The Built Environment

This is designed as a resource for teachers, students and the general public on the Built Environment. It is based on some of the educational work which was done in the innovative period after the Second World War, material which I have written since 1980 about different school areas and published in my ‘Growth of’’ books, and various articles to update this earlier work

It consists of four main elements:-

  1. The Islington Cartoon History of Housing, which was published in 13 parts in the 1970s
  2. The British Land Educational Broadsheets, published about 1990
  3. My Growth of Stoke Newington and Growth of other London districts
  4. Some pieces which help to update this material   

Islington Local History Archive published a long and witty history of Housing in 13 parts, more like 1066 and All That than anything else. The Islington Archive seems to have no record of it and I have kept a copy, so it seems well worth rescuing.

In the heady boom years of 1990 British Land which had been formed when Cobbett’s Freehold Land Society was broken up into two separate parts. The government had passed an Act saying that no company could both own land and issue mortgages on it. The Freehold Land Society became British Land (owning the land and leases) while the Abbey Building Society was created to issue mortgages. The two companies went their own ways and by the end of the 20th Century British Land was a global company with tentacles all over the World, while Abbey Building Society amalgamated with other building Societies and developed in its own way.  

About 1990 British Land commissioned a firm, in conjunction with the Design Council and an unknown graphics firm, to research a set of eight broadsheets on buildings of all kinds for schools and kindly gave me a set. They covered :-

1. Houses 2. Power and Industry 3. Shops 4. Transport
5. Writers’ Houses 6. Food 7. Leisure 8. Education

The concept was excellent and the drawings and text well researched.  They were distributed to thousands of schools but, because of their awkward format, schools were bewildered about how to use them in teaching. Each sheet was 84 x 60 cms (35 x 24 inches) which is enormous. I tried to use a couple in a lecture one day and held up a sheet to show it to the audience,  For reasons of economy which made sense to the designers, they had printed the coloured drawings on one side of the paper  and the main text about each picture in back, on the reverse. As I held up the sheet to show the audience I was hidden from them and the coloured pictures were too small for them to make out. The audience could not see the panels of text as they were facing me and would have been too small to be read anyway. We were all frustrated. It was one of the most ludicrous incidents in my teaching career. In the end I draped a sheet over the front desk and the audience crowded round to see. Imagine trying to use this in a classroom, All any school could do was to pin up one sheet at a time in a corridor, coloured side out, and change them occasionally. With this treatment the sheets would not have lasted very long. I have put out a general search on the Internet but had no response.

The Design Council has no record of the Broadsheets and the only record which British Land has, is a picture of one sheet being used in teaching and a tiny black and white picture of one sheet, British Land published these in their 2004 publication in No Stone Unturned and I print them here by permission. To add to the confusion, the design firm collapsed in one of the slumps since the 1990 and I have found no trace of them.

The copyright position is very unclear. British Land may have a copyright but has no record of it. My sheets appear to the sole survivors so I have made them the spine of my new collection about The Built Environment. If anyone ever comes forward with a valid copyright which is not time-expired and objects, I will take it down.

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