Containing an interview with Shawcross and an essay exploring the themes behind Chord, it is beautifully illustrated with the artists drawings and installation photographs.
ÂŁ8 ISBN 978-0-9563916-1-2
A Measure Commission
The history of the subway is explored in two essays featuring exclusive heritage photographs.
Chord Conrad Shawcross Kingsway tram subway, Holborn
Chord Conrad Shawcross
This book is a record of a unique project. Conrad Shawcrossâ€™ extraordinary installation Chord made for the Kingsway Tram Subway in Holborn, London.
Chord by Conrad Shawcross Kingsway Tram Subway Holborn London 8 October â€“ 8 November 2009 Published in 2009 by Measure Unit 3, 5 Durham Yard Teesdale Street, London E2 6QF www.measure.org.uk General enquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2009, Measure and contributors.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording or any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. A catalogue record of this book is available from the British Library. ISBN 978-0-9563916-1-2 Printed in England by Beacon Press, Bellbrook Park Uckfield, East Sussex TN22 1PL
Foreword by Measure An interview with Conrad Shawcross Helen Sumpter Manufacture and Ideality An essay by Robin Mackay
04 06 12
100 Years of the Kingsway Tram Subway 20 Ed Humphreys A tale of two regenerations 30 George Hooper Chord Drawings Chord Installation images Credits
36 48 58
London is full of memories. Embossed onto buildings and drifting like vapour down streets, you can sense them if you stop for long enough. Some old buildings are quiet and empty, blank dusty windows facing the street. The people who once inhabited them have moved on and they’ve been boarded up, suspended in time. Measure’s exhibitions have always existed in these hidden, but not quite forgotten spaces.
Fig. 1 Yarn, 2000, mixed media, 3m x 2.5m x 2.5m
The Kingsway Tram Subway is a unique early 20th century relic of London’s transport heritage, a visionary time when the trams and the tube networks were expanding and enabling London to grow into the metropolis it is today. Its potential as a venue for a Measure show was obvious from the first site visit. A steep incline down the cobbled ramp leads to a deserted tram station and on into the darkness of the tunnel. The atmosphere exudes expectation of finding something extraordinary in the gloom. Conrad Shawcross is a consistently imaginative artist, and his reaction to the subway was to take on this dramatic space with an equally ambitious and challenging artwork. Shawcross’ machines re-inhabit the subway, their slow linear journey echoing those made years earlier. A space that was once filled by the sounds of trams and people is now peaceful but brooding, its sense of purpose lost. A subway built for machines now has them again.
Simon Day & Jon Scott Measure
Interview with Conrad Shawcross Helen Sumpter
‘Chord’ is your most ambitious and large scale work involving rope-making machines. What are the ideas behind it? ‘I’ve realised that my obsession with making rope machines is about finding a metaphor for the way in which we perceive time – as a line or a cycle. We experience time in terms of days and weeks and months and years but probably very rarely relate that to the monthly cycle of the moon or think beyond that, to time on a cosmological scale. In ‘Big Bang’ theory everything emerges from one point, and it embodies the idea of one universe, but there could be lots of ‘Big Bangs’ that merge and overlap. The spools on the rope machines rotate like planets, out of which extrudes this rope which functions like a time line, each section of which can be traced back to a specific moment during the machine’s operation.’ How do those ideas relate to the Kingsway tram subway? ‘When I was approached to submit a proposal for a work for the subway it was initially the linearity of that space which made me think of the rope machines and to create two machines that gradually recede away from each other, creating the rope between them until the spools run out. It’s really about swapping space and time; the idea of them being interchangeable. All these things are metaphors for trying to understand something that’s quite ethereal. It’s still a major debate in Quantum mechanics – how one defines and measures time and its relationship with gravity.’ How will ‘Chord’ interact physically with the space? ‘The two machines are almost the same height as the tunnel so there will be something reminiscent of a pair of tunnel diggers, boring into the space. The rope will be about 8 feet in the air so that viewers can walk beneath it, and as the rope grows there will be a series of crutches to support it, along with a chain of mine lights, which will be plugged in as the rope expands. I’m hoping that there will be a sense of both expansion and illumination into the darkness.’
