1902 Encyclopedia > London > London - Streets; Street Improvements

(Part 6)


Streets. Street Improvements.

By the non-adoption of Wren’s plans the opportunity afforded through the great fire was for ever lost of constructing a model capital, and within the City limits the streets are still in many cases confused and intricate. The total absence of plan in the construction of the nucleus of London has doubtless tended to aggravate the confusion outside the old boundaries. The growth of the immense new outer city was, moreover, for centuries totally unregulated by the control of any central authority. The principal lines of streets formed along the old public highways are insufficient as main lines of communication for the increased population, and the absence of direct connection between important points causes traffic to be enormously impeded. The longest line of street communication in London is that which is formed by the junction of the lines of the Edgeware and Uxbridge Roads at the Marble Arch, whence it extends eastward by Oxford Street, Holborn, Newgate Street, Cheapside and other important City streets, Whitechapel Road, and Mile End Road to Bow. At Cheapside a branch from it runs westward by Fleet Street, the Strand, Haymarket, Piccadilly, and Knightsbridge to Kensington. Much of the effect of the fine architecture of the City streets is totally lost from promiscuous crowding, and the main connecting streets between the City and the West End display, at certain parts, much meanness and incongruity. Regent Street, the most fashionable thoroughfare of London, possesses ample width, and the splendor of its shops to some extent atones for the plain monotony of its regular architecture. In Oxford Street, which ranks next to it in importance, many buildings of a more ornamental character have lately been erected. Piccadilly, the eastern half of which is occupied chiefly by shops, and the western by dwelling houses and clubs, is a medley of every species of architecture, but is to some extent effective from the variety of its contracts, and its outlook to the Green Park. Trafalgar Square, with its fountains, its Nelson column, its statues, and its wide expanse, has an airy and pleasant effect, but the huge erections which surround it are a very miscellaneous group, and few of them are worthy of the site. The clubs and hotels in Pall Mall and its neighborhood represent every variety of Grecian and Italian architecture. The private houses in the more fashionable regions are not remarkable for external beauty, but in summer time flowers and foliage give the West End squares and terraces a bright and pleasant aspect. A special characteristic of London is the enormous space covered by the suburban cottages and villas of the middle classes. Close to the most fashionable regions there are many mean back streets tenanted by workmen, but the principal territories of the working classes are comprehended in the dense and dreary districts east and southeast of the City. The improvements lately carried out in the City and other central districts, and the substitution of business premises for dwelling houses, have compelled large numbers of these classes to live at a long distance from their work, and also caused undue crowding in the less remote regions. The running of workmen’s trains from the suburbs and the efforts of various private building associations and of the Metropolitan Board, guided by the Artisan and Laborers’ Dwellings Improvement Act, have only partially mitigated these evils.

Since 1785 the greater part of London within the City limits has been rebuilt, and its streets have been much altered, the principal improvements being the reconstruction of the lines from London Bridge to Finsbury Pavement, and from Blackfriars Bridge to Farringdon Road, both intersecting the City from north to south; the rebuilding of Bartholomey Lane, Lothbury, Threadneedle Street, and Cannon Street from King William Street to St Paul’s; and the construction, in conjunction with the Metropolitan Board, of the Holbon Viaduct and of Queen Victoria Street from Blackfriars Bridge to


the mansion House. The Metropolitan Board now exercises a certain control over the formation of new streets, but its power are hampered by previous circumstances and by various restrictions. The principal new thoroughfares opened up by the board, besides Queen Victoria Street and the Holborn Viaduct, are Garrick Street, Covent Garden (1861), Southwark Street (1864), Northumberland Avenue (1876), and Theobald’s Road and Clerkenwelll Road, begun in 1873 to connect Oxford Street and Old Street. They have also effected extensive improvements in the neighborhood of Whitechapel, Shoreditch, Park Lane, and Kensington. The more important schemes in contemplation are a new street from Tottenham Court Road to Charing Cross, another from Oxford Street to Piccadilly Circus, the widening of Coventry Street, of Gray’s Inn Road, and of Tooley Street, and alterations of a less extensive character at Kentish Town, Hackney, and Camberwell. A scheme has been put forth by Government to relieve the pressure at Hyde Park Corner. Altogether up to 31st December 1881 the board have expended in street improvements 6,531,856 pounds, of which probably one-third will be defrayed by sales of property. In addition to this over 4,000,000 pounds have been spent on the Thames Embankment and Queen Victoria Street, and the board have contributed about 626,077 pounds to defray local improvements by district boards and vestries, as well as 1,360,500 pounds for artisan’s dwellings.

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