Landscape to Churchill Gardens Estate
- Heritage Category:
- Park and Garden
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Statutory Address:
- Churchill Gardens Estate, Pimlico, London, SW1
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- Statutory Address:
- Churchill Gardens Estate, Pimlico, London, SW1
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Greater London Authority
- City of Westminster (London Borough)
- Non Civil Parish
- National Grid Reference:
Landscape associated with a large scheme of public housing, mainly flats, built by Powell and Moya for Westminster City Council in four main phases between 1947 and 1962. The landscape comprises a series of outdoor rooms, or public squares, within a grid of blocks of flats of various sizes.
Reasons for Designation
The landscape at Churchill Gardens, 1947-62, by Powell and Moya, is registered at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
Historic interest: * designed and laid out as part the first large-scale housing development in England after the Second World War; a scheme which pioneered the use of high-density mixed development within a carefully planned urban landscape.
* Landscaping: a series of informal gardens set within a formalised plan, blending traditional and modern materials; the landscape evokes historic garden squares as a complement to the progressive housing model of which it forms part; * Designers: the work of a pre-eminent architectural practice of the post-war period, integral to a key project of their early career.
* with the eight listed buildings which form part of the scheme.
Churchill Gardens is a large scheme of public housing, mainly flats, built by Powell and Moya for Westminster City Council in four main phases between 1947 and 1962.
In 1943 the Ministry of Health asked London authorities to produce a one-year plan for housing that could begin as soon as materials and labour became available. It was also the year of the County of London Plan, which identified Pimlico as a centre capable of housing a large population.
The County of London Plan caused Westminster to rethink their housing philosophy, which had been based on dispersal of population from the borough and the building of low-density houses and gardens. Instead of producing a one-year plan, it took a longer view. Consultant, W R Davidge, together with the borough engineer and Westminster councillors selected the area bounded by Grosvenor Road, Westmoreland Terrace, Lupus Street and Claverton Street as large enough to supply the borough's future housing needs. It included terraces that could be 'reconditioned' to serve another ten years, while larger areas of largely derelict warehousing and workshops were redeveloped in the interim. This redevelopment was to become Churchill Gardens, which not only marked the fundamental change in the City's housing philosophy, but in choosing to develop a single, very large site rather than undertake a number of piecemeal projects, Westminster differed markedly from other boroughs in the post-war period.
An open competition was held early in 1946, the first major one held in Britain after the war. The six premiated designs were divided equally between experienced practices and young talent. The latter won out. The winners were Philip Powell and John Hidalgo (Jacko) Moya, respectively 25 and 26-year old graduates from the Architectural Association who had produced a housing scheme for their final thesis in 1943. Unfit for war service, they had gone on to work on pre-fabricated housing for Frederick Gibberd, a pioneer in the design of mixed development housing schemes and the use of a brilliant colour palette on public housing. As soon as the war ended the pair claimed an outstanding AA travel scholarship to visit Rotterdam, and the first phase of Churchill Gardens owes something to van Tijen and Maaskant’s Plaslaan and Bergpolder flats of the 1930s there, as well to schemes by Otto Haesler in Karlsruhe and Celle from 1929. Other influences were Lubetkin and Tecton’s proposals for ‘working class flats’ in 1935 and a project by older AA students, ‘Tomorrow Town’ of 1937-8 – this last a major town planning scheme rather than a single block. The Westminster councillors were apparently delighted that their enlightened competition had given young architects such a break. On the strength of this win Powell and Moya established a private practice, in which they were joined by Philip's older brother Michael after his demobilisation. He left to work for the London County Council in 1950.
The proposed scheme – to be carried out in four phases – was to be predominantly for the ‘working classes' (1,661 flats), but two terraces overlooking the river were also built to let ‘at an economic rent', on the principle enshrined in the 1949 Housing Act that public housing was to be aimed no longer solely at the poor. The competition scheme was developed and a model was produced in 1947, the year work commenced. Between 1945 and 1947 the project changed in only one significant way, with the introduction of a district heating system; this was to take waste heat from Battersea Power Station across the river. Otherwise the only variations were to reprieve a school and pub in the centre of the site from demolition. Churchill Gardens Road, which runs through the estate, was devised to make a picturesque curve through the grid-like plan and deliberately kept as a quiet estate road. Set at 90 degrees to the road were blocks of between nine and eleven storeys, each slightly angled to give a view of the river. The parallel Grosvenor Road on the estate’s southern boundary, following the river, was lined with low blocks of maisonettes and with the middle-class terraces. In the deeper part of the site to the north of Churchill Gardens Road were set some four-storey blocks of maisonettes, whilst forming a barrier from Lupus Street was a line of seven-storey blocks containing maisonettes over shops.
