EC1 Past, Present and Future

How the idea of an EC1 timeline exploration developed

By David Wilcox

I've lived in Bartholomew Close, just south of Smithfield, since 1999. Back in the 1970s I worked for the Evening Standard, which then had offices just off Fleet Street. As planning correspondent I wrote a lot about threats to London's heritage, and plans for future development - some inspiring, some destructive like those for Covent Garden, Piccadilly Circus, and urban motorways. The Barbican was under construction, and on the Standard we campaigned for inclusion of the Arts Centre, which went through on the narrowest of votes.

Recent plans for the relocation of Smithfield Market, and the City of London's creation of Culture Mile, nudged me to think about heritage and development on my doorstep. In 2019 I met up with Mike Franks, who in 1977 I had helped develop a Clerkenwell heritage trail. We planned to recreate the trail online, and promote the idea of Clerkenwell Commons – an environment for conversation, collaboration, and action. You see the trail here, with Mike's vision.

Coverage by the EC1Echo community newspaper (see below), plus earlier support from the Peel Institute's Connecting Clerkenwell programme, provided me with the basis on which to promote the idea of a timeline exploration of the Past, Present and Future of EC1 - linking City and Clerkenwell either side of Smithfield.

The pandemic put that those ideas on hold - but then also provided an opportunity. Why not start mapping and storytelling by simply asking people about the favourite places in EC1 they hope to visit as restrictions ease?

I had previously worked with Thames Ward Community Project in Barking, and Create Streets, to help develop an interactive map of likes and dislikes about the area. We struck a deal to develop a map for EC1, which the Echo is launched in its April/May edition. You can add your favourites here. Smithfield Market is due to move to Barking so there's some interesting scope for twinning our explorations.

With friends and neighbours, my son Dan, and mapping professionals Barbara Brayshay and Drew Mackie, I've been exploring the next steps in developing the story of EC1 as a blend of stories and maps, using records, images and videos. Initial contacts with Culture Mile, London Metropolitan Archives, Museum of London and Barbican Library have been encouraging.

By embracing the idea of Common Knowledge and community networks, supported by multi-faceted hubs of current creativity and history, we could demonstrate some of the tools and approaches needed to meet the challenges set in the London Recovery Programme.

The story mapping platform that has most impressed me is Humap, used by the innovative Layers of London project, and Islington's Pride. That enables people to contribute their own records, and create collections ... so we could combine a process of community participation with professional development by local organisations. The Humap team have generously offered their platform and help in developing a demonstration, and I'll report progress on this site.

Meanwhile, if you are interested in any of these ideas, do get in touch (and add your favourite place).

More here on how we might use maps and stories to develop some common - and special - knowledge about the area.

David Wilcox david@socialreporter.com