You have made several artworks before ‘Chord’ that have involved movement. Is your interest in movement also about time? ‘Partly, although I make a lot of static works which deal with the same epistemological ideas but don’t involve a moving element. Movement can be a very obvious structural and visual metaphor to describe time. But Cosmology now deals with things beyond the visible and without an understanding of abstract mathematics, which most of us don’t have, structural metaphor and allegory seem the best languages to use. The language of machines is interesting in itself – when a new machine is invented, how do we create the new words to describe it?’ Are there particular machines that interest you? ‘I’m about to start a year’s residency at the Science Museum and a lot of my work has been inspired by going there as a child and young adult. Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine, designed in the mid-nineteenth century is one of my favourite objects. It was the first computing machine but was never realised in Babbage’s lifetime. One reason for that was that workshops at the time didn’t have a unified system of thread cutting. None of the parts fitted together because the threads didn’t match and so Babbage ended up with a box of bits. Also the idea of having a machine that didn’t make a tangible product made no sense to people at that time. And with no computer screen – just dials and rotations, it was very abstract. The tragedy is that when it was finally built to Babbage’s plans in 1990’s using contemporary manufacturing processes, it worked almost perfectly.’
Interview with Conrad Shawcross Helen Sumpter
Does the title ‘Chord’ refer to music in any way? ‘I have used the spelling of a musical chord and it does have all these disparate elements coming together to form a whole, so it is a composition of sorts. But with a different spelling it also relates to the anorak cord that is used in the spools to create the rope. I’m not really interested in making sound as a product and I haven’t envisaged the machines making much noise as they will be working very slowly and predict they will be silent but I am interested in the mathematics of music ratios. I have a pendulum driven drawing machine that makes harmonic drawings. The drawing table swings backwards and forwards and a pen to and fro, creating an algorithm that decays to a centre, other sculptures have taken these same ratios as a starting point to create extrusions of light in space. If you change the length of the pendulum it changes the ratio. It was an engineering invention by the Victorians to measure vibrations in buildings during the construction of the first underground Tube lines. So it’s also another way to visualise time and space.’ Your earlier sculptures have a particular aesthetic but ‘Chord’ is a much slicker looking machine. Is there a reason for that? ‘A lot of earlier work was made in wood using a system of pieces that, out of necessity at the time, were able to fit together with ready-made parts. It was quite liberating in one sense because I had a template for all the pieces and could make multiples of each one and bolt them all together. But it gave the work an almost antiquated or nostalgic feel, which isn’t something I had wanted. And while the aesthetic drew people in, it also became a bit of a shackle because it made it difficult to think in a freeform way. ‘Chord’ is still a beautiful machine but the aesthetic is stripped down to its functional elements.’
Fig. 2 The nervous systems 2003, mixed media, dimensions variable
Interview with Conrad Shawcross Helen Sumpter
Will the rope that ‘Chord’ produces become a separate element to the work? ‘Chord’ will be twisting 162 strings of anorak cord together, each machine using 162 separate spools, two each of 81 different colours across the spectrum. Over the month the machines will produce 300 metres of rope, so it will be quite a substantial object in itself. The rope will become a physical record of the installation and of that specific duration of time.’
How significant is science to your work? ‘I did an ‘A’ level in physics but that’s as far as my science education went. It’s more a fascination with how developments in science affect our perception of reality. We tend to assume that our experience of life is the real world but there are always new layers that can be peeled back further. On one level ‘Chord’ is a machine that weaves a multi-coloured rope, but it’s also weaving all these ideas together.’
