London slums, tower blocks and ‘somewhere decent to live’

Photographs of the world’s first council housing will be among the images featured in a new exhibition that tells the story of London’s estates.

Somewhere Decent to Live: London’s Council Estates in Photographs, 1895 - 1975, which runs from 24 to 26 May at London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), will also display photographs illustrating the rise in popularity of high rise blocks in the 1970s, ‘self-build’ initiatives, and the ‘new town’ at Thamesmead.

The free show, which is part of Clerkenwell Design Week, charts architects’ and planners’ designs and visions as they worked to provide Londoners with good quality housing.

Laurence Ward, Head of Digital Services at the City of London Corporation’s LMA, said: “This new exhibition features some stunning images, including photographs of the Boundary Street Estate in London which was, arguably, the first council housing in the world. The exhibition goes on to tell the story, which spans nine decades and is presented in vivid detail, of how London County Council and Greater London Council sought to provide many Londoners with a roof over their heads, which is, essentially, one of our most basic and most important needs.”

Overcrowding was rife in London in 19thcentury England, with many working class families living in extremely poor conditions. In the 1870s, new legislation made the provision of working class housing a function of local government and by 1890, it meant that the London County Council had responsibility to identify areas of insanitary housing and clear the worst of the slums, providing replacement accommodation for former tenants. The council produced distinctive inner-city flats and cottage estates, which grew to epitomise the differences between inner London and outer London living.

LMA is run and managed by the City of London Corporation, as part of its contribution to the heritage and cultural life of London and the UK. The City of London Corporation invests £80m every year in heritage and cultural activities of all kinds, and is the country’s biggest funder of culture, after the Government, the BBC and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Notes to Editors

Laurence Ward, Head of Digital Services at London Metropolitan Archives, is available for media interviews. Please call 020 7332 3812 or email

Somewhere Decent to Live runs from Tuesday 24 May to Thursday 26 May 2016 (9.30am to 7.30pm) at London Metropolitan Archives, 40 Northampton Road, London EC1R 0HB. For further information, please visit or call 020 7332 3820.

About the London Metropolitan Archives:

London Metropolitan Archives is a public research centre which specialises in the history of London. If you haven’t visited an archive before, it’s a little bit like a library but with one key difference. The majority of items in an archive are unique, handwritten documents which cannot be seen anywhere else. We care for and provide access to the historical archives of businesses, schools, hospitals charities and all manner of other organisations from the London area. With 100km of books, maps, photographs, films and documents dating back to 1067 in our strong rooms, we’re proud to provide access to one of the finest city archives in the world - you could call it the memory of London. Our users have a wide range of research interests, including family, community and local history, and we work with students, artists, producers and architects. However, you don’t have to have a specific reason to visit us! If you’re fascinated by London you’re always welcome to drop in and browse the collections, you never know, you may uncover part of its lost history.

London Metropolitan Archives, 40 Northampton Road, London EC1R 0HB

Admission: Free, check websites for opening times.

The nearest underground stations are Farringdon and Angel.

About the City of London Corporation:

The City of London Corporation provides local government and policing services for the financial and commercial heart of Britain, the 'Square Mile'. In addition, the City Corporation has three roles: (1) it supports London’s communities by working in partnership with neighbouring boroughs on economic regeneration, education and skills projects. In addition, the City of London Corporation’s charity, the City Bridge Trust, makes grants of more than £15 million annually to charitable projects across London; and it also supports education with three independent schools, three academic schools, a primary school and the world-renowned Guildhall School of Music & Drama; (2) It also helps look after key London heritage and green spaces including Tower Bridge, Museum of London, Barbican Centre, London Metropolitan Archives, City gardens, Hampstead Heath, Epping Forest, Burnham Beeches, and important ‘commons’ in south London; and (3) it also supports and promotes the ‘City’ as the world’s leading international financial and business centre, with outward and inward business delegations, high-profile civic events, research-driven policies all reflecting a long-term approach. See for more details.