Phase I was subdivided into two halves, covered in more detail below. Phases II and II are to the west and Phase IV is to the east of the site. This was the area where the existing terraces were retained for ten years before redevelopment; originally planned for blocks like Phase I, by 1957 the council recognised a need was for more smaller units aimed at pensioners. The lower snake-like block which resulted anticipates the movement towards lower but more continuous blocks fashionable in the 1960s, as seen at nearby Lillington Gardens, where Powell acted as the assessor to a competition in 1961.
Powell and Moya rarely used a landscape architect, preferring to do all the work themselves and favouring paving and grass over complex planting plans. Early on they worked with a former head gardener at Kew, who retired in the late 1960s. The landscape of Churchill Gardens has changed over time; the two original playgrounds were lost at an unknown date (very likely due to concerns about safety) and the planting in some of the gardens has evolved in accordance with new themes introduced by the residents’ association. Nevertheless the distinctive character of Churchill Gardens, in which the landscape plays a fundamental part, survives well.
(Sir) Arnold Joseph Philip Powell (1921-2003) was the son of a canon of Chichester Cathedral, and John Hidalgo (Jacko) Moya (1920-1994) the son of a Mexican violin maker and an English mother. From these very different backgrounds they met at the Architectural Association in 1939, part of an unusually close-knit group of talented students who trained there during the war. After the war they shared a house at 16 The Boltons, where they designed Churchill Gardens following their trip to Rotterdam. They won the competition for the ‘vertical feature’ at the Festival of Britain with Skylon in 1950, and supported themselves by teaching at Kingston School of Architecture until more jobs came their way. The success of Churchill Gardens led to a small scheme at Lamble Street, Gospel Oak, for St Pancras Borough Council, and they designed low-rise housing on the Hampshire/Berkshire borders and in Harlow.
It was an extension to Mayfield School, Putney, completed in 1956, that marked their breakthrough. It was well received by the client, being both cheap and practical, and it was acclaimed by the architectural press as marking a greater sophistication in their design work. Jacko Moya emerged as the key designer for one-off projects, while Powell focussed on the Westminster work and ran the office, although everything was jointly credited. They deliberately kept their practice small and their career turned in two directions, towards hospitals, where little of their work survives; and to work for Oxford and Cambridge colleges, where they became celebrated for inserting entirely modern yet sensitive new blocks behind and around the venerable old quadrangles. These blocks, and their entirely new Wolfson College, Oxford, constitute perhaps the finest body of post-war architecture in Britain. They also designed the Chichester Festival Theatre, completed in 1962 and a series of museums, of which the Christ Church Picture Gallery at Oxford and the Museum of London were realised. Powell & Moya have good claim to be the finest architects of their generation, and in 1974 they were collectively awarded the RIBA Royal Gold Medal for architecture, the first time that it was awarded to a practice rather than an individual. Powell went to serve on the Royal Fine Art Commission and as a trustee of Sir John Soane’s Museum, a modest and popular figure noted for his witty one-line remarks; knighted in 1974, he was made a companion of honour in 1985, the first architect to be given such an award.
Churchill Gardens is a large scheme of public housing, mainly flats, built by Powell & Moya for Westminster City Council in four main phases between 1947 and 1962. The landscape comprises a series of outdoor rooms, or public squares, within a grid of blocks of flats of various sizes. The estate road, Churchill Gardens Road, introduces a curving element to the picturesque plan. The architects devised the landscaping themselves. The earliest phase is mainly in the centre, around Chaucer, Coleridge, Keats and Shelley houses; then the architects worked from west to east before tackling Phase IV to the east in 1959-1962.
LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING Churchill Gardens is set close to a bend in the River Thames at the southern end of Pimlico and the City of Westminster. The site is almost entirely flat but with some of the gardens at the natural ground level, below that of the roads. The site comprises 31 acres, and has a 600-ft frontage to Grosvenor Road on its south side. It is bounded by Lupus Street to the north and west, with Claverton Street to the east. Churchill Gardens Road, a wholly new creation as part of the estate’s design, forms a curving spine through the estate, breaking up the grid of housing blocks.
ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES The main entrances are from the east and west along Churchill Gardens Road. At the east end, nearest Pimlico underground station, Moyle House forms a bridge over the road. From the east there is a secondary entrance along Johnson’s Place. From the north, the estate can be reached on foot through gaps between the blocks on Lupus Street, from east to west these blocks are: de Quincey, Littleton and Nash houses. From the south, the estate can be reached on foot through paths either side of Paxton and Telford terraces, and from paths by Keats and Shelley houses, all with distinctive round-topped concrete bollards to deter vehicles.
