After Hitler turned his attention away from London and the ineffective bombing campaign in 1941 to focus his efforts on Russia, much of London was a bombed-out shell. Even Prime Minister Winston Churchill noted that “These were the times with the English, and particularly the Londoners, who had the place of honour, were seen at their best.” Once the war ended, clean up and rebuilding were to follow, and Patrick Abercrombie’s County of London Plan debuted at Westminster Hall for a week in July 1943. During the time it was on display, it received 10,000 public visitors and so was moved to the Royal Arts Society for several months, ultimately seeing 50,000 visitors.
The Plan promised a new and shimmering city, with a focus on balance between industrial, housing, and greenspace. Abercrombie also proposed the creation of “satellite towns” that many Londoners moved to after the war the included Harlow and Stevenage. The Plan proposed a Green Belt of parks around which housing was limited, but also recommended the building of more blocks of flats to accommodate increases in London’s population. In the centre of the city at Moorgate and Aldersgate became a bustling place filled with housing, schools, office blocks, and eventually, the Barbican Estate (completed in 1976).
Along with the buildings, the ethnic and cultural makeup of the city began to change as well. With the end of an empire came floods of immigrants from India, Pakistan, the Carribbean, and more seeking the opportunities the Commonwealth of Nations offered in the wake of the London Declaration. The British Nationality Act of 1948 granted citizenship for immigrants from the West Indies and the Royal Commission on Population in 1949 stated that immigrants of “good stock” would be welcomed “without reserve”. Part of the increase was due to the United States passing a law in 1952 that made it harder to enter the US, causing many immigrants to see the UK as inviting them with open arms. However, troubles with racism towards new immigrants made life difficult, but the people who came here persevered and left their cultural mark on London and the UK as a whole.
A major achievement following the war was the have the first post-war Olympic Games in London. Held only three years after the war ended, the 1948 Olympic Games took place in the midst of a city that was still on rationing, and London’s “mend and make do” attitude was shared by the Games. As a result, the ’48 Olympics were also known as “The Austerity Games” and attending countries voluntarily brought foodstuffs and supplies with them, as evidenced by Denmark’s 160,000 eggs and the Netherlands’ contribution of 100 tonnes of fruit. Another noteworthy moment of these games is that they were the first to be broadcast on television. In all, 4,104 athletes from 59 nations participated, with the exceptions of Germany and Japan who were banned as aggressors and the Soviet Union that declined to attend.
Eventually, life returned to normal in London, and to celebrate the city’s revival, it held the Festival of London in 1951. Not a single event, the Festival traveled all over Britain with exhibitions, local initiatives, amusements, and special events. Twenty-seven acres along Southbank served as the Festival’s London location and while many of the structures were meant to be temporary, the Royal Festival Hall was intended as permanent and still delights attendees today with concerts and performances.
From the ashes of destruction, London rebuilt itself with parts becoming virtually unrecognisable from what they were before the war. The buildings changed, the people changed, and the city itself changed for the good. It was not the first time London had to do so, and history proves that you can never keep London and its citizens down for long.