An interview with Conrad Shawcross with art journalist Helen Sumpter, artist studio, September 2009
Manufacture and Ideality An essay by Robin Mackay
Crafts such as weaving and rope-making, with their repetitious nature, naturally echo the perception of time appropriate to their ancient origins: a cyclical, nonmetric time governed by man’s close cohabitation with nature, and which in turn inspires the mythic temporalities of recurrence and return. Within this same context, however, such practices also innocently mobilise mathematics and physics to extend and augment human work. Craft techniques, along with the counting, rhythms, songs and games that have always accompanied them, stand at the crossroads of the observation of domestic ritual and the unveiling of universal structure. They inhabit singular locales where the round of daily life, and our endeavours to improve it, intersect in a distinct and explicit way with important mathematical structures, allowing them to be isolated and physically manifested. If we understand mathematics as a generalized ‘science of structures’, we must admit that only very few of the latter are instantiated in material reality. Nevertheless, since modern mathematics owes many insights to weaving, knitting, knots, etc., we might conceive of craft as a portal through which the necessities of human life abut onto this vast field of potential knowledge. Of course, the craftsperson’s heuristic investigation of qualitative properties and gradual refinement of processes prepares for the uniform quantitative regulation of these properties and processes in industrial production (selection and preparation of fibre, combing out, spinning, twisting and laying). Here, they will be diagrammed, mathematical models and physical constraints made progressively more explicit and codified, and subtracted from their craft origins. Nevertheless – as is evident from the consistency of ropemaking technique over thousands of years and many generations of technology – however rationalised the production becomes, it continues to honour the tactile percepts that attended its historical birth. Before humans mastered structure, they were already industriously implicated within it.
This observation might suggest a reconciliation of the cyclical conception of time, founded on a perception of qualitative resemblances without necessitating their equalization and measure, and a linear time, founded upon a quantitative ordering of equal units. These two canonical forms relate respectively to two kinds of repetition, that of the observation of nature and that of the obedience to law (or: tradition and standardization, ritual and rationality). It is often held that the linear model consists in a sort of calcification, a subordination of repetition to conceptualized sameness, with time being inflexibly assimilated to isomorphic space. Against this dualism, the helical form of the rope perfectly reflects the mutual coexistence of rationally-governed linear-industrial repetition (identical, juxtaposed metric units) and the periodic qualitative differentiations of ecological time (smoothly differentiated repeating cycles). Each infinitesimally thin slice of rope might be thought of as revealing a momentary constellation of strands, frozen at a point in their winding dance, with similar configurations recurring at regular intervals. But at the same time, the continuous form expresses the proclivities of the human frame and the capabilities of the early-technological mind. The problematic nature of human time persists, without resolution, at the heart of the ropemaking machine. But what kind of machine is it? Halfway between craft and industry, we come across a human form tethered to a wheel and pacing backward blindly. This is the rope walk, where the spinner, tied by the waist to the spinning wheel, walks miles each day, drawing out the cord produced by the machine. According to a contemporary account, ‘the whole effect of the spinner moving slowly backwards in the dim light of the rope walk is that of a spider weaving a web in its lair’.
Manufacture and Ideality An essay by Robin Mackay
Perhaps this worker is a close relative of the arachnoid philosopher who, in Nietzsche’s metaphor, casts the world in his own image, and then proceeds to ‘feed off his own substance, which he then unspools in concepts like the spider making its web’. Observing modern rationality creeping across Europe, Nietzsche sees its intellectual apotheosis in a blind devotion to science and conceptual thought, which the philosopher wrongly believes will transport him beyond the earthly into the realm of Platonic Ideality. On the contrary, for Nietzsche the concept is the secondary product of a life betrayed by anthropomorphism, a life whose proud self-regard only further degrades it. Finally, what does Enlightenment Man spin out (Nietzsche, punning on Spinne [Spider] and Spinoza, mocks the geometrical systematization of philosophy) but the ultimate yarns, God and Reason, with which he re-binds himself?
Far from exhibiting a laborious conceptual aridity, these machines – defiantly physical, pointedly non-instrumental – assert that we penetrate something of the darkness that lies outside our immediate (natural and cultural) milieu only through a lengthy and non-negligible passage through it. Their uncanny movements may speak of the disturbing autonomy of modern technology; but their open, diagrammatic character and their contextualisation as singular art objects gives them not to production but to contemplation. If their meticulous construction invokes the abstract Idealities that fascinate us all, their materiality speaks to the enigma of how and where human consciousness ever encountered these gleaming jewels of thought. All technology and artistry, even in its most sophisticated and abstract guises, continues to draw out the consequences and the circumstances of that encounter.
