- London in the 19th Century: ‘A Human Awful Wonder of God’ by Jerry White
Cape, 624 pp, £20.00, January 2007, ISBN 978 0 224 06272 5
Moulded in terracotta relief above the door of an austere building in Shoreditch, on the northern fringes of the City of London, is an arresting motto: E Pulvere Lux Et Vis. The ‘light’ and ‘power’ were electrical; the ‘dust’ that was burned to generate them was the refuse from the surrounding streets. Twenty thousand tons of this fuel, most of it horse dung, was gathered locally every year. Incinerating waste and making electricity were combined successfully for the first time here. The surplus heat from the boilers wasn’t wasted either: pumped away from the works, it warmed the local public baths. (The stripped-out shell is now a school for circus skills.) The whole enterprise was the initiative of the parish of St Leonard, one of the more enterprising of the cobbled-together local bodies that governed Victorian London. In 1900, five years after this building was opened, Shoreditch became one of the 28 new metropolitan boroughs under the aegis of the London County Council.
Vol. 29 No. 14 · 19 July 2007
From Niall Mulholland
Simon Bradley is not up to date with the policies of the ‘imperishable Peabody Trust’ (LRB, 21 June). ‘Exempted from the right-to-buy legislation of the Thatcher years,’ he writes, ‘the trust continues to provide housing for working people at low and stable rents.’ But over recent years, Peabody’s senior management has started to rent out flats at market rates, and has brought in private companies to run some of its services. For Peabody tenants, this has meant higher costs for worse services. Local Peabody estate offices have been closed and local staff made redundant. Peabody is now a highly centralised organisation, driven by a pro-market management that treats tenants as ‘customers’. Bradley says that because of Peabody ‘large working-class enclaves can still be found a few hundred yards from the Houses of Parliament’ and in other central London locations. But this situation is changing quickly. The Peabody estate where I live, on Southwark Street, just behind Tate Modern, has lost many flats to the market, and the rents are way beyond what social tenants can afford.