The building site

“The site at the moment has the appearance of a desert, laid waste during the war, traversed by the pattern of the still existing roads.”

Chamberlin, Powell & Bon, Architects “Barbican Redevelopment” April 1959

The site is shown on the plan on the right which gives the pre-War road layout – a typical decaying industrial warehouse area. The site was 37.5 acres (15.2 hectares) in size. It consisted of all the land bounded by Aldersgate Street to the west; London Wall, Wood Street and Fore Street to the south; Moor Lane, Silk Street and Whitecross Street to the east and north-east; and by Red Lion Market (which no longer exists), Cripplegate Institute (now occupied by UBS) and Fann Street to the north. The Corporation had to pull down remaining buildings, remove nearly every existing road on the site, as well as most of the sewers, gas and water mains, electricity and telephone conduits.

Most of the demolition work was performed by the Luftwaffe, who levelled most of the site in a single night of incendiary bombs in 1940. The buildings which survived the bombing were St Giles’ Church, the London Fire Brigade station in Redcross Street, the Parcels Depot between Redcross and Whitecross Streets, the City Greenyard next to Whitecross Street, a London Electicity Board transformer station in Beech Street and a scattering of old buildings, some of which were still occupied in the early 1960s. The remaining buildings were all compulsorily acquired and knocked down, except for the church which became a centrepiece in the development.

As Chamberlin Powell and Bon described the situation in their 1959 report to the Court of Common Council:

Much demolition work is still required to prepare the site for development. … Many redundant small streets cross the site; they are supported on basement retaining walls and brick vaulting which will need to be cleared.

One unfortunate occurrence was that, before the Corporation had made its mind up to include the area north of Beech Street in the development, they had given permission for the construction of Murray House in Beech Street. As a result, the podium behind Ben Jonson House has to take an awkward leap round this particularly wretched building, designed by Frank Scarlett and completed in 1958.

The site clearance work was awarded to Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd in 1962. Using a fleet of tractor shovels they cleared over 150,000 cubic yards of bombed ruins at a rate of over 4, 000 square yards a day.