The Town of Tomorrow: assembling and preserving 50 years of Thamesmead

Date
1 February 2019
Reading Time
2 minute read

Peter Chadwick, the author of This Brutal World and designer Ben Weaver, notably known for his art direction of The Wire, have released a new book pulling together the history of Thamesmead.

Documenting the district of London from the 1960s when socially-conscious architects built a modernist construct to address the housing shortage caused by the second world war, the book dives deep into archival design ephemera from newspaper clippings to postcards, alongside newly commissioned photography and interviews by Tara Darby.

Released via Ben’s publishing house Here Press, The Town of Tomorrow, 50 Years of Thamesmead is a publication to get stuck into whether you’re an avid observer of architecture, a fan of photography or just a Londoner looking to discover more about this metropolis many of us call home. In assembling and preserving Thamesmead’s history, the publication aims to “convey the story of this influential but often misunderstood town, from the dreams and excitement of its ambitious original vision to the complex realities of living there today,” say its publishers.

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The Town of Tomorrow, 50 Years of Thamesmead: Sailing boats on Southmere Lake with Area 1 housing in the distance. Fold out cover of the annual report Thamesmead 1970-71, published by the GLC. © Bexley Local Studies & Archive Centre

Between the Erith marshes and Woolwich, during the 1960s, the district of Thamesmead was built with a daring and hopeful architectural vision. It featured “concrete modern terraces, blocks of flats and elevated walkways built around a system of lakes and canals,” and in turn gained “attention from architects, sociologists and politicians throughout the world,” explains The Town of Tomorrow.

While this was first an attempt by London County Council, by the 1980s “as opinion turned against the modernist concrete architecture, the focus shifted to more conventional red-brick homes” – this juxtaposition is displayed in the book through archival photography, largely from the London Metropolitan Archives and Tara Darby’s photographic depictions taken in 2018.

In 1986, following the abolition of the Greater London Council, Thamesmead has been managed by various groups as it relies on private investment. This, coupled with the original buildings falling into disrepair during the 1990s, led to the Peabody Group taking over, an organisation which is currently “embarking on an ambitious regeneration plan” 50 years after its first.

This complex but fascinating social and design history of Thamesmead is told comprehensively in The Town of Thamesmead. Its pairing of well-researched imagery alongside a contemporary view of the area makes for a publication which thoughtfully tells the 50-year history of Thamesmead, with the future fully in mind too.

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The Town of Tomorrow, 50 Years of Thamesmead: East London River Crossing: A13 to A2, 1981. Cover of fold-out brochure, produced for public consultation, proposing options for a bridge over the River Thames. Thamesmead is in the top right of the photograph. © Bexley Local Studies & Archive Centre

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The Town of Tomorrow, 50 Years of Thamesmead: Spread from Woolwich-Erith: A Riverside Project. Published by GLC 1966. © London Metropolitan Archives

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The Town of Tomorrow, 50 Years of Thamesmead: The southern end of Coralline Walk, viewed from Lensbury Way. 1969. © London Metropolitan Archives

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The Town of Tomorrow, 50 Years of Thamesmead: Children’s playground and the Lakeside Health Centre, Tavy Bridge, 1973. © Bexley Local Studies & Archive Centre

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The Town of Tomorrow, 50 Years of Thamesmead: Aerial photograph of Area 1 looking north with Southemere Lake (top). 1971. © Bexley Local Studies & Archive Centre

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The Town of Tomorrow, 50 Years of Thamesmead: Lensbury Way. 1970. Photography © Tony Ray-Jones / RIBA Collections

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The Town of Tomorrow, 50 Years of Thamesmead: Yarnton Way, looking east from Eynsham Drive, before the large roundabout was added. 1970. Photography © John King

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The Town of Tomorrow, 50 Years of Thamesmead: Looking west along Yarnton Way. 2018. Photography © Tara Darby

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The Town of Tomorrow, 50 Years of Thamesmead: Crossing Eastern Way (A2016), via the ‘A’ Bridge, built 1973. c.1979. Photography © George Plemper

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The Town of Tomorrow, 50 Years of Thamesmead: Ellie (third left) with Brandon, Luke, Richard, Tayler and Killian outside The Link, a youth and community centre in the arches under Harrow Manorway. 2018. Photography © Tara Darby

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The Town of Tomorrow, 50 Years of Thamesmead: Titmuss Avenue, The Moorings. 2018. Photography © Tara Darby

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The Town of Tomorrow, 50 Years of Thamesmead: Manordene Road, off Crossway, Area 5, looking north east along the waterway that runs from Moat Gardens to Tump 39 and the Thamesmead Ecology Study Area. 1982. © London Metropolitan Archives

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The Town of Tomorrow, 50 Years of Thamesmead: Hill View Drive, Area 7, viewed from Gallions Hill. 2018. Photography © Tara Darby

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The Town of Tomorrow, 50 Years of Thamesmead: Open space available for development in Area 3, with Beveridge Court, The Moorings, on the left. 1977. © London Metropolitan Archives

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The Town of Tomorrow, 50 Years of Thamesmead: Thamesmead: A Place in London’s Future. Fold-out leaflet, published by the GLC. 1982. © London Metropolitan Archives

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About the Author

Lucy Bourton

Lucy joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In October 2016 she became a staff writer on the editorial team and in January 2019 was made It’s Nice That’s deputy editor. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about new and upcoming creative projects or editorial ideas for the site.

lb@itsnicethat.com

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