The genesis of the Jubilee Walkway 1977
This extract is taken, with permission, from "A Walk for the Queen = the story of the Jubilee
Walkway and the Jubilee Greenway" by Hugo Vickers. The Dovecote Press, ISBN 978-1-904-34999-0
The London Celebrations Committee inspired all the major Jubilee celebrations in London, ranging from opera and the arts, concerts, exhibitions, sporting events, local celebrations in the boroughs, and a number of environmental improvements. Max Nicholson chaired the Environmental Committee, assisted by Sir Misha Black (another Festival of Britain man, who had later founded the DRU - Design Research Unit, and who died during Silver Jubilee Year on 11 October), Neville Labovitch, Michael Middleton (Civic Trust), Sir Paul Reilly (Design Council) and Robert Shaw (a Planning Officer of the GLC). .
The origin of the Jubilee Walkway can be found in a document prepared by Max Nicholson on 4 March 1976. On 11 March he presented it the London Celebrations Committee as part of his environmental programme: .
Silver Jubilee Heritage Walkway or Trail.
Proposed to be waymarked with the Silver Jubilee emblem and to run some five miles in all from the newly pedestrianised Leicester Square, by Trafalgar Square, St James's Park and the Houses of Parliament, over Lambeth Bridge and thence along the South Bank to Tower Bridge (with temporary diversions where Thames-side access is still incomplete), ending up at St Katharine's Dock and the Tower of London. This would include several new GLC works, including the promenade in front of the National Theatre, the new embankment at Blackfriars/Bankside and the site now used as a car park by Tower Bridge/Potters Fields. It is hoped to clear the Dome of Discovery site next to County Hall by demolishing the huts near the railway and moving the car park to that area, thus providing a first-class venue for events, and an opportunity to plant a Jubilee Grove of trees. .
The London Celebrations Committee welcomed the project and by June 1976 Nicholson was confident that there would be something for The Queen to open when she came to the Shell Building on 9 June 1977 to witness a fabulous firework display over the Thames. .
At the same time Max defined what a walkway was and what he planned for this one. As early as 1617 it was applied to 'a course or circuit which may be chosen for walking' with the added implication that the course should be pre-arranged for that purpose and that the walker would be safeguarded from disturbance by other forms of traffic. This one was designed to do the following: .
To revive the paramount role of the Thames itself, as the spine and setting of London. .
By means of a linking silver thread to draw together the long divorced worlds of the West End, the South Bank, East London and the City. .
To display and relate many old landmarks and new improvements which few visitors or even Londoners would otherwise come to appreciate as a whole, composing the symphony of London. .
To demonstrate and explain factually something of the essential nature, the geography and the history of London for students of all ages. .
To encourage the best way of getting to know London - on foot - and to reassert the full equality of the walker with others moving by other means. .
To focus the fast growing interest in conserving and improving London's environment, and to help bring together and stimulate those who share it. .
The Silver Jubilee Walkway was the foremost of what Max Nicholson called his 'Seven Thrusts' - a document designed to inspire activity in varying ways at the time of the Jubilee. In the summer of 1977, at a sporting event in Hyde Park, Max told me of his plans, speaking of the Thames as 'the spine of London', seeking to narrow the divide between north and south London, and his other plans not least to develop 40,000 acres of disused land scattered about the capital. He made it all sound so simple, so sensible and such fun..
Max saw the merits of an urban city trail similar to many such trails he had created in the British countryside in the course of his long career. The Silver Jubilee Walkway was to be an urban trail promoted by the Civic Trust to interpret architectural features and aspects of townscape, passing as it much of it would, through the built environment. Max's aim was to lure people onto the South Bank and past the site of the Festival of Britain. He wanted the Jubilee Walkway to help open up the South Bank of the Thames and this vision was to prove an immeasurable success. He realised that if the route were associated with the Jubilee, then it would fall into place much more easily than otherwise. If you want to build a village hall and you call it the Jubilee Hall, funds tend to be more readily available. .
Max also said that someone walking the Jubilee Walkway would have travelled through areas of London noted for entertainment, assembly, ceremonial and open-air activity and past many historic sites. He would have been enticed from the West End onto the South Bank and into the City. Max hoped that 'perhaps he will be subtly changed by what he has absorbed from this fertile heritage.' It was always seen as more than just a route or promenade with the opportunity for trees and other things to enjoy along the way..
It was still a bit of a battle, Max writing that the idea of a city walkway was 'novel and needed both explaining and popularising. I therefore had to hark back to my earliest occupation as a guide-book writer, turning out a 72 page illustrated historical guide entitled The Silver Jubilee Walkway together with a folder map to show the way along it.' This was the guidebook, financed by the Civic Trust and eventually distributed by W.H. Smith Distributors..
Max was generally pleased with the way things progressed, and in particular in how the bureaucrats were supporting the Jubilee, and, as he put in a letter, 'their participation in promoting the Jubilee has been most encouraging and highly appreciated, not least by those who often say rude things about them such as, yours faithfully, Max Nicholson.'