The proposal for a residential site to the north of Cripplegate, following destruction by German bombing of much of the City of London in the Blitz during World War II. Only around 500 residents remained in the City in 1950, a mere 50 of whom lived in Cripplegate. The brief was to provide general needs council housing for the many people who serviced or worked in the City, as part of the comprehensive recovery and re-building strategy of the City of London.
As the Estate then fell within the boundary of the Metropolitan Borough of Finsbury, and a proportionate number of tenancies were also offered to those on the Finsbury waiting list. A boundary change in 1994 means the estate is today wholly inside the City of London.
Golden Lane competition
The competition for designs was announced in 1951. At a time when post WW II recovery was still slow, the rare opportunity for architects in private practice to design such an estate attracted a lot of entries. The competition was covered in the architectural and popular press. The partnership of Chamberlin, Powell and Bon was formed when Geoffry Powell won the competition to build the estate on 26 February 1952. The three partners-to-be of Chamberlin, Powell and Bon were all lecturers in architecture Kingston School of Art and had entered into an agreement that if any one of them won the competition, they would share the commission. The competition was assessed by Donald McMorran, who also designed (in a traditional style) housing for the Corporation of London. An entry from Alison and Peter Smithson was unsuccessful, but received press coverage at the time.
Compared to other council housing of the era, there was a greater emphasis on the housing needs of single people and couples rather than families with children. Studios and one bedroomed flats comprise the majority (359) of the 554 units. The density at 200 person per acre was high, but 60% of the area of the site is open space, a figure made possible by building taller structures than was common in 1951.
The site had been occupied since the mid 19th century by small Victorian industries and businesses, especially metal working. Some of the basements of the bombed buildings were retained as sunken areas of landscaping. It was designed by architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, who later designed the adjacent Barbican Estate. Golden Lane Estate was commissioned and paid for by the City of London, who remain freeholders of the site and act as managers. The Estate has been within the political boundary of the City of London since 1994, following boundary changes lobbied for by residents. However, it is distinguished from the bulk of the City of London, which is today the largely non-residential European financial services capital.
The first phase of the estate was officially opened in 1957, as stated on the commemorative stone on Bowater House. Before completion, the estate was enlarged to the west as more land was acquired, with three buildings added later: Cullum Welch House, Hatfield House and Crescent House. The increased site also permitted a recreation building, bowling green (now tennis courts) and other facilities to be added. The Estate was finally completed in 1962.
When completed the estate attracted even more publicity than the architectural competition, being viewed as a symbol of post-war recovery. It was widely photographed and written about, also featuring in various newsreel reports.
The maisonette blocks are faced with panels in primary colours (red and blue on maisonette blocks and yellow on the tower block). Bush-hammered concrete occurs less than in the Barbican. However, some of the concrete surfaces which are today painted - for example on the narrow elevations of Great Arthur House - were originally unpainted but later coated when they suffered early on from staining and streaking from iron pyrites in the aggregate.
Inside, most maisonettes display open tread cast terrazzo staircases projecting from the party walls as a cantilever. This, and the fact that the bedrooms are suspended, structurally speaking, without supports over the living rooms gives very compact planning with a surprisingly spacious feel to small flats, in spite of the fact that they were built under severe Government building restrictions of the post WW II years. The engineer was Felix Samuely. Some maisonettes retain their hour-glass shaped hot-water radiators, visible in windows.
Crescent House, the last of the blocks to be completed in 1962 and the largest, runs along Goswell Road. Designed by the firm's assistant architect and draughtsman Michael Neylan, it shows a tougher aesthetic that the architects were developing at the adjacent Barbican scheme, the earliest phases of which were by then on site.
The architects kept to their brief of providing the high density within the 7 acres (2.8 ha) available. The visual anchor of the design is the tower block of one-bedroomed flats, Great Arthur House, which provides a vertical emphasis at the centre of the development and, at 16 storeys, was on completion briefly the tallest residential building in Britain. It was the first residential tower block in London that was over 50 metres in height, and also the first building to breach the 100 foot height limit in the City of London.
The names of structures on the Estate are a mixture of references to historic site features and individuals associated with the City of London.
- Hatfield House is named after Hatfield Street which ran off Goswell Road and was laid out at a date after Faithorne and Newcourt's map of London of 1658
- Gt Arthur House takes its name from Gt Arthur Street which ran between Goswell Road (then Goswell St) and Golden Lane, originally called Bridgwater Street and shown on Morgan's map of 1682
- Crescent House follows the historic building line of Goswell Road, creating a crescent. Architects Chamberlin Powell and Bon liked the evocation of an 18th or 19th century crescent and their architecture can be seen as a modern interpretation of this.
