diamond geezer

 Thursday, October 29, 2020

Walking round the City at the weekend I was surprised to see this 'Borough of Shoreditch' street sign above Costa Coffee on Eldon Street.

This sign can't have been replaced since 1965 when Shoreditch was one of the three boroughs merged to form Hackney. These leftovers happen. But the peculiar thing is that Eldon Street's not in Hackney. The entire street is part of the City of London as are all the buildings along it (and the whole of Finsbury Avenue alongside). Why is a Hackney street sign adrift in the City?

The answer is because the boundaries of the City of London have changed, in this case substantially, thanks to a boundary review conducted in the 1990s. And Eldon Street's shift, unlikely as it may seem, is the result of a suggestion from a single member of the public.

In the 1980s the Boundary Commission were tasked with undertaking a mandatory review of non-Metropolitan Counties, Metropolitan Districts and London Boroughs. They reached London in 1987 and worked their way round the boundaries of all the boroughs looking for sensible tweaks. In total they published 74 reports, all typewritten of course, to summarise their extensive deliberations. I'm delighted to say that the Commission have scanned these reports and made them available to download, so it's possible to look back and see what your local recommendations were. I dived straight for Report No. 636 - City of London.

The committee of five recognised the City's historic significance ("logic has its limits, and the position of the City lies outside them") and strove to avoid contentious boundary changes wherever possible. In particular they disregarded calls from certain adjacent boroughs that the City be abolished, because that was beyond their remit, but also ignored an initial plea from the City that its historic boundaries remain intact. Only 22 submissions were received in response to the Commission's draft proposals, of which just seven were from members of the public. 1991 was very much a different age.

Seven boroughs adjoin the City of London, but I'm going to focus on Hackney because this'll explain the Eldon Street anomaly. Leave the boundary alone, said the City. Abolish the City altogether, said Hackney, without presenting any specific proposals for changes to their boundary. Looking back this may have been a strategic error. A single member of the public, however, "suggested realigning the boundary to reflect the pattern of development in the Broadgate area, on the grounds that this would be in the interests of administrative efficiency." The Boundary Commission duly leapt.

The City's boundary had previously made good sense, extending north to encompass Broad Street and Liverpool Street stations. But the recently-built Broadgate development straddled this dividing line, with several new buildings administratively split, so the Boundary Commission proposed realigning the boundary to reunite Broadgate within the City. Wilson Street... Sun Street... Appold Street... Worship Street... simple.

Hackney strongly opposed this proposal saying that the transfer of land was excessive, and instead proposed a change which would retain the final stages of the Broadgate development within its jurisdiction. OK let's do that, said the Boundary Commission. Not so fast, said the City. You've only been paying attention at ground level whereas Broadgate has a basement service concourse and your proposed alignment defaces that. Ah, said the Boundary Commission, we hadn't thought of that... and retreated to their original "all of it in the City" proposal.

The Commission's final report includes eight detailed maps which show how the City's boundary was to be redefined. I've bolted two of them together to create the map above which shows the realignment across Bishopsgate ward. The City's original boundary is the solid line and the new one, introduced in April 1994, is thickly dashed. Parcels of land to be transferred are identified by letter. 'Area D' is an irregular 15 acre chunk with a thin central neck, which when removed from Hackney gifted the entire Broadgate development to the City. It also contains the Costa in my original photograph, which explains why Eldon Street originally had a Shoreditch street sign.

The map additionally shows the results of discussions between the City and Tower Hamlets. 'Area E' was taken from the City so that the whole of Spitalfields would be in Tower Hamlets, because the City didn't get their way on everything. Meanwhile the smaller 'Area F' was transferred the other way so that the new boundary followed the modern street pattern rather than some historical alignment long since built over.

This map, taken from The City and London Borough Boundaries Order 1993, shows the land which ended up being transferred one way or the other. 1990s legislation was a solely black and white affair so the use of colour is all mine, with yellow showing land transferred to the City and green showing land taken away. The four largest transfers of land are all yellow, specifically a) east of Chancery Lane, b) the Golden Lane estate, c) the Broadgate development and d) south of Aldgate.

Note how uneven the boundary used to be and how the changes served to smooth things out. Note how only three significant stretches of the City boundary remained unchanged, one skirting the Temple, one along the Thames and the third along Middlesex Street (in Whitechapel). Note how the City ended up gaining more land than it lost, as well as an estimated 1200 additional population. And note how Westminster, Camden, Islington and Tower Hamlets all gained and lost land, whereas Hackney only lost.

Indeed the 15 acres lost by Hackney was the largest transfer of all, which just goes to show why it's always worth replying constructively to a consultation. History does not name the 'member of the general public' who encouraged Broadgate to be given to the City, but their discreet nudge must have lost Hackney council millions of pounds over the last quarter of a century.

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