans.
    Hannikainen argues strongly that the abolition of the GLC in 1986 was a turning point, not just in marking the end of co-ordinated regional planning in London, but also confirming how private amenity and business had superseded public interest in influence in planning.
    Yet out of this decline of the role of central and local governments in shaping the traditional public green spaces, new priorities and opportunities arose.
    New types of green space were developed in particular because of the growing awareness of ecology and nature and desire to conserve it. Importantly, it was local borough councils and voluntary associations who pushed for this new definition, while central government lagged behind in considering the purpose of public green space to be, as traditional, about recreation and leisure in the form of organised sports.
    The preservation of disused Victorian cemeteries, especially Nunhead and Highgate, marked a shift in thinking about what open green space was, and could be.
    From the 1980s onwards, disused riversides, canals and railway embankments came to attention of local groups for conservation and renewal in the forms of greenways, linear parks and nature reserves. The increasing popularity of nature trails, city farms and wildlife areas marked the shift to a new appreciation of conservation and definition of open green space. Hannikainen argues that this marked ‘a profound conceptual change’ in how green spaces were viewed and maintained: (p. 191):
    The provision of new green space focused neither on secured unrestricted public access nor outdoor recreation, because new ecological parks in particular were created as natural habitats for wildlife and to educate children. The role of people was reduced to the appreciation of nature.
    Yet at the same time, the policy of selling off of playing fields and sports grounds for development substantially decreased the public’s access to green spaces used for sport. A somewhat viscious circle of lack of funding for public parks led to their decline, exacerbated by crime and delinquency, which increased the decline in their use. Public preference for indoor leisure also meant that open green spaces and parks were declining in use, and more traditional leisure amenities such as lidos. Sports funding went to indoor sports centres (p. 202).

    POST WAR PLANNING AND RECONSTRUCTION IN BRITAIN: WEST HAM, EAST LONDONWest Ham, East London, Imperial War Museum, non-commercial licence, © IWM ((MOW) T 6265)


    One aspect that comes out of their accounts is how the LCC and Crown Estate classified different types of open green space, and how much of this was based not just on size and usage types, but also location and perceptions of class.

    So when the LCC was constituted in 1889, and well into the 20th century, it allocated the maintenance and funding of its green spaces according to a hierarchy of two categories of parks and open spaces, with a long list of subcategories from Parks Class I (a), Battersea Park and Victoria Park – to Open Spaces Class IV (b). The classifications were not static but nevertheless reflected status (p. 76). The distinction between Royal Parks and municipal parks and open spaces was reflected in their uses: royal parks promoted rational recreation and informal uses (i.e. walking) rather than organised sport and games (p.56).

    After WWII and in the process of modifying the postwar reconstruction plans, the borough councils were critical of Abercrombie’s County of London Plan’s proposal of a standard of 4 acres of open green space per 1000 inhabitants. This hampered their main priority of providing new housing. Yet on the other hand, some councils thought of open space differently, beyond the classifications of the LCC. Hannikenen sifts through Bermondsey council minutes for example, to find that they thought that the prevailing ‘concept of open space’ presented by the LCC did not include the gardens and playgrounds attached to council housing estates. The LCC apparently refused to classify such green spaces as substitutes for ‘real’ public parks and gardens.

    As James Greenhalgh’s work on grass verges and patches of lawn in postwar Manchester estates has shown, such spaces were vital for play and recreation  for working class residents.
    There’s more work to be done here on ‘no ball games allowed’ on such sites (I’m sure there’s some studies in sociology and childhood studies; if you know of any relating to geography and public space, do let me know).


    POST WAR PLANNING AND RECONSTRUCTION IN BRITAIN: THE MIDLANDS Black Country Open Space Deficiency, Dec. 1943, Ministry of Works, Imperial War Museum, Non-commercial licence, © IWM ((MOW) T 4235)

    Regional differences that I need to follow up in more detail:

    Hannikainen, drawing from work done by sport historians on working-class football, states that whereas the LCC gradually accepted the dominance of amateur games being played in parks on Sundays, other major cities including Manchester and Sheffield continued to prohibit games, ‘due to the strong opposition of the church’ (p. 59).

    “In contrast to the interwar period, now most new green spaces created within the city were acquired through piecemeal purchases. Only a few other cities such as Birmingham constructed new public green space during these years.

    In general, research concerning the provision of new public green space in the UK is far from complete, especially for other cities.’ (p. 108)


    David Reeder, in his chapter in Clark’s book, points out another particular aspect of London, the reasons why the commons preservation and open spaces movements were so influential:

    “what particularly characterised the London initiatives was the way that movements were orchestrated by influential networks of politicians and philanthropic social workers, many of them based in the West End and Hampstead and in contact with members of the aristo willing to act as patrons of organisations such as the MPGA and the London Playing Fields Association.” (p.55)
    He also underlines the role of well connected women in these groups – the Hill sisters, Henrietta Barnett, and Dorothy Hunter.
    The class and gender elements of these movements were significant and I need to find more on whether this was similar in other towns and cities.

    Further reading:

    • P. Garside and M. Hebbert, eds, British Regionalism, 1900-2000 (1989)
    • James Greenhalgh, Reconstructing Modernity: Space, power and governance in mid-twentieth century British cities (Manchester University Press, 2018)
    • Hazel Conway, People’s Parks: the design and development of Victorian parks in Britain (Cambridge University Press, 1991)