It is thirty-nine years since the historian and conservation-campaigner Hermione Hobhouse published her own epoch-marking Lost London. That was 1971, the moment when the destructive, let-us-build-a-brave-new-world forces of the postwar period were finally in retreat, rattled by a rising storm of protest at the obliteration of familiar townscapes. Now a still more hefty tome with the same title, accompanying an exhibition, appears under the mainstream auspices of English Heritage, authored indeed by the organisation’s London and South-East England Planning and Development Director – though, as I am sure he realises, the very words ‘planning and development’ carry a whisper of warning to those who have lived through the worse that planning can do. The Euston Arch tragedy; the demolition of the Coal Exchange for a road scheme that was never built; the obliteration of the geography of the East End, much of which had, contrary to modern myth, survived the Blitz; the wrecking of restorable, liveable houses and cohesive communities in the name of ‘slum-clearance’… Need I go on?
Times and attitudes have changed, but the whole question of the value we place on the past, and its physical conservation in a necessarily evolving world, needs constant vigilance. Planning megalomania still exists, with both a private and a public face, and the more insidious, piecemeal erosion of