VIEWS The best views of the estate are from the trains in and out of Victoria Station, as they cross the river. The estate turns inwards to give an oasis of calm in busy central London, and views out are limited by the trees on the estate, but some flats (notably the south-facing ends of Keats and Shelley Houses) and the two terraces of houses enjoy views over the River Thames and there are glimpses of Battersea Power Station.
BUILDINGS PHASE I (listed at Grade II) The first block in the new estate to be completed was Chaucer House, officially opened by the Duchess of Marlborough on 24 July 1951. It is the only block with separate bin stores (also Grade II), the other blocks having internal rubbish shutes. Chaucer, Coleridge, Shelley (featuring a Festival of Britain plaque) and Keats Houses, all completed by 1951, are built of monolithic concrete with projecting glazed staircases. These long slab blocks are contrasted with a glazed circular accumulator tower (Grade II), originally used to store surplus hot water brought through an existing pipe from Battersea Power Station.
The first two blocks at the west end of the site, Gilbert House and Sullivan House, built in 1951-1954 with continuous access galleries facing Lupus Street, are a lighter and more economical design with a concrete frame that became a model for the housing in Phases II and III, and for the single block at Gospel Oak.
PHASE IB Begun in 1949 and completed by September 1952, comprised six four-storey blocks, again named after writers: Campbell, Hallam, Hawthorne, Jane Austen, and Marryat Houses with two tiers of maisonettes and Martineau House with two floors of old-people's bedsits on the lower levels. Also in this phase was De Quincey House, a seven-storey block on Lupus Street comprising maisonettes over a line of shops. This marks the first appearance of a cross-frame construction on the estate. These blocks also helped set the fashion for maisonettes. From this point on, Churchill Gardens began to fulfil the concept of mixed development so important in the 1950s.
PHASE II Began at the west end of the estate. It is largely formed of ten-storey blocks of cross-frame construction with brick end walls, and responded to Westminster's demands for smaller units. The plan was a reversion to the balcony-access flats popular in the pre-war period, which made for strong horizontals across one facade whilst the other was broken up by small individual balconies. The framed construction however gave scope for larger areas of glazing. Phase II comprises Gilbert, Sullivan, Sheraton and Chippendale Houses, completed in 1954-1955 along with the lower Elgar House, and Lutyens, Ripley and Wilkins Houses opened a year later. Nash House (completed in 1956) formed part of the rebuilding of Lupus Street and includes the estate office. Two terraces were built fronting the Thames, intended for let to middle-class households.
PHASE III The central section of the estate, its blocks named after judges and its rhythm interrupted by the retained St Gabriel’s School. It was substantially built in 1957-1959, though the library (now a toy library) was not completed and the scheme published until 1961. The original layout was modified to incorporate a square in the broad area between Chaucer and Blackstone houses. Churchill Square was intended for a market, but this idea was later withdrawn since tenants objected to outsiders being encouraged into the estate. More four-storey blocks (mainly maisonettes but with some bedsits) continues that begun behind Lupus Street in Phase IB. A later addition was the community centre, opened in 1970.
PHASE IV The narrow eastern section of the site, broke completely with the pattern of individual blocks built elsewhere. An amended scheme of October 1958 proposed a linked series of five-storey blocks of load-bearing construction and arranged as a series of open-ended squares. Rather than break the continuity of the buildings to allow the east-west estate road to pass through, one block was designed to form a bridge over the road, which further emphasised its private nature.
OLDER STRUCTURES St Gabriel’s Primary School was built as a Church of England school in 1861-1865, perhaps (suggests Simon Bradley in The Buildings of England) by Thomas Cundy III, with an annexe added in 1966-1969 and to the north a parish house of 1899-1901 by W. Campbell-Jones.
The Balmoral Castle Public House stood formerly on the corner of Rutland Road facing Belgrave Dock, which explains its shape, but now an isolated, boarded-up survivor from around 1855. Closed since 2006, Westminster City Council granted permission for housing on the site in August 2018, but it survives under scaffolding in April 2019.
LANDSCAPING Overall, the landscaping is characterised by a series of informal gardens interspersed between the housing blocks, reminiscent of London’s garden squares. Boundary treatments define the edges of the gardens without making them physically or visually impenetrable. Hard landscaping uses a mix of traditional and modern materials - yellow stock brick, concrete, granite setts and painted steel - introducing varied scale and texture to the public realm.
