The Metropolitan Board of Works, whose chief engineer Joseph Bazalgette built London's sewage system, is relatively well-known. Bazalgette could realise his great project because, for the first time, there was a single body which could take control for the whole city. It is less well-known that the Metropolitan Board was the top level of a system which also included a number of vestries and District Boards of Works. These bodies could each nominate a member to the Metropolitan Board.
This relief in Covent Garden marks the former headquarters of the Strand District Board of Works at 22 Tavistock Street. Its inscription gives the full name of the board, and the date 1855: the year in which the body was founded. The building itself was not completed until 1857, and is in part an example of the board's frugality. They held the land on an 80-year least from the Duke of Bedford; rather than appoint an outside architect, their surveyor G F Fry designed it; while the building contract was put out to tender. W T Purkiss's bid of £3,472 was successful. He and Fry produced a rather nice building, with some surprisingly light-hearted flourishes for the home of a public body.
The Strand District Board was one of the very smallest in London, by some way (it was responsible for a few tens of thousands of inhabitants, compared to the 320,000 in Islington vestry). The board of works survived until 1900 when London's boards and vestries were replaced by 28 boroughs. Despite opposing the change, Strand District was incorporated into the new Metropolitan Borough of Westminster. By 1905, Baedeker's guide to London listed the property as a tailor's. Nonetheless, the board has left a proud reminder on this building to testify to its existence and civic status.