In our all-too-human will to turn away from the earthly, transfixed by the artefacts of our intellect, we turn our back on life. So that Nietzsche accuses modern man of choosing his own longevity over the fatal becoming that is the essence of life. He spins his days out in a protracted anaemia, which Nietzsche refuses with the words: ‘Verily, I do not want to be like the rope-makers: they spin out their yarn, and as a result continually go backwards themselves.’
This subtle contemplation of this diagram of the encounter between manufacture and Ideality may help save us from being caught in our own technological web: The ropemakers move backward into a void, but in observing the strands they lay before them, a collective history comes to light.
But this metaphor undoes the too-strict vitalist alternative between an immediate earthly experience and an overrational idealism whose manufactured transcendence betrays it. In considering the ropemaker’s work, and the trans-historical thread of living, making, working and thinking to which it draws our attention, such a dichotomy unravels. It is precisely here that Conrad Shawcross’s practice intervenes, with a re-articulation of the Ideal and the tactile that bears gently but insistently upon the strident denunciations of Nietzsche and many who have followed him.
Robin Mackay is a philosopher, translator, and editor of the journal Collapse.
Fig. 3 The construction of Kingsway Subway taken from Victoria Embankment.
Fig. 4 Ex-LCC single deck trams at the Embankment entrance to the Kingsway subway. The front two trams are nos 571 and 597.
100 years of the Kingsway Tram Subway Ed Humphreys
Introduction The tram subway under Kingsway is the only one so far constructed in Britain. The Grade-II Listed structure opened in stages between 1906 and 1908 and was in service until 1952, a key feature of London’s tramway network. Before the subway In 1895 the new London County Council (LCC) decided to clear slum districts around Holborn under the Clare Market/Strand scheme, re-housing 3,700 people on LCC estates, thus tackling crowding, disease and crime. In 1898 the scheme was revised to include a new avenue, to be known as Kingsway. The LCC was also pursuing other improvements, including public transport. It began purchasing horse and cable tramways in the County of London in 1895 from private companies, intending to unify the network and electrify it. The most significant lines for the subway project were the North Metropolitan horse-car line from Aldgate to Bloomsbury via Clerkenwell Road, with a terminus at Devonshire (now Boswell) Street and a line from Kennington to the east side of Westminster Bridge. The first London tramways of 1860/1 had been unsuccessful. The first enduring line was opened in 1870 between Brixton and Kennington Church. Thereafter there was rapid extension covering much of
Fig. 5 The northern ramp in 1908. LCC G class tram turns from the ramp into Theobalds Road.
south London and parts of north London. Although horse trams had twice the capacity of horse buses and could charge lower fares, there was strong opposition to horse tramways in central London, north of the Thames, mostly from influential people in fashionable districts who thought trams would encourage the working classes to travel into their areas. Vestries and District Boards, responsible for the streets, had a veto over tram schemes under the 1870 Tramways Act and they made central London a notram zone. Tramway networks, therefore, developed separately north and south of the river, with no routes crossing the West End or the City of London and no cross-river links. Tramway electrification Other than the short-lived Alexandra Palace line of 1898/9, the first electric
trams in London were introduced by the London United Tramways in west London in April 1901, using overhead wires - the usual method of electrification. The LCC had faced opposition to overhead wires from local interests and decided to use the conduit system to electrify its inner London lines, i.e. conductor rails in a continuous pit between the running rails, with a “plough” attached to each tram. Once a reliable conduit design was available the first LCC electric line opened in May 1903 between Westminster Bridge (east end) and Tooting. Inspired by visits to the USA in 1898 and 1901 by LCC members and officers, the LCC Progressives planned a unified electric tramway network for London, with shallow subways where appropriate: this included a subway under Kingsway to test the subway idea and link the north and south LCC networks. Constructing the subway The LCC Subway and Tramways Act (1902) provided powers to construct the subway although the proposed Victoria Embankment line, to give access to the south end of the subway, took longer to authorise. The subway under Kingsway was largely completed during 1904. Meanwhile, the LCC Tramways Act (1900) gave powers to build the northern access line, which involved a new tramway along Rosebery Avenue (another new LCC road) between
Angel and Holborn Hall. In 1905 John Mowlem and Company were retained to build this line and electrify the Theobalds Road horse tramway. Kingsway was formally opened by Edward VII and Queen Alexandra on 18 October 1905. However, when the new line and the subway were inspected by Col. Yorke of the Board of Trade in December 1905, he raised questions about the trams. Resolving these delayed the official opening until 24 February 1906, immediately after a second inspection. The subway was built for single-deck cars to minimise construction costs and because coupled single deck cars were seen as a better alternative to doubledeckers. From Theobalds Road, tram tracks turned sharp left down a 10% (1-in-10) ramp into the subway and under the Holborn sewer. Tracks then rose to a tram station at Holborn, initially called Great Queen Street, and continued straight to another station at
Fig. 6 Aldwych tram station shortly after opening c1906. LCC F class car No. 552 loads northbound.
