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London Metropolitan Archives



Reference code(s): MBO

Held at: London Metropolitan Archives


Date(s): 1844-1855

Level of description: Collection

Extent: 19.76 linear metres

Name of creator(s): Metropolitan Buildings Office


Administrative/Biographical history:

The Metropolitan Buildings Office (MBO) was established in 1844 under the Metropolitan Buildings Act and was the first statutory body with responsibility for building regulation for the whole of the Metropolitan area. Revision of building regulation was long overdue. Between 1801 and 1841 the population of London had increased from under a million to over two million. The built up area had spread well beyond the boundaries set by the London Building Act of 1774.

Building methods and uses had also changed in the period, and there was a pressing need to prevent building developments which were undesirable for social or sanitary reasons - even the most conservative were beginning to realise that accumulations of untreated sewage under and around dwellings in crowded streets and alleys were a menace to health.

The 1844 Metropolitan Buildings Act was concerned with the security and thickness of party walls and the use of fire-resistant materials. Buildings were classified into three types - dwelling houses, warehouses and public buildings, which included churches, schools and theatres, and detailed provisions were set out for each.

In addition it established that:
- No new streets should be formed less than 40 feet wide and buildings adjacent to them should be no higher than the width of the street.
- New dwelling houses were to have an area of at least 10 square feet at the rear unless the windows on the other three sides gave light and air to all the rooms.
- No cellar or underground room was to be used for human habitation unless it had a window, a fireplace and drainage.
- Privies and closets were to be properly enclosed and screened from public view and drains were to be provided in all new houses.
- Noxious and dangerous businesses were not to be set up within 50 feet of other buildings.

As an organisation the MBO was administratively very complicated - The Lord Mayor, the Justices, the Secretary of State and the Commissioners of Works all had a say in the appointment of officers. There was apparently much friction between the Registrar and the Official Referees, and officers were expected to accomplish far more than their powers permitted. Almost from the beginning private builders, surveyors and others were clamouring for revision of the Act. In 1855 the MBO was abolished and a new body, the Metropolitan Board of Works, was set up in its place.


Scope and content/abstract:

District Surveyors Returns, 1844-1855, providing lists of notices, information and complaints, the results of notices and fees paid for works. The Districts covered were City of London; Tower Division (Tower Hamlets and the East End); Edmonton Hundred Division (Tottenham); Finsbury Division (Islington, Stoke Newington, Hornsey, Clerkenwell); Holborn Division (Bloomsbury, Saint Pancras, Paddington, Marylebone, Hampstead); Kensington Division (Chelsea, Fulham, Hammersmith); City of Westminster Division; County of Surrey (Lambeth, Camberwell, Bermondsey, Rotherhithe) and County of Kent (Deptford, Greenwich, Woolwich, Lewisham).

Building plans of a variety of buildings and features including houses, offices, embankments, hospitals, chapels and churches, chimney shafts, warehouses, taverns, dockyards, public rooms, lecture halls, colleges and schools, factories, workhouses and asylums, stables, gardens and shop fronts.

General office papers including registers of approvals; approvals of buildings; cases of Special Supervision; cases of ruinous buildings; registers of awards; registers of reports; enquiries about fires and fire reports; lists of Surveyors; papers on drains and sewers; staff records; circulars and notices; correspondence; parish and ordnance maps; press cuttings; forms and instructions; financial accounts and copies of Acts and Bills relating to building and construction regulations.


Language/scripts of material: English

System of arrangement:

MBO/DS/1-52: District Surveyors Returns; MBO/PLANS: Plans; MBO/15-89: General Office Papers; MBO/90-107: Party Wall Cases; MBO/108-536: General Papers.

Conditions governing access:

Available for general access.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Copyright: City of London.

Physical characteristics:


Finding aids:

Please see online catalogues at:


Appraisal, destruction and scheduling information:


Archival history:

The records of the MBO, with the exception of some district surveyors returns, were taken over by the Master of the Rolls in 1856. Some papers were apparently destroyed at this time, others, including most of the accounts and miscellaneous correspondence were destroyed in 1924, when the main bulk of the records was transferred from the Public Record Office (now the National Archives) to the London County Council. These destructions account for the gaps in the numbered series which have been kept in their original order as far as number 491. Numbers 492-536 have been assigned to subsequent bundles and volumes which were either unnumbered or had come from a separate series. It was not possible to check that all the documents that were meant to have been transferred in 1924 were with the remaining records. It is known that 'cases of ruinous buildings' were scheduled for destruction but had survived. On the other hand there seemed to be no trace of the portfolios of miscellaneous office papers arranged topographically and chronologically which were numbered as '1025-1084' in the PRO's transfer list.

Immediate source of acquisition:

Transferred from the Public Record Office (National Archives).


Existence and location of originals:

Existence and location of copies:

Related material:

Publication note:

For further details concerning the work of the MBO there is an informative article by Ida Darlington in THE BUILDER, 12 October 1956.



Rules or conventions: Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions: April to June 2009

Architectural plans | Plans | Visual materials
Building construction | Building operations | Construction engineering
Building plans | Plans | Visual materials
Building regulations | Planning control | Town and country planning | Urban development
Building standards | Building design | Construction engineering
Building surveyors | Surveyors | People by occupation | People
Building surveys | Surveys | Field work | Research work
Health policy | Health
Industrial buildings | Buildings | Architecture
Non-residential buildings | Buildings | Architecture
Public health | Health
Residential buildings | Buildings | Architecture
Sanitation | Environmental engineering
Urban planning | Urban development
Public health x Health policy

Personal names

Corporate names
Metropolitan Buildings Office

London | England | UK | Western Europe | Europe