Earlier this year, in a dramatic takeover bid by Peter Murray, who runs New London Architecture, the once powerful society was narrowly saved from being closed down. This week, the London Society has relaunched with a new website (londonsociety.org.uk), new magazine, and call for thousands of new members to get involved in shaping the future of our city - through a programme of events and also as a powerful amenity group.
The new chair of the London Society, Peter Murray, also runs New London Architecture (Image by Grant Smith)
The group who launched the London Society in 1912 were famous, socially minded, and visionary. They included architects Edwin Lutyens and Aston Webb (the first chair of the society); socialist engineer, architect and planner Raymond Unwin (who designed Hampstead Garden Suburb, and worked on social housing) and progressive artist and designer Frank Brangwyn. This group brought Londoners from all walks of life together to debate the key issues of the day such as housing, roads, railways, a channel tunnel and also airports - themes which are right up on the agenda today.
The society had teeth, the government listened to it. It wanted progress and change, and acted as a lobbying group and thinktank. Its aim was not only to look after London’s best existing architecture, but also to get involved in creating the best possible future for the capital. It had strong links with the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) and the Royal Town Planning Institute.
In 1919 it published its own Development Plan for London, one of the very first London Plans. This called for green spaces in the outer suburbs, which was a precursor for greenbelt legislation. During the interwar years the society continued to draw up ideas for central London planning. When planner Patrick Abercrombie was asked to prepare the 1941 London Plan, he wrote to the then chair of the London Society, Lord Esher, and said he would only undertake the work on the condition that he would follow the course set by the LS and work on the Greater London Region as a whole.
Today’s new chair of the London Society, Peter Murray, who also runs New London Architecture in Store Street, WC1, says: “The London Society was founded 100 years ago, when London was growing at an unprecedented rate, and faced issues about housing, airports, roads and public space — all the issues we face today. We want the widest possible cross-section of Londoners to have their say about the shape of London in the future, which is something that doesn’t happen enough at the moment.”
Murray says that to encourage new members he has set the membership fee as low as possible, and particularly low for students. It’s £25 a year (including the magazine) for the general public and £15 for students. The next event is a talk on the greenbelt on October 7. The relaunched society, which is currently building up the events programme, also has a 3,500-volume library of London-related books that members can use.
To find out more or join up, visit www.londonsociety.org.uk.