100 years of the Kingsway Tram Subway Ed Humphreys
Aldwych, just north of the junction between Kingsway and Aldwych, then curving south under the western half of Aldwych. Both tram stations were 4.9 metres (16 feet) below street level, with stairs at entrances in the centre of the road. Opening John Williams Benn, chairman of the LCC Highways Committee, performed the opening ceremony in a tram specially painted blue and gold. Immediately afterwards public service began between the Angel and Aldwych tram station. Trams operated every 2 minutes, with fares of 1½ d for the full route. Sixteen single-deck trams (Nos. 552-567) of class F, on maximum traction bogies, were built by the United Electric Car Co. of Preston, using all-metal construction to meet Board of Trade requirements concerning fire risk in tunnels. Longitudinal seating on each side of the saloon accommodated 36 passengers. At first the cars were stored and serviced in the section of subway under Aldwych. 34 additional single-deck cars built by Brush of Loughborough (G class, similar to the F class), allowed extension to Highbury Station. Until January 1907, when the Holborn Hall-Aldgate horse tramway was electrified, the Aldwych - Angel conduit tramway was the only electrified section of the LCC’s northern network.
Meanwhile, strong opposition to a tramway along Victoria Embankment was still delaying the scheme for the southern part of the subway. A tramway was eventually opened over Westminster Bridge and along the Embankment as far as Blackfriars on 15 December 1906. During 1907 the subway was extended under the Strand with a portal in the western abutment of Waterloo Bridge and a triangular junction to allow trams emerging from the subway to turn east towards Blackfriars or south-west to Westminster. A third subway station was planned on this section at the junction of Strand and Wellington Street but never built. On 10 April 1908 through services started between Highbury Station and Tower Bridge via Elephant and Castle, and from Highbury Station to Kennington Gate. Basic headways were every 6 minutes on both routes. By this time the HighburyArchway line had been electrified and subway cars could now be stabled at Holloway and New Cross depots. In the early years a service probably also operated between Bloomsbury and the Hop Exchange (Southwark Street) via the east curves to the Embankment. Double-deckers arrive There were several changes of route for subway services in the next 15 years. In 1912 route numbers replaced the colour-
Fig. 7 The northern ramp with two trams on route 33. LT ex-LCC E/3 class No. 1932 on left.
light codes initially used. By this time services were operating: Highbury StationTower Bridge Road (later route 33), and Highbury Station-Kennington Gate (route 35). By 1927 some 200,000 passengers per week were using subway services. In the late 1920s it was decided to enlarge the subway for double-deck trams. The last single-deck services ran on 3 February 1930. The track was lowered by 5 feet and the roof raised in some places. The subway was reopened on 14 January 1931 by the LCC chairman, Major Tasker, who drove tram number 1931, specially painted white, from the Embankment to Bloomsbury, then back to Holborn for speeches. Public service started next day with trams on three routes: 31 HackneyWandsworth (new route), 33 Highbury-
Brixton and 35 Highgate-New Cross Gate. These provided 30 trams per hour. A new fleet of 100 double-deck trams of metal, fireproof construction was dedicated to the new routes. These E/3 class cars (nos.1904-2003) were built by Hurst Nelson of Motherwell and delivered in 1930. Later, 160 more cars were delivered to the subway specification. Some were additional E/3 class cars: most were the more powerful, class HR/2, “hilly route” cars. In 1932, the LCC constructed car no.1 to streamlined design; painted blue and white. Known as Bluebird, it should have been the prototype for a fleet of modern LCC cars but, with the establishment of the London Passenger Transport Board (LPTB) in 1933, it remained unique, running on subway services until 1937.
