Golden Lane Estate Designed Landscape
- Heritage Category:
- Park and Garden
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Statutory Address:
- Golden Lane Estate, London, EC1Y 0RD
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- Statutory Address:
- Golden Lane Estate, London, EC1Y 0RD
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Greater London Authority
- City and County of the City of London (London Borough)
- Non Civil Parish
- Greater London Authority
- Islington (London Borough)
- Non Civil Parish
- National Grid Reference:
Designed landscape at the Golden Lane Estate, by Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, designed and constructed between 1952 and 1962.
Reasons for Designation
The designed landscape at the Golden Lane Estate, by Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, designed and constructed between 1952 and 1962, is registered at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* the design makes clever use of complex levels left by buildings previously on the site, to create a series of intimate courtyards linked by pedestrian thoroughfares and features such as pools, the rotunda, and roof gardens. The planning is meticulous but varied, creating an intense urban setting, providing amenity and facilities for the residents; * the complex landscaping anticipates the use of levels, green space and hard features at Chamberlin Powell and Bon’s later landscape design at The Barbican, already registered at Grade II*.
* as an integral part of the estate’s design with the buildings and structures listed at Grade II and II*, also by Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, arguably one of the country’s most important early 1950s housing estates.
* despite some minor alterations the overall form and character of the landscape survives well.
The Corporation of the City of London built its first social housing in 1865. In 1945 it began a building programme to relieve slum clearance and to house those displaced by new developments, with priority given to key workers such as policemen, married nurses and caretakers. Most new building was in the suburbs, but it recognised that some new housing for these special groups was essential within the City itself, where the population had fallen from 100,000 in 1851 to 5,324 in 1951. The northern part of the City, Cripplegate Ward, had been devastated in the war, the warehouses of its garments district destroyed in the Blitz, leaving deep basements and piles of rubble, and a population reduced by 1951 to just 48.
In February 1951 the City secured 4.7 acres to the north on its boundary with the adjoining borough of Finsbury. Most of the houses had been destroyed and the site was being used as a tip for rubble. The Corporation’s Public Health Committee, chaired by Eric F Wilkins, organised an open competition in 1951 to build flats, a community centre and children’s playground.
Peter Chamberlin (1919-1979), Geoffry Powell (1920-1999) and Christoph Bon (1921-1999) were teaching at Kingston School of Architecture in 1951, where they were becoming increasingly frustrated with their old-fashioned head of school, Eric Brown. Powell suggested that they each submit an entry, to maximise their chances of winning, and they agreed to form a partnership if any of them won. There were 178 entries to the competition, the first for public housing in London since Churchill Gardens in 1945-1946, and in February 1952 Powell was declared the winner. He set the smallest flats in an eleven-storey tower, with larger flats and maisonettes in courtyards of three and six-storey blocks around it. He explained in 1999 that he deliberately made his estate look inwards, limiting views of the surrounding dereliction by facing the living rooms inwards, and used the excavations left by the deep warehouse basements to create sunken gardens and to tuck in community buildings and stores.
Geoffry Powell had studied at the Architectural Association with Philip Powell (no relation) and Jacko Moya, and in 1943 all three took jobs with their old tutor Frederick Gibberd, who combined architecture with planning and landscape design. Geoffry Powell stayed until 1946, and his winning scheme for Golden Lane was reminiscent of Gibberd’s estate of 1944-1949 at Somerford Grove, Hackney (altered). The central block provided an eye-catcher while closing vistas in the manner of Gordon Cullen’s contemporary ‘townscape’ studies, published in the Architectural Review from the late 1940s onwards and owing much to the idea of a sequence of views through squares first described by the Austrian Camillo Sitte in his book City Planning According to Artistic Principles, first published in 1889 and which appeared in English in 1945 (but which Gibberd had read in 1943).
These principles remained unchanged in the version of Golden Lane that was finally built, although the courtyards were enlarged and many amendments were made by the three partners before and during construction. Great Arthur House was made taller and in 1956 reached sixteen storeys, making it briefly the tallest public housing in London. The higher tower allowed for more open space. The site was extended to Baltic Street in November 1952 and to Goswell Road in May 1954. Hatfield House was added to the plan and later extended, while Cullum Welch and Crescent Houses, the last blocks built at Golden Lane, demonstrated a move in Chamberlin, Powell and Bon’s work towards a heavier aesthetic after 1955 that owes much to the work of Le Corbusier and in particular to the mix of exposed concrete and brick infill seen at his Maisons Jaoul near Paris of 1955. One block from the revised scheme of 1952-1953 was eliminated in favour of a badminton court, swimming pool and nursery, realised by Powell in 1960-1963.
At Golden Lane the spaces and the relationship between the blocks are designed. Chamberlin Powell and Bon (mainly Powell, who was an enthusiastic gardener) designed the planting schedules and landscaping themselves. They believed only strong, simple forms could survive, and that when looking down from the upper flats these would form part of the overall pattern of the estate. In 1957 Powell claimed that ‘there is no attempt at the informal in these courts. We regard the whole scheme as urban. We have no desire to make the project look like a garden suburb.'