- Cullum Welch House is named after Lt-Col.Sir George Cullum Welch, 1st baronet, Lord Mayor when the estate was commissioned.
- Stanley Cohen was chairman of the City of London public health committee, in 1954 when the estate building contract was let.
- Bowater House is named after Sir Noel Bowater Bt. the Lord Mayor of London who in 1954 laid the foundation stone of the estate at Bowater House, the first building to be completed, and on which his name is recorded.
- Cuthbert Harrowing was another chairman of the Public Health Committee of the City of London who died shortly before the foundation stone was laid but whose name is also recorded on the foundation stone.
The roof garden of Great Arthur House is a fine vantage point towards St Paul's Cathedral and the Barbican Estate and has panoramic views across London. It is three stories high, making a virtue out of the lift winding gear and tank housing to form a rooftop modernist gazebo and makes the most of the small footprint of the tower block. Pergolas and carefully integrated window cleaning equipment are treated for their sculptural qualities. An ornamental pool with stepping stones flows from to the underside of the curved concrete canopy. It was originally open to all residents of the estate, but has been closed to all for more than a decade following two suicides.
From the outset the estate was also regarded as a model of social integration with early tenants including caretakers, clergymen, clerks, doctors, office cleaners, police officers and secretaries.
Today the estate is home to approximately 1,500 people living in 559 studios and one, two or three bedroom units. There are 385 flats and 174 maisonettes. On the western edge is a line of shops, and there were social facilities in order to create an urban microcosm. These included a public swimming pool, gym, guest flats for residents' visitors, estate office, pub and tennis courts (originally a bowling green), nursery and police office – the whole combining to make an urban microcosm. The nursery and police office have been closed but other facilities survive, preserving the values that lay behind the creation of the estate. Once common in post-WW II local authority planning and housing, this idealism, commitment to quality design and a holistic vision of urban living have in many cases been abandoned by municipalities.
The rental flats continue as council housing let at affordable rents. Applications for rented housing units can be made to the City of London for eligible applicants who live or work in the City of London. By 2016 52% of the flats had been sold on long leases under the Right to buy scheme provisions brought in by the Thatcher government and, when subsequently sold, leases have proved attractive and command prices in line with the surrounding area.
After two decades of abortive proposals to repair the two bespoke curtain walls of Great Arthur House John Robertson Architects was finally selected by tender to replace them. Dating from 1959 the aluminium and glass system was leaking and not performing to modern thermal standards. The project included the wholesale replacement of the curtain wall system with a near facsimile to higher thermal performance, and strengthening to the concrete frame to receive the heavier replacement walling. The cost to leaseholders is approximately £95,000 per flat.
This project is claimed to be the first of several to address the thermal efficiency of the estate and to address a substantial cummulative maintenance backlog by the freeholder, programmed to run 2017 to 2027.
Restoration of the swimming pool and recreational facilities on the Estate was completed in 2015, architects Cartwright Pickard. This saw the original design generally respected but the conversion of residents social facilities and a former police office into a commercially run membership gym.
The former Community Hall and Social Club on the estate underwent conversion to a hall for hire, architects Studio Partington completed 2018. This invovled wholesale reconfiguration of the internal layout and alterations to elevations, especially at roof level.
Both the earlier work and that at Crescent House are clearly influenced by the work of Le Corbusier, an influence the architects were happy to acknowledge. Crescent House displays affinities with his Maisons Jaoul at Neuilly-sur-Seine while the maisonettes (with their open plan stairs and double-height stair spaces) are reminiscent of those at his Unité d'Habitation in Marseilles and elsewhere. The idea of an estate as urban microcosm is itself clearly traceable to the thinking of Le Corbusier, evidenced by the Unités and elsewhere. The detailing and finishes of the Golden Lane Estate do, however, differ substantially to those of Le Corbusier's work.
Listed Building status
Since 1997, the estate has been protected as a group of listed buildings of special architectural interest. The estate is listed at Grade II, except for Crescent House, which is listed at Grade II* in view of its importance as an example of post-war residential architecture. The estate has remained largely intact, despite undergoing a steady erosion of design detail. In 2006/2007, in part to address this erosion, Listed Building Management Guidelines were developed with Avanti Architects and a panel of residents and stakeholders to ensure the continued maintenance of the property. Though listing restricts owners' freedom to make modifications to their flats (under threat of criminal prosecution), values on the estate have followed others in the area in rising steadily since listing.
Nearby Rail & Tube
- Liverpool Street station
- Barbican Underground station
- Moorgate station
- Farringdon station
- Old Street station
- Chancery Lane station
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- Historic England. "Details from listed building database (1021943)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 16 April 2014.
- Historic England. "Details from listed building database (1021944)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 16 April 2014.
- Historic England. "Details from listed building database (1021941)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 16 April 2014.
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