Timeline 1940 – 1959 for the Barbican Estate

29th December 1940. In a single night of incendiary bombing, every street from Moorgate to Aldersgate Street, covering thirty five acres, was destroyed. St Giles Cripplegate was burnt out, with only the walls and tower remaining standing. By the end of the war, the area of devastation in the City included a much wider area to the south and east of Barbican itself. For nearly two decades, Barbican was simply a huge adventure playground for East End children. Something had to be done with it, but what?

1944 Greater London Plan. The blueprint for a post-war London was the 1944 Greater London Plan prepared by Sir Patrick Abercrombie. One of its central assumptions was that people should live in garden suburbs and commute to work. As a result, there was an inbuilt bias against large residential developments in the City.

1944 Improvements and Town Planning Committee report. But the City was edging in another direction. In 1944 the Improvements and Town Planning Committee of the Corporation of London delivered a report titled “Proposals for Post War Reconstruction in the City of London” to the Common Council. They struck a different note: “It might be advantageous to be prepared to allocate some definite areas for residential development… Areas which at the moment offer possibilities in this direction are in Cripplegate and towards the Tower of London.

However, when in the same year the City of London Reconstruction Advisory Council asked the Corporation of London directly if it proposed a new residential scheme, the City’s carefully Delphic reply was: “No area is zoned primarily for residential accommodation in the present preliminary proposals.”

1947 Holden-Holford report. Planning consultants Holden and Holford, working with the City Planning Department, presented a blueprint to the Court of Common Council for reconstruction of the City. It led to much of the subsequent building of monstrous concrete areas, often regrettable, such as Paternoster Square (now mercifully dismantled).

1947. The Town and Country Planning Act 1947 established the need for planning permission for any land development. Planning authorities had to submit comprehensive development plans for approval to the Minister for Housing and Local Government. The Minister had the right to rule on applications himself.  It gave compulsory purchase powers to planning authorities.

1948. Aneurin Bevan, the Labour Party Minister for Housing and Local Government, refused planning permission for a development of Bridgwater Square into 275 dwellings because the Ministry felt that housing development should be closer to the existing housing of Finsbury, not isolated in the bombed out area of the City.

10 July 1952. The Court of Common Council asked the Public Health Committee to report on the decline in the resident population in the City and what should be done about it. This was initiated by Mr Deputy Instone (Captain Alfred Instone) who was mainly concerned about the decline in the number of voters. In 1851 the resident population of the parish of St Giles church had numbered 13,361; in 1951 the resident population of the parish was 28. Eric Wilkins, chairman of the Public Health Committee, voiced the fears of many councillors that the decline in population would lead to the City losing its MP.

8 October 1953. The Court of Common Council minutes record that Harold Macmillan, the new Conservative Minister of Housing and Local Government, wrote to the Lord Mayor saying: “This is the greatest and most pressing of our social needs today … House production must be increased as rapidly as the resources of material and labour will allow … In addition, you will make the necessary plans for an expanding programme over the next three years.”

16 April 1953. Public Health Committee report. The Public Health Committee reported to the Court of Common Council that the only way to increase the resident voter population would be if private developers could be persuaded to construct housing accommodation in the City. But they had to report that there was no likelihood of that, and in fact they could not think of any ‘practical inducement’ to make developers interested in such a project. They did not even feel able to recommend that the City Corporation should itself undertake the development of further land in the City for housing. There was just not the demand.

[Unknown date] 1953. That conclusion was also reiterated by the Special Committee to whom the Court had referred it. (Later they justified this defeatist view, unconvincingly, on the basis of the hostility of the government to housing in the City as evidenced by the refusal to confirm a compulsory purchase order to allow the development of a housing estate in Bridgwater Square – but that had been in 1948 and by a Labour Government.)

1953. Legislation was under discussion which would have made the size of the resident electorate the crucial issue for the continued existence and powers of local authorities.

[Unknown date] 1954. The ‘New Barbican Committee’, as they called themselves, were proposing their own scheme for the development of the war-ravaged area of which the Barbican was part. (This was not a committee of the City Corporation at all but a pressure group of mainly private architects set up under the chairmanship of Sir Gerald Barry, a newspaper editor and organiser of the Festival of Britain.)

1954 Kadleigh plan. The New Barbican Committee commissioned their own plan from a firm of architects, Kadleigh, Horsburgh & Whitfield. ‘The Kadleigh plan’ covered an area of about 40 acres. The plan was for a complex of factories, warehouses, offices, rising 45 feet above ground level from a base 60 feet below ground level. It sounds distinctly dystopian. It was proposed that the City Corporation should buy out the owners of all the land in the area covered by the plan and grant a building lease of 120 years to the New Barbican Committee so that they could parcel out land to prospective developers.

12 November 1954. The Improvements and Town Planning Committee gave their views to the Court of Common Council on the gloomy Kadleigh plan which the New Barbican Committee were putting forward for outline planning permission. The committee opposed it in principle because they thought the result would be buildings of excessive density, lacking in amenities and natural daylight; and they weren’t satisfied that there would be sufficient demand for the newly created space to ensure that the scheme would be economically sound. Their technical spoke-in-the-works was to point out that the application could not be dealt with in the absence of an Industrial Development Certificate from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. This was one of the rare occasions when the Improvements and Town Planning Committee got it right. (They were too often easing the passage of approvals for post-War monstrosities in the City.)

7 March 1955. The Board of Trade issued the Industrial Development Certificate which was the necessary precondition for the grant of planning permission for the Kadleigh plan.

24 May 1955. The Improvements and Town Planning Committee repeated their opposition to the Kadleigh plan in a report to the Court of Common Council. Planning permission was subsequently refused, and the refusal was upheld in a planning appeal to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government.

1955 Martin-Mealand scheme. But only one head of the Hydra had been cut off. Another now sprouted in its place. This was a scheme for the comprehensive redevelopment of much of the war-damaged City proposed by H.A. Mealand, who was the City’s own head of planning, and Leslie Martin, the head of planning at the London County Council. Its most striking feature was a series of huge office towers constructed along either side of “Route 11” – the future road now known as London Wall. Any housing would be purely incidental.

Spring 1955. Meanwhile, another grouping had been forming within the City Corporation. These were people in favour of a full-scale residential development of the Barbican area and against the business focus of the Martin-Mealand scheme. This grouping appeared to coalesce round the Town Clerk’s Department. The Town Clerk drew the Special Committee’s attention to the Government’s new emphasis on the need for a resident population/electorate to justify the continued existence of a local authority, and the ever-continuing decline in the number of resident voters in the City’s boundaries. The Special Committee gave the Town Clerk permission to explore ways to remedy the problem. The Town Clerk turned to Chamberlin Powell & Bon, who were already embroiled in the Golden Lane Estate development just north of the Barbican area, to advise on what could be done to materially increase the resident population in the City.

3 June 1955. Chamberlin Powell & Bon’s 1955 report. Chamberlin Powell & Bon reported on 3 June 1955. Their conclusion was that in the land available in the Barbican was large enough to create a viable residential community of about 7,000 people. They included a quite detailed proposal.

September 1955. Duncan Sandys, the Minister of Housing and Local Government, wrote to the annual conference of the Association of Municipal Corporations pressing for more residential development in cities.

27th October 1955. A ‘conference’ of the Special Committee, the Improvements and Town Planning Committee and the Public Health Committee was convened ostensibly to consider the relative merits of the Chamberlin Powell and Bon 1955 scheme and the Martin Mealand scheme as they related to the Barbican area north of Route 11. But the conference was fixed; only the Martin Mealand scheme was open for discