Walk around parts of the city of London and you stumble across them - strange walkways, stair wells and bridges, all seemingly heading nowhere. Like something from a brutalist CS Lewis novel, they are forgotten concrete portals to a vision of London that foundered in the Thatcher years. Now as mysterious and eerie as urban stone circles, these are the remnants of the abandoned Pedway scheme.
Straight away, the Pedway encountered problems. The fire brigade was struggling to find equipment suitable for the walkways having experimented unsuccessfully with some Austrian appliances. The police were unsure of their legal powers on the Pedway. Maintenance, cleaning and lighting bills for the corporation soared.
The biggest, and ultimately insurmountable, problem for the Pedway was the growth of the conservation lobby. Ironically, its seat of power was in the Barbican development, and its activists the very occupants of the one successfully completed network of "highwalks." They didn't object to the Pedway system itself (they hardly could when they weren't aware of its existence), but the networks of service roads and loading bays springing up at street level in anticipation of its completion. In 1971 eight conservation areas were devised for the city, a number which grew until the mid eighties when, scared of business emigrating to the Docklands, the city's conservation gave way to rampant redevelopment. Even air rights were sold - Terry Farrell's clunky Albangate scheme obliterated the spaciousness of London Wall, another Pedway jigsaw piece.
Tracing the remaining parts of the Pedway today is surprisingly easy, in spite of the City's mania for security. Large stretches of the 1976 minimum network - when the idea was largely abandoned - remain. Starting at Barbican station, the only listed part of the Pedway network takes you past the flats on Seddon Highwalk to the Museum Of London. The point at which concrete walls give way to tiles delineates the border of the listed area and the London Wall development. Passing through Albangate you reach a 1969 adjunct to the Pedway plan: kiosks, built to encourage pedestrians off the streets and onto the walkways. A green marble building - now the Young Bin restaurant - was originally a Midland Bank; nearby is a row of tailor's shops and an empty pub with the telltale name The Podium. The trail runs cold at Moorgate, though until this year grey/brown abutments for a never-built bridge left a curious hole above the station; the building was recently demolished. Bridges across Wormwood Street lead to amazing alleys that weave in and out of office blocks - all public space. But it's disappearing fast. Other Pedway pieces survive on Upper Thames Street, Leadenhall Street and around the stock exchange - now fenced off for security reasons. Gradually, chunks are disappearing as the building stock of the sixties is replaced.
How the walkways would have worked in other parts of London is more questionable (in 1967 the plan was expanded as far west as Soho and south to Elephant and Castle), and the planners' dreams of wholesale demolition and a pedestrian network to rival the quays of Paris now seems faintly embarrassing. Chicago and Hong Kong may have completed the job with marble, steel and glass: the London Pedway exists only as a concrete folly.
first photo copyright www.flickr.com/photos/darrenlewis
second photo copyright Smoke: A London Peculiar
many thanks to Elain Harwood