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Borough Plans

Issue: Dec '12 TW11 & TW Mag

Borough Plans

Whilst reviewing various buildings owned by the Council, attention was given to a rather miserable and near-derelict hut in a remote part of the Borough looking ready for demolition. A cursory look inside revealed that it was crammed with over 160 cranes of paper. A closer inspection revealed these papers to be building plans; in fact the plan for every building in the Borough whether newly built, altered or extended for the approximate period of 1870–1960. Quite how they got there has been lost in the mists of time but the pressing question was what to do with them.

A councillor asked our local studies librarian, Jane Baxter, if they were of any use or value. Seeing their potential, Jane quickly laid claim to them and set about devising a way of bringing the plans to the public without commanding an enormous amount of space. A scheme was put together to put in a Heritage Lottery Fund grant to digitise the plans and create a website, matching the Heritage monies with labour from a volunteer force. A team of 40 volunteers set about sifting through the weather stained boxes.

Some of the plans were completely ruined but there was sufficient of every type of building to enable us to capture the designs of the past decades. The majority of the plans related to the building of private dwellings but also included were all manner of commercial buildings, shops, office blocks, public houses, factories, restaurants and even a theatre (which was never built) as well as all alterations and extensions.

The grant was awarded and 18 months of hard and diligent work paid off to create a unique record of the buildings in the Borough since 1870/80. Because of the sheer mass of documents available, it was not possible to select every record for digitisation and some painful decisions were made as to what should be copied and what should be left out. The result is a marvellous collection of plans easily available on the web. I have discovered my house, so it can’t be that difficult.

To access the site, type in Insert Twickenham in the Search box at the top right and 3,600 records suddenly become available. Alternatively you may enter the name of the road you are seeking and then scroll down alphabetically until you find your record. The degree of information given will depend entirely on the level that was logged onto the catalogue initially. For example some plans may be accompanied by photographs.

Once the individual street plans are shown, you will see that each plan will have a PLA prefix eg PLA/01565. This should show the date of the application, the name of the road, the local authority involved, the type of planning (new build etc), the name of the architect and/or the builder and a thumbnail sketch of the actual building plan. Click on the plan and this will bring up a full screen copy of the plan.

To demonstrate the good work that has been done, an exhibition has been arranged to run concurrently at Richmond Museum from 2nd December 2012 to March 2013 and Orleans House Gallery again from 2nd December to February 2013. Entitled The Building of a Borough it will show many framed plans, some for air raid shelters and for the re-building after the war. Admission is free and a comprehensive free catalogue is also provided.