The City Corporation faced a dilemma in 1955 when it considered whether to build offices or housing on the open war-damaged site to the south and, with the support of Eric Wilkins, Peter Chamberlin produced a first scheme for what became the Barbican, where the landscape is registered at Grade II*. Today the contrasting styles of Golden Lane and the Barbican illustrate the architectural development of Chamberlin, Powell and Bon through the whole history of the practice between 1952 and 1982.
In recent years, additional access ramps have been added to the west side of Cuthbert Harrowing House. The paving of the central area appears to have been replaced, as have a number of the trees. The sunken children's playground was reconfigured in 2017 and it is understood that a former shallow paddling pool to the rear of Hatfield house has been backfilled, although the circular stepping stones remain.
Landscape for housing estate designed in competition, 1951-1952, for the Corporation of the City of London, revised for an enlarged area from 1954 onwards after building began in 1953, completed 1962, architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon (CPB) who did the landscape work themselves. Powell was responsible for the lower-level planting, Chamberlin for the roof garden on top of Great Arthur House.
LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING The site is an intensely urban one on the fringe of the City between the Barbican and Clerkenwell Road, with buildings close to the road on three sides and only a little open space towards Fann Street to the south-west. The area to the east and north of the estate is now filled with social housing, mainly of the 1950s, with mixed office and residential use on the west side of Goswell Road. To the south of the area of assessment is the Barbican Estate (1963-1982) by the same architects. In between the two estates on Fann Street a former police section house of about 1960, Bernard Morgan House, was replaced by private flats in 2017-2018 but there survives the Jewin Welsh Church of 1956-61 by Caröe and Partners. At the time of inspection (January 2020) the site of workshops in the north-east corner of the estate (not listed) on Golden Lane is being developed for social housing. The boundary between the City of London and LB Islington ran through the Golden Lane Estate until 1994 when the whole estate was brought within the boundary of the City of London, who remain the freeholders.
The original site comprised 4.7 acres (1.9 ha) bounded by Golden Lane to the east and Fann Street to the south, extended northwards in 1952 to Baltic Street and in 1954 to Goswell Road making seven acres (2.83 ha) in total.
The natural ground level is flat. A mound of rubble on the site in 1952 was cleared by Finsbury MB to reveal deep basements from the buildings previously on the site, which informed the landscape design, including the use of levels for the landscape features across the site.
ENTRANCES and APPROACHES The principal entrances are from the south, where the estate opens out to Fann Street, which contains the main vehicle entrance between Cuthbert Harrowing and Bowater houses which leads to a small, paved surface car park. The ramped entrance to the below ground car park is to the north, adjacent to Hatfield House. Most pedestrians enter from the corner of Fann Street and Goswell Road, by the Shakespeare Public House, where the south-west courtyard of the estate opens onto the pavement. There is also access from Goswell Road, beneath the first floor of Crescent House, adjacent to the Shakespeare. There is a small pedestrian entrance at the corner with Golden Lane, partly concealed by later concrete screens, and two small entrances to the north at the corner of Goswell Road and on to Baltic Street at either end of Hatfield House. There is a second driveway north of Basterfield House, originally serving the demolished workshops.
Powell deliberately restricted views out of the site. He believed that the residents would not want to look at the surrounding bomb sites and war-damaged buildings, so turned the estate inwards. The roof of Great Arthur House has spectacular views across London in all directions, but access is limited.
PRINCIPAL BUILDINGS All the buildings on the site are separately listed, along with related sections of walls and raised pavements. Crescent House (flats, National Heritage List for England (NHLE) entry 1021941) including the ground floor shops and Shakespeare Public House is listed Grade II*; Hatfield House (maisonettes, NHLE entry 1021942) including the garden wall to the rear, the brick and concrete ramp to the underground car par and the service road to the shops are listed at Grade II; Basterfield House (maisonettes, NHLE entry 1021943), including the steps to the courtyard garden are listed at Grade II; Bayer House (maisonettes, NHLE entry 1021944) including the raised pavement on the north side and steps on the south side that lead to down to the pond garden, the decorative paviours set with planting and further steps to the community centre and pool are listed at Grade II; Great Arthur House (flats, NHLE entry 1021945) the List entry includes the roof garden and boiler house, is listed at Grade II; Stanley Cohen House (flats, NHLE entry 1021946) including the retaining walls to the estate fronting the estate are listed at Grade II; Bowater House (maisonettes, NHLE entry 1021947) the List entry includes the steps leading down to the garden, all listed at Grade II; Cuthbert Harrowing House (maisonettes, NHLE entry 1021948), the List entry includes the steps down to the garden and the access ramp to the underground car park, all at Grade II; Community Centre and pond surround (NHLE entry 1021949) includes the stepping stones, listed at Grade II, Recreation Centre and Tenants Hall (NHLE entry 1021950) listed at Grade II; Cullum Welch House (bedsits, NHLE entry 1021951) the List entry includes the underground car park and ventilation shafts above, the steps down from the courtyard to the games court and bin stores, all at Grade II; and the Bastion (NHLE entry 1021952) including the granite sett paving, seats, steps and ramp are all listed at Grade II. The names of the blocks are those of the streets that the estate replaced: Great Arthur, Bayer, Basterfield and Hatfield, or members of the City Corporation, including Sir Noel Vansittart Bowater, who laid the foundation stone in 1953. The early blocks are highly glazed and brightly coloured, with Great Arthur House clad in appropriately golden yellow curtain walling. Cullum Welch and Crescent houses mark CPB’s transition towards a tougher concrete aesthetic, and the higher grade for Crescent House reflects its influence on the later Barbican Estate, listed at Grade II.
