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London Shocks: A comparative analysis of urban political institutions and their responses through fire, pollution, and war

Dyball, Renae


Renae Dyball



The modern history of London, and ultimately its transformation into a global or world city, can be told through its transformative shocks. Here, the focus will be on the Great Fire of 1666, the Great Stink of 1858, and the Blitz of the Second World War. The aim of the thesis is to compare the responses of London’s political institutions to each of the three shocks being examined, analysing the physical infrastructural developments they instigated or advanced, as well as the urgent, short-term factors that limited the extent of what could be achieved. The lens of London’s political institutions has been chosen due to their crucial importance in directing the city’s infrastructural development as well as to examine the transformation of London’s political authority as it shifted – or was ‘rescaled’ – from the local to the regional and national scales. As such, documents related to these institutions form the majority of the primary sources used in this thesis. Whilst the selected shocks have received substantial attention, the core interdisciplinary methodology and analytical lens of London’s political institutions provide a unique perspective in this thesis from which to approach the historic crises from a different angle. Three main conclusions are reached: firstly, that urgent, short-term financial and demographic needs prevented many beneficial infrastructural developments from occurring following the Great Fire and the Blitz despite the long-term improvements to urban liveability and metropolitan industry these developments would have created. This is highlighted by the particular success of the responses to the Great Stink in achieving the ideals of its planners compared to those for the Great Fire and the Blitz. Secondly, London’s political institutions gained greater powers and authority when previous powers were not sufficient to meet the challenges posed by the shocks. Part of this involved ‘rescaling’ London’s governance; new political institutions were created at spatial scales (such as metropolitan or regional) that were broadly commensurable with the acquisition of necessary fiscal and infrastructural capacities. Finally, this thesis concludes that vast infrastructural developments cannot be made from the piecemeal responses to ‘slow-burn’ crises – sudden shocks are instead needed to trigger the urgent necessity for changes to be made.


Dyball, R. (2024). London Shocks: A comparative analysis of urban political institutions and their responses through fire, pollution, and war. (Thesis). University of Hull.

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Jun 10, 2024
Publicly Available Date Jun 12, 2024
Keywords Humanities
Public URL
Additional Information School of Humanities
University of Hull
Award Date Jun 4, 2024


Thesis (4.7 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2024 Renae Dyball. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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