100 years of the Kingsway Tram Subway Ed Humphreys
Operations in the Thirties The subway operations were distinctive. All subway cars carried a special plate above the destination blind showing “Via Kingsway Subway”. Station platforms were of island layout and, unlike surface stops, required boarding and alighting at the front under the supervision of the driver who removed and replaced a chain across the car entrance. In 1932, 250,000 passengers per week were using the subway trams. A system of signals protected cars between Bloomsbury and Holborn, operated in single-deck days by strikers on the car roofs and latterly by contacts in the conduit. The northbound signal at Holborn ensured only one car at a time was climbing the ramp. This avoided the danger of run-back when cars stopped at the top of the ramp for traffic signals. It also limited the capacity of the Subway to 30 cars/hour. The founding of the LPTB and the end of the LCC’s role as a tramway operator sealed the fate of the subway. Dominated by bus, Underground and former company interests, the LPTB soon decided to replace trams with trolleybuses. Replacement started in 1935 and continued until 1940, interrupted by the war. As part of this programme, route 31 was cut back to terminate at Islington Green. With services 33 to Manor House and 35 to Highgate (Archway), these remained the only tram services in north London after 1940,
Fig. 8 Southern entrance during alterations to emerge beneath the new Waterloo Bridge.
although most of the south London network survived into the 1950s. Attempts were made to replace the subway trams with trolleybuses. Trolley no.1379 was designed with an offside rear entrance and was operated on batteries through the subway on two trial runs on 13 August 1939; but it was a very tight fit and the idea was not pursued. In 1937 the southern alignment of the subway was altered to emerge beneath the new Waterloo Bridge, constructed 1937-42. The new alignment opened on 21 November 1937. Closure, and since In 1946 LT announced that the remaining trams would be replaced by diesel buses in stages between October 1950 and July 1952. Route 31 was withdrawn at stage 1 on 1 October 1950, and routes 33 and 35 at stage 7 on 5 April 1952. The subway closure
was marked by several events. The last northbound service car, E/3 no.185 on route 35, carried about 100 passengers from Holborn, seen off by a kilted piper. Holborn Borough Council hired a tram to run from Theobalds Road to Westminster and back. Finally, in the small hours of 6 April, the 13 remaining trams from Holloway depot were driven to New Cross depot. E/3 car no.184 was the last, driven by Driver Tom Fitzpatrick, with tram historian John Barrie aboard. Replacement buses provided inferior, circuitous routes, and patronage declined. By 2006 there were no buses on Victoria Embankment and only two bus routes were partly traceable back to subway tram services. Buses could never match the attractive journey times offered by the trams. Westminster-Bloomsbury had been only 6 minutes by tram, attractive even to MPs, some of whom stayed in Bloomsbury hotels and used late-night trams. Since closure, the subway has been used to store extra buses for the 1953 coronation, as a film set for Bhowani Junction, The Avengers and Hidden City, and a store for machine parts. The Strand Underpass uses the subway for northbound traffic between Waterloo Bridge and the south end of Kingsway. It was built by Mowlem and opened on 21 January 1964. In 2007, contractors were appointed to restore and repaint roof beams in the
subway north of the underpass. In 2008 the remaining section of subway under Waterloo Bridge was converted into the Buddha Bar where we may toast the legacy of the LCC.
Fig.9 View of Holborn tram station from the tunnel looking north with northbound tram early 1950s.
Ed Humphreys is a transport planning consultant and transport historian. He is a Londoner and a member of the Camden History Society.
Fig. 10 Kingsway Subway, interior view of Holborn tram station with E3-type tram at platform.
Fig. 11 The last of Londonâ€™s trams is seen burning at a scrap yard at Woolwich Road, Charlton. The Class E/3, LCC electric tram car, No.179, ran for most of its operational life on the Kingsway Subway service. Car No.179 was the last of 740 trams to be burned at the Woolwich Road yard. Photographed by Associated Press, 29 Jan 1953.
