Coordinates: 51°31′20″N 0°05′44″W / 51.5223°N 0.0956°W / 51.5223; -0.0956

Great Arthur House, at the centre of the Golden Lane Estate, was the tallest residential building in Britain at the time of its construction

The Golden Lane Estate is a notable 1950s council housing complex in the City of London. It was built on the northern edge of the City, in an area devastated by bombing during World War II.


The location of the Golden Lane Estate

The proposal for a residential site to the north of Cripplegate, followed devastation of much of the City of London in the Blitz during World War II. Following almost complete destruction in the Blitz, 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.[citation needed] The partnership of Chamberlin, Powell and Bon was formed when Geoffry Powell won the competition to build the estate on 26 February 1952.[1] 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.[citation needed]


Basterfield House

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.[2] The estate was commissioned and paid for by the City of London, who still own the freehold 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.[3] 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. This last was completed in 1962.[citation needed]


A documentary 'Top People' outlining the development of the area was made by the Rank Organisation as one of its 'Look at Life' documentaries.[4]

When completed the estate attracted even more publicity than the architectural competition, being viewed as a symbol of post-war recovery.[citation needed] It was widely photographed and written about,[citation needed] also featuring in various newsreel reports.[citation needed]


Crescent House, with the Barbican Estate in the background

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.[citation needed] 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,[citation needed] 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.[5]

Roof garden

The roof garden of Great Arthur House has views of St Paul's Cathedral, the Barbican Estate and over North London. It extends to three stories high, making a virtue out of the lift winding gear and tank housing. It makes the most of the small footprint of this 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 as recreational space, but has been closed for more than a decade for health and safety reasons.

A model for social housing & urban living

One of the smaller blocks

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 schemes to repair the leaking curtain walls of Great Arthur House John Robertson Architects was finally selected by tender to restore Great Arthur House, which dates from 1959. The project includes external redecorations, the complete replacement of the curtain wall system with a near facsimile to higher thermal performance, and concrete repairs.[6] The cost to leaseholders is expected to be at least £65,000 per flat.This project is claimed to be the first of several such major restorations to address the poor thermal efficiency of the estate and to address a substantial maintenance backlog.

Corbusian influences

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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

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,[7][8][9] except for Crescent House, which is listed at Grade II* in view of its importance as an example of post-war residential architecture.[10] 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.[citation needed] 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


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