My recent post on road pricing made several references to Simon Jenkins book ‘Landlords to London’. Rereading this book for the post and also as a counterpoint to ‘The Voluntary City’ made me realise the real significance of the great London Estates. Most of these were originally in the ownership of the Church until the Dissolution under Henry VIII. When he seized Church properties he distributed them among members of his Court in return for favours granted and for political benefit.
The estates thus created lasted by and large into the modern era. The development of these estates set the pattern for modern London – the city we see today. It is salutary to realise therefore how much that London is thus built on theft – pure and simple theft. We don’t need to think about how the Church acquired their property, or about esoteric theories of primitive accumulation because of the clear break created by Henry’s theft from them.
Worth remembering next time someone tells you how the private sector is so much better than the state at promoting development. Ask them where that property came from.