Biography of Sir Leslie Patrick Abercrombie, Town Planner, and his County of London plan (1943) & Greater London Plan (1944)

Sir Leslie Patrick Abercrombie  (1879-1957), was British architect and town planner best known for his plans to reconstruct London after the devastation of World War II, as detailed in the County of London Plan (1943, with John Henry Forshaw) and the Greater London Plan (1944). You can view our current catalogue of Abercrombie maps from both of these plans here.

After schooling at Uppingham School he was apprenticed to architects in Manchester and Liverpool before accepting an  academic role at the University of Liverpool in 1907, where was subsequently appointed a professor of civic design (1915–35). It was during his later tenure as professor of town planning at University College London (1935–46), that he proposed his plans for the postwar reconstruction of London and environs. He was knighted in 1945.

His notable early career achievements included co-winning a competition to redesign Dublin (1916), the founding editorship of Town Planning Review, co-founding the Council for the Preservation of Rural England (1926) and proposals to reconfigure Doncaster, Sheffield, Doncaster, Bath Bristol, and other towns.

The Greater London Plan of 1944 developed, and was highly related to, his earlier County of London Plan (1943, co-written with John Henry Forshaw). The devastation caused to London by the Blitz of World War 2 presented an opportunity not seen since the Great Fire of London to modernise the city’s infrastructure and housing, and to address the issues that had arisen as a result of the unplanned and haphazard growth of the urban area, particularly during the rapid period of nineteenth century industrialisation. His plan focused on transport networks, housing, zoning of activities, provision of public spaces and addressing population growth.

His plan was comprehensive and visionary, however the constrained post-war economic and financial environment did not allow for the transformative investments in infrastructure that his proposals called for. However, Abercrombie’s forward-looking vision was successful fostering hope and optimism among the people of London after the difficulties of war.

With the benefit of hindsight, in the knowledge of the poor quality of much of the subsequent development that occurred in the 1950’s and 1960’s, and from a 21st century perspective, we Londoners may be extremely grateful that more of his plan was not realised; particularly given that it encompassed proposals for 5 ring roads and 9 airports around the city. There was a clear need for better roads given that London’s road capacity had been substantially outpaced by traffic growth in the first part of the 20th century. Parts of his proposed arterial and ring-road network were constructed, including the A40 Westway and the West Cross Route (intended as part of the Inner Ring, which was to have skirted the northern edge of Regent’s Park), and much later the M25. However, speaking personally as a 21st century Londoner, I look on many of his proposals with horror and gratitude that many of them were never realised.

He also contributed to the post-war regeneration of other towns in Great Britain and abroad, including Hull, Bournemouth, Plymouth, Edinburgh, Addis Ababa (Ethiopia).