London – Kensington and Chelsea (Borough of) – Norland Square Railings

There are many things that annoy me. These include people being loud in libraries, Greggs running out of sausage rolls and people putting their feet on the seats of trains. There are other things as well of course (crime and corruption aren’t great either), but I’ll limit myself here. Historically there’s one particular decision which is annoying and it has wrecked many parks, gardens, buildings and churchyards across the country, which was when iron was collected for the war effort.

It’s not the collection of the iron that’s the problem here, it’s that historians seem to agree that only around 25% of it was used. And the Government never stopped collecting it, despite it being clear that they didn’t need any more. Paperwork has been “lost” by Government departments and it’s widely thought much of the iron was just dumped after the end of the Second World War. Perhaps it was good for morale and making people feel involved, but it simply caused more anger later on when the truth started to out.

Now that I don’t live in London, I’m no longer a member of the London Library at St. James’s Square, but I’m pleased to note that £500,000 has been spent restoring the railings there. There’s further information at https://www.stjamessquaretrust.co.uk/railings-project and it’s a worthwhile project. But, at least some railings had already been put back here, in so many other locations across the country all that remains eighty years on are the stumps of the railings. Churches suffered terribly from this, as well as many residential property owners. Although, as with many things, other wealthy property owners found reasons for their iron not to be taken in the first place, whilst those of more limited means were busy tearing up their front gates.

Lord Hemingford in 1943 queried this whole arrangement, although he wasn’t give much succour when he said in the Lords:

“To go a little lower down the social scale, I saw only the other day a row of very small cottages, I suppose cottages with not more than four rooms at the outside, with their small gardens in front of them, many of them tended with very great care, where the railings—which can have been of very little use to the Government, for they were not much more than wire made into an upright fence—have been taken away from the front of the gardens. I cannot but imagine that those railings were useless for the purpose for which they were taken, and must have been among those which have since been sold by the Ministry of Supply.”

And, the reason I mention all of this is that the photo at the top is of Norland Square Gardens, with their lovely iron railings. These date to 2007, when Susan Walkers Architects (who are engaged with the St. James’s Square project) and the Cast Iron Co. Ltd produced these new railings for the gardens, funded by the Norland Square Garden Committee. They’re not overly decorative, but they define the area much better than some generic chain-link fence or indeed nothing at all.

There seems to have been a little bit of a wave of these transformations over recent years, but mostly they seem limited to wealthy areas of London or to property owners with some money. Perhaps it’s time to fund the restoration of iron railings back to churches, parks and many other locations where they were taken from, an apology from the Government that this scheme to collect iron wasn’t stopped when it was realised that it wasn’t productive.

There’s a video of the patrotic need for this at https://www.britishpathe.com/video/park-railings-for-munitions.