Elevating London: the story of the Pedway

The Pedway: Elevating London is a 40-minute documentary by filmmaker Chris Bevan Lee on the post-war redevelopment of the City of London, focusing on the ambitious attempt to build a network of elevated walkways through the city. Packed with newsreel footage, it's a fascinating glimpse back into 1950s and 1960s London and a reminder of the extraordinary scale of devastation wreaked by the Blitz.
The film centres on a blueprint originated in 1947 by architect Charles Holden and planner William Holford whereby new commercial development in the City would incorporate raised walkways and bridges that would elevate pedestrians above the exhaust fumes and danger of the increasing traffic flows on the streets below. By the 1960s the City of London corporation had included the Pedway scheme in its own plans, requiring developers to incorporate Pedway elements in their buildings in order to obtain planning permission.

With the exception of the Barbican Centre, where the Pedway element was sufficiently integrated to work in isolation from other paths, the bizarre result was a series of dead-end bridges and paths many of which, now abandoned, still haunt the square mile.

Before watching Bevan Lee's film I knew nothing of the Pedway scheme but had often wondered about the seemingly inaccessible foot ways and bridges that cross the London Wall and Lower Thames Street dual carriageways. To my delight, when I started to read up about the scheme after watching the film, I learned that the building where I work (the St.Helen's Tower off St Mary Axe) was itself part of the scheme and until the 1990s had a walkway connecting it to its next door neighbour!

This is a lovely and very enlightening film. The extensive archive clips fit seamlessly with the modern footage and there are fascinating contextual sequences from movies like Fritz Lang's Metropolis that influenced the ideas behind the scheme. The film is beautifully shot and perfectly balanced with the commentary by expert academics and planners. All in all, an excellent documentary and I would highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in London's history and architecture.
The film can be viewed free of charge for a limited period at:
You can contact Chris Bevan Lee here
You can learn more about the Pedway scheme here.


Book review: City: a Guidebook for the Urban Age by P D Smith

P D Smith’s infectious enthusiasm for urban life pervades this book. City: a Guidebook for the Urban Age is cleverly constructed to mimic the cities it describes: as Smith explains in his introduction, it is a book in which you can wander and drift, following any of a number of pathways without fear of getting lost.

With more than half of humanity now city dwellers, a proportion predicted to continue to rise sharply, Smith has written a celebration of what he sees as undoubtedly humankind’s greatest achievement. It’s a remarkable book. Enjoyable and enlightening, City is easy to read but also encyclopaedic in its multi-dimensional journey through urban life. It is as packed with facts as Mumbai is with people, including a scholarly wad of notes and a great bibliography, yet Smith never lets this impede the pace and interest of the reader’s journey. Based on reading this book, P D Smith would be an excellent city guide. Reading it felt like being on a simultaneous walking tour of all the world’s major cities, moved along at a brisk pace but always with permission to stop and browse at any of the myriad points of interest along the way.

The book is structured using a sense of journey and also a thematic approach that considers all the major aspects of urban life. Instead of beginning with the history of ancient civilisations, Smith begins with the experience of arrival, evoking the sheer sense of wonder that a first visit to a high-rise city can trigger. We read of Nick Carraway being blown away by the Manhattan skyline in The Great Gatsby; of the awe experienced by Hernán Cortés and his conquistadors as they entered the Aztec capital Tenochtitlán in 1519.

Among the themes Smith deals with are architecture, infrastructure and transport – with some particularly interesting sections on inventions that enabled modern city life such as writing, electricity and lifts. In doing so he successfully presents ‘the city as organism’ but never lets the reader forget that cities are about their human inhabitants – as the introductory quote from Coriolanus states: What is the city but the people? The city in film, theatre, books and music; graffiti, language and dialect; carnival and religion; trade, shopping and food; the city’s role in democracy and protest: all are part of Smith’s Grand Walking Tour. Chapters are nicely spaced, supplemented with plenty of high quality colour images and interspersed with short, punchy insets on related topics.

For lovers of London, City is a great read. As well as the fascinating contextual threads outlined above, there were many specific tidbits of London lore, from the grandeur of the toilets at Waterloo Station to the wonderful tale of a dinner at the Savoy in 1905. My favourite, though, is an account of the importance of London as stamping ground of the literary flâneur: the observer of the urban street from John Stow and John Gay through Poe and Dickens and on to Sinclair and Self in our own times.

Smith is repeatedly drawn to the continuity of urban life across time and space. He is equally comfortable describing the first urban civilisations as he is describing the cities of the future: we travel seamlessly through the millennia from Jericho to Babylon, Athens, Rome, London, Paris and New York, examine the astonishing progress in urban technology being experienced in today’s South Korean cities before taking a leap into the future. In doing so, Smith’s hope and enthusiasm shine through relentlessly – unapologetically optimistic, while never hiding the apocalyptic risks, he is clear in his belief that cities are the solution, not the problem. Rather than succumb to a Blade Runner world, Smith prefers that one day, the sentient city may be the thing that saves us from ourselves.

Review by Julian Woodford, 2013.

City: a Guidebook for the Urban Age by P D Smith (Bloomsbury, 2012).

Available from Amazon (Kindle edition £3.99):



Julian Woodford’s book, The Boss of Bethnal Green: Joseph Merceron, Godfather of Regency London, will be published soon.