Humdrum Tasks of the Salaried Men: Edwin Williams, a London County Council Architect at War


  • Nick Beech Queen Mary University of London



Working at the London County Council Architects’ Department through the 1930s to 1950s, and known (if at all) as a member of the design team for the Royal Festival Hall, Edwin Williams is usually presented as a regressive figure, his design work marked by his Beaux Arts training. Using archival evidence and histories of the construction industry, this paper sets out Williams’s role in the organisation of rescue and recovery services in London during the Second World War. The paper argues that through his development of training schools and curricula for Rescue Service personnel, Williams played a key role in the formation of a skilled, mechanised, modern demolition industry. Operating complex emergency projects under extreme conditions, the same contractors and building operatives trained in Williams’s programme were later responsible for the clearance of bomb damaged sites and slums. This paper suggests that certain developments in modern architecture can be considered contingent upon practices of the demolition industry as developed by Williams. By concentrating on the ‘organisation’ and ‘progress’ of production that architects engaged with during the Second World War and after, new configurations of continuity and change emerge in which the ‘humdrum tasks’ of ‘salaried men’ appear crucial.

Author Biography

Nick Beech, Queen Mary University of London

Nick Beech is Lecturer in the History of London at the School of History, Queen Mary University of London. He recently co-organised ‘Industries of Architecture’ (11th International AHRA Conference, Newcastle, 2014) with Katie Lloyd Thomas and Tilo Amhoff. Nick’s research contends with two open questions of architectural and urban history - what industrial changes occurred in building and architectural practices in mid-twentieth century Britain? And how might those specific processes of change illuminate wider cultural and political questions? He is an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellow (2014-2016) at the Canadian Centre for Architecture researching the ‘First’ New Left in Britain.


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