The only landscape elements of the scheme which are not listed are: the south-west courtyard surface; the southern vehicular access from Fann Street and the central, surface vehicle car parking area; the paved courtyard areas south of Cuthbert Harrowing House and the grassed area south of Bowater House: the former children's play area; the paving and service road north of Basterfield House and the triangular paved area north of Hatfield House.
DESIGNED LANDSCAPE Geoffry Powell's original scheme comprised a series of sunken courtyards in each corner of the original site, with a broad entrance drive leading to a central piazza. This layout of four main squares essentially survives, but the scheme was revised and altered again as more land was added, with the main drive reduced and a circular bastion introduced as a terminating feature. The bastion is of reinforced concrete clad in granite blocks, with four trees on its raised platform and is separately listed. A ramp clockwise around the bastion leads down to an area of lawn, to the south of Basterfield House. A fenced, raised and paved walkway to the south is listed (north of Bayer House) and provides a pedestrian viewing point over the lawn and bastion.
A raised walk through the centre of the scheme, running north to south, forms a terrace to the pool (see below), leisure centre to the west and community hall to the east, and continues over the roof of the nursery/tenants’ hall to exit the street at the north-west corner of the site. The site is paved save where noted, with steel railings to the stairs, ramps and terraces.
The courtyard to the south-west entered from Fann Street or under Crescent House from Goswell Road is paved over basement parking, whence steps rise to Great Arthur House over basement storage/cycle sheds. The eight listed circular concrete ventilation shafts for the car park are symmetrically arranged, providing features of interest in this courtyard. To the south-east, a small area of grass and paving faces Fann Street at the lower-floor of the maisonettes of Bowater House, accessed by a ramp next to the vehicular access. Behind Bowater House the lattice screen of concrete blocks to Golden Lane was added in the early 1970s (not by CPB). It shields the most striking courtyard, where a ramp leads down to a grassed courtyard with rose beds, paths and a sunken pool outside the community centre crossed by stepping stones (the hard landscaping features are listed). On the north side steps and terracing serve the lower maisonettes of Bayer House.
To the north of Bayer house a fenced, raised and paved walkway to the south (and north of Bayer House) provides a pedestrian viewing point over the lawn and bastion. Basterfield House’s lawn, the largest grassed area, was planted with Powell’s one specimen poplar but has been replaced.
To the north-west, the largest open space was planned as a bowling green, to be substituted by hard tennis courts as built. The terrace on the north side incorporates an elliptical, walled children’s playground, with behind it an area given over to tiny allotments (the Golden Baggers) founded in 2010 using builders’ bags of soil, replaced by wooden boxes. A former shallow paddling pool which was part of the playground has been backfilled, although the circular stepping stones remain. The ground-floor flats of Hatfield House have small private gardens.
The roof of Great Arthur House was provided with a roof garden (listed) on three levels for the inhabitants of the upper floors to Chamberlin’s designs, the concrete with exposed aggregate and with steel railings. He planted trees (now gone) in inset tubs topped by circular patterns of paviours by the stairs, which lead to a paved roof garden, featuring a central shallow pool of red asphalt with stepping stones under a timber pergola, and via more stairs to a viewing platform beneath the curved water tank. The garden was closed in 1981 but the hard structures survive.
Books and journals
Harwood, E, Space, Hope and Brutalism, English Architecture 1945-79, (2015), 71-2
Harwood, E, Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, (2011), 27-45
Pevsner, N, Bradley, S, The Buildings of England: London 1: The City of London, (1997), 286
Powell, G, 'Golden Lane Housing Scheme' in Architect's Journal, , Vol. 72, no 811, (April 1957), 216
'Golden Lane' in Architects' Journal, , Vol. 115, no 2977, (20th March 1952), 538-62
Chamberlin, P, 'Architects Approach to Architecture' in RIBA Journal, , Vol. 76, (June 1969), 229-35
Golden Lane Estate Listed Building Management Guidelines., accessed 22/6/20 from https://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/services/environment-and-planning/planning/heritage-and-design/listed-buildings/Pages/Golden-Lane-Listed-Building-Management-Guidelines.aspx
Interview by Elain Harwood and Kenneth Powell with Geoffry Powell and Christoph Bon, 6 January 1999
This garden or other land is registered under the Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act 1953 within the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens by Historic England for its special historic interest.
End of official listing