A tale of two regenerations George Hooper
Past The weather was fine on October 18th 1905 and a large crowd, including 12,000 schoolchildren, had gathered to witness the opening by King Edward VII of the last and greatest of the London City Council’s metropolitan improvement schemes. After a brief speech, the king placed a gold key into a gilt ball to complete an electrical circuit. The ornamental gates erected for the occasion rose smoothly and silently and Kingsway was officially open. Despite comments that the ‘sounding of trumpets and ribbon cutting’ would have been ‘more dignified and fitting’, it was a suitably modern ceremony for a radical piece of urban engineering, the scale of which would not be matched for over half a century. Designed to provide a much-needed north-south route to ease London’s worsening traffic congestion, it was hailed as the ‘largest and most important improvement … since the construction of Regent Street in 1820’. Elgar wrote a song in praise of the ‘noblest street in London town’. The first plans for a north-south thoroughfare had been drawn up almost 70 years previously, then reconsidered and rejected in 1855 and 1881, primarily because of the cost. It was only with the ascendancy of the progressive tendency within the LCC that the political will and the financial means were found to push the project through. The final proposals were published in 1898 and agreed by Parliament in 1899. These encompassed the creation of London’s broadest street, 3/4 mile in length and 100 feet in width, linking Holborn to a widened Strand via the newly created Aldwych. A tram subway would connect the electrified tram routes north and south of the river. It was a triumph for the progressives who envisaged a tree-lined boulevard with free-flowing traffic, partly inspired by Haussmann’s Paris but exploiting the very latest engineering methods. It was to be a street worthy of the
Fig.12 Postcard showing a London County Council electric tram in the northern entrance of Kingsway subway near Southampton Row.
A tale of two regenerations George Hooper
metropolis of a British Empire at its zenith and there were strict planning guidelines for the commercial buildings that were to line it in self-confident Edwardian baroque and neoclassical grandeur. Nothing was to be allowed to lower the imperial tone and new public houses were banned, although 51 had been demolished. This huge undertaking involved the clearance of 28 acres, cost £5 million and utterly changed the face of Holborn. Few voices were raised in protest at the loss of what was the last intact quarter of London to survive the Great Fire of 1666 and some of the capital’s “most picturesque streets”. After all, in the words of the contemporary Pall Mall magazine, this was “an area of squalid tenements, foetid slums, boozy taverns, shabby playhouses, and vulgar shops in slatternly streets”. Sweeping aside slums like those in the area of Clare Market and relocating 3,700 local residents to newly built tenements in neighbouring streets was considered a useful side-effect of the scheme and a highly desirable piece of social engineering. Such was the Victorian faith in progress.
Future By adding a significant north-south axis to the area’s existing east-west orientation, the Kingsway development helped lay the foundations for Holborn’s growth into one of the capital’s most vibrant commercial districts. Today, however, it is the capacity of the transport infrastructure which presents a potential obstacle to ongoing development. Both Camden Council and the Mayor’s London Plan have designated Holborn an area for growth and intensification during the next 20 years. With the London Olympics in 2012 and the much-anticipated Crossrail development, a unique and urgent opportunity now presents itself to give a new direction to the area’s future. Since its establishment as a Business Improvement District in 2005, inholborn has worked energetically on behalf of Holborn’s business community, to add value to Fig.13 Looking east to the City of London down High Holborn.
A tale of two regenerations George Hooper
the work of Camden Council and Transport for London. They have now explored a range of ideas for transforming Holborn’s sense of place by creating and rejuvenating public spaces, reducing the dominance of traffic and improving connectivity with neighbouring districts. The aim is to spark comment and encourage debate which will lead to investment and action. Transport remains Holborn’s greatest challenge and taming the area’s traffic is key. Too many pedestrians currently share too little space with too many vehicles. Traffic constantly trumps pedestrians and cyclists. And, despite superior bus, tube and rail connections, the commuter’s life is a hard one. So why not put the vehicles back on the ‘boulevards’ and re-introduce two-way traffic on every street to slow it down and create a more civilised street-life? Consider banning turns at the Kingsway, High Holborn and Southampton Row junction. User conflicts would decline and more pedestrians could be accommodated, especially if diagonal crossing were implemented. Wider, more people-friendly pavements would ease congestion around Holborn tube station. Bicycle use could be encouraged by promoting the Mayor of London’s cycle hire scheme, improving cycle ways (especially those connecting neighbouring districts) and incorporating cyclist facilities in every new public scheme. New walking routes would tempt people away from overused thoroughfares. Improved links with the new Crossrail stations would reduce congestion on public transport. Once congestion problems improve the quality of the public space becomes a real possibility. What about a new urban quarter just one minute from Holborn Station, centred on a Red Lion Square reinvented as a friendly, green oasis…a livelier urban scene in Theobald’s Road, new life in the under-utilised Turnstiles? Developing the untapped potential of New Oxford Street would encourage cross-fertilisation with the West End and Covent Garden.
