The death of Middlesex

Until 1965 there was a county of Middlesex; more than a third of what is now  Greater London was run, not by the London County Council but by a kind of shadow administration: Middlesex County Council, based in Parliament Square in the grand neo-gothic building that now houses the Supreme Court. One consequence was that the sewers in what’s now West London are linked together in a separate network from the one created for the rest of the capital.

Middlesex Guildhall, which since 2009 houses the UK Supreme Court

Middlesex was killed off by the Royal Commission on Local Government in Greater London, known as the Herbert Commission, which was established in 1957 and reported in 1960. This body’s conclusions were strongly  influenced by the academics of the Greater London Group from the London School of Economics.  The Herbert Report spawned the Local Government Act of 1963 which created a single unified Greater London Council.

London had been run by a permanent Labour-majority administration, and in many cases the suburbs resisted coming under its control. Middlesex and the urban district councils that made it up, fought abolition because they believed they’d carry less political weight than ‘real’ London, and that the new Greater London would settle into a core and a satellite area.The result was that on abolition some old Middlesex towns and communities were left out of the new GLC: Shepperton and Staines are now in Surrey and officially part of the England’s South East region, ( along with Oxford and Southampton) while Potters Bar and South Mimms (originally the most northerly village in Middlesex) which went to Hertfordshire, now share the East region with Peterborough, Southend and Norwich.

Fifty years after Middlesex’s abolition it’s sometimes missed.  There’s an Outer London Commission to represent outer London within the GLA. This addresses the slower economic growth of the outer London boroughs. But a look at its research quickly reveals the problem with lumping the whole of outer London together.  Former Middlesex is doing rather well (especially the far west and the so called ‘Western Wedge’): the rest is less so.

This suggests  a need to reconnect with local history and traditions. Cities around the world have adopted different ways of defining where they begin and end. For example Paris proper is tiny – at 105 sq. km considerably smaller than either of three individual London boroughs (Hillingdon, Bromley and Havering) – but the Région Parisienne is around seven times the size of Greater London.   If outer London is to thrive, according to the architect Terry Farrell, (who plays the advisory role that Richard Rogers had with Ken Livingstone’s admininstration,) it has to stop looking towards the centre, and re-form as a true dispersed city.

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