On the long entrance frontages of the taller blocks are beds of shrubs with some trees, bounded by a simple steel rail c15 inches (38cm) high. Larger fences, particularly where there is a change in level, are of similar square section steel but are about 40 inches high with a mid rail. To the rear are grassed areas with a greater variety of shrubs set within beds hedged around with box, trees and other facilities (as noted below) with dense shrubs close to the blocks. Trees include false acacia, chestnut, hornbeam, lime, Norway maple and whitebeam. The lower blocks have paving to the front and shared private grassed areas behind thick hedges to the rear.
PHASE I AND IB The corner where Chaucer House meets Churchill Gardens Road is paved with granite setts, as are the parking bays opposite, set between the two bin stores, and elsewhere in Phases I and IB of the estate. There are similar setts to the power house (accumulator tower) yard. Between Chaucer and Coleridge houses is a grassed area with shrubs set in beds hedged in box, separated from parking by a foot-high brick wall capped in concrete and crossed by diagonal paved paths within more 15” single rail fences that include set-back areas for bins and seats. The very low walls do enough to dissuade casual footfall across the grass without being forbidding.
A large, thick hedge between Keats and Shelley houses screens a playground, adjoining the early 1950s’ Churchill Youth Club. A low wall of stock brick capped with concrete bounds Grosvenor Road, the blocks set behind grassed areas planted with trees, with London plane trees outside the estate on Grosvenor Road itself. Between Chaucer and Bramwell houses a raised grassy bank with thick shrubs conceals a sunken ball court embanked by stock brick walls and a separate sunken sitting area with trees and patterned paving.
PHASE IB Has a large grassed square with beds of hedges and shrubs between Jane Austen, Marryat and Campbell houses, and a fenced games court behind Hallam House. Thick hedges conceal shared private lawns to the ground-floor units.
PHASES II AND III Originally featured dramatic children’s playgrounds between Anson and Ripley, and Chippendale and Gilbert houses, designed by the architects and featuring old traction engines supplied by the builders. Elements from the larger playground between Chippendale and Gilbert houses were recreated in foam as part of the RIBA’s Brutalist Playground exhibition in 2015. This now has high fencing above the stock brick walls, with a central mature evergreen in a paved surround, flowering trees and shrubs. There is a ball court between Chippendale and Lutyens houses, surrounded by stock brick walls and fencing, and on two sides by raised embankments with grass and shrubs. The square between Sheraton and Wilkins with low kidney shaped beds bounded by box hedges and filled with shrubs, with smaller areas similarly treated between Sullivan and Sheraton, Wilkins and Ripley houses. Behind Lupus Street, between Nash and Wedgwood houses there is a large area filled with trees, including chestnuts and whitebeam, and hedged private gardens to the maisonette blocks. The front of the tenants’ hall has a sloping embankment faced in bricks set on edge (a feature redolent of 1970), supporting a bank of grass, box hedges and roses.
CHURCHILL SQUARE Is rectangular, paved in brick and with a central sunken area reached down steps and containing seating. There are lines of trees on three sides, false acacia and whitebeam dominating, with walls and hedges to private gardens serving the low blocks Gifford, Langdale and Martineau houses on the fourth.
PHASE IV A narrow area of land where the various blocks form a single ‘S’-shaped unit. To north and south of Churchill Gardens is a large, almost entirely enclosed sunken square on the natural ground level (half a storey below street level). These are bounded by grass banks supported by concrete retaining walls that contain larger trees. On the north side stock-brick retaining walls capped in concrete break up the space, with smaller walls holding trees and one mature pre-1957 tree. The south side is similarly treated, but additionally features flowering shrubs, stepping stones and brick paved areas.
AWARDS The first four blocks and the accumulator tower won a Festival of Britain Merit Award in 1951. These five structures, plus Gilbert and Sullivan Houses at the west end of the estate, were listed in 1998. The whole estate was made a conservation area in 1990, having in 1962 won two Civic Trust awards, one for the buildings and one for the landscaping. In 2000 the Civic Trust voted Churchill Gardens the outstanding building scheme of the last forty years.
Books and journals
Harwood, E, Space, Hope and Brutalism, (2015), pp. 63-5
Pevsner, N, Bradley, S, The Buildings of England: London 6 Westminster, (2003), pp. 778-81
Powell, K, Powell & Moya, (2009), pp. 1-19
Harwood, E, 'Post-war Landscape and Public Housing' in Garden History, , Vol. 28, (Summer 2000), pp. 102-16
Churchill Gardens Conservation Area Documents, accessed 27 January 2020 from https://www.westminster.gov.uk/conservation-area-audits
Ian Nairn on Pimlico, accessed 27 January 2020 from https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-ian-nairn-1970-online
London Parks and Gardens Trust, London Gardens Online record, accessed 27 January 2020 from http://londongardensonline.org.uk/gardens-online-record.php?ID=WST019
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