A future Holborn could well be one of London’s most exciting urban villages. Two approaches to regeneration, one century apart. Confident in their vision of progress, the Victorians and Edwardians, created a grand scheme that swept away everything in its path. Today’s Holborn deserves something more nuanced and negotiated, an approach on a more human scale that balances the needs of all its constituents, business, residents and visitors alike.
Written by George Hooper. Commissioned for Chord in partnership with inholborn
Chord Drawings 2006â€“2009
Fig. 19 First side elevation Fig. 20 Observing form
Chord installation images
Measure and Conrad Shawcross would like to thank the many people who have generously provided invaluable assistance to this commission:
Production and support Arts Council England: Lee Milne
Photo credits Fig. 6 By kind permission of Ed Humphreys
Design and Engineering
London Borough of Camden: Paul Collett, Caroline Jenkinson, Piers Masterson, Martin Reading, Shane Greig
Fig. 3,4,10-12 By kind permission of London Transport Museum
Structure Workshop: Pete Laidler, Andreas Georghiou Ed Rose Andy McDowell
Victoria Miro Gallery: Victoria Miro, Kathy Stephenson, Erin Manns, Elke Seebauer
Fig. 13 By kind permission of inholborn
Bloomberg: Anna Mandlik, Jemma Read
Chord installation photography, Alex Delfanne, delfanne.co.uk
Fabrication Andy McDowell Dave Murphy Dave Stupple Alex Chinneck Freddy Dewe Mathews Mylo Sumner Colour Consultant Johney Dewe Mathews Aishlinn Macnamara
Font credit Display font used throughout catalogue FS Conrad created specifically for Chord exhibition by Fontsmith, fontsmith.co.uk
Chord is a Measure commission
Henry Moore Foundation: Alice O’Connor Copyright credits inholborn: Tass Mavrogordato, Aly Mir London Transport Museum: Oliver Green, Simon Murphy, David Bownes, Lucy Davison Special thanks James Lindon, Helen Sumpter, Robin MacKay, Ed Humphreys, George Hooper, Harry Chambers, Jason Smith, Phil Garnham, Phil Baines, Alex Delfanne, Andeia Aruda, William Shawcross, Marina Warner, Karen Bundgaard, Stacey Moffatt, Aidann Bowley, Anna Krzysztof, Verity-Jane Keefe, Toby Cox, George Thompson, Chris & Nicky Cox
P16–19, 26–29 © Transport for London Collection of London Transport Museum P21, Fig. 5 © Camden Libraries - local history collection P25, Fig. 9 © D.W.K.Jones/National Tramway Museum P38–47 Drawings by Conrad Shawcross © the artist / Structure Workshop P50–57 Chord installation imagery © the artist Conrad Shawcross
Produced in partnership with Camden Council, Victoria Miro Gallery and inholborn. Funded by Arts Council England, Bloomberg and The Henry Moore Foundation.
D Measure is a not-for-profit arts organisation that aims to inspire a passion for art, architecture and history. Through collaborative commissions Measure encourage artists to challenge their own practice and evolve new ways of working, whilst offering visitors a unique experience that is part art event, part history lesson and part architectural treat. This combination challenges relationships between art, site-specific work, and explores how an historical or architectural context shapes art.
Measure has an ongoing commitment to delivering an exciting and vibrant educational programme that runs alongside its site-specific art commissions. measure.org.uk