The Great Model of London

Architectural models are one thing, but a model of a city is quite another.  Imagine a model of a dense urban area about 10 miles long, and 3 miles wide,  a model updated on a regular basis as major new developments are proposed. You can go and marvel at it at the Building Design Centre in Store Street, London, until later this year. This is Piper’s detailed scale model (1:1500 scale) of London’s heart, focussed on the two banks of the river from Barking in the east to Paddington in the west, not unlike the area featured in the map at the top of this blog. The 12 metre long model is the centrepiece of an exhibition of the London’s present and future development, and it’s truly remarkable in its ambition and execution. The centre has other interesting exhibitions too, sometimes, and a nice and very reasonably priced cafe. Store Street itself is one of London’s relatively unsung gems with a variety of interesting small shops in a refurbished terrace, and wonderful plane trees. The vista to the east terminates abruptly in the Stalinesque bulk of the Senate House of London University. To my mind, this general part of London, Fitzrovia I suppose, lying either side of Tottenham Court Road has a raffish studenty flavour.  In recent times media and advertising firms have dominated to the west of the main road, spreading northwards out of Soho Square which remains the home of the British film industry and TV production companies. Remants of the fashion and garment trade can be found too, which sort of spread eastwards from Oxford Circus,  the London College of Fashion marking its western edge. (Doctoring occupies the area lying to the west.)  Northwards up Tottenham Court Road, Warren Street was once noted for its second-hand car trade.

In Chenies Street, an unusual pile of painted brickwork has been plonked most discourteously right in front of curving Victorian terrace. It looks like some kind of military bunker. In truth this is one of several access shafts hastily constructed close to seven stations on the Northern line of the London Underground, early in the 2nd world war. These constructions had their origins in a plan to build an express tube line alongside the existing line, by-passing many stations and helping to take the strain off it, a scheme which hadn’t got going before war loomed. Someone, in Whitehall perhaps, later had the bright idea of building the access shafts and short sections of railway tunnel to act as air raid shelters, with a view to joining them up to form the planned new express railway after the war…but this join-up never happened. The Chenies Street complex was the eastern entrance to the shelter complex built at Goodge Street Station, with the western entrance lying on Tottenham Court Road itself, and still also visible. The complex was used as an HQ by the allied commander General Eisenhower during the war, and is now a commercial document storage facility named after him. All the bombproof mass concrete structures remain at the various locations. They included ventilation systems, gas filtration equipment, stairs, lift shafts and sewage pumping arrangements for the shelters far below. Although completed in 1942, the complexes were not opened to the public as shelters until the return of air raids on London in 1944, this time consisting of attacks by pilotless V1s and V2s rather than manned bomber aircraft. Seventy years on, they remain as reminders of how the great model of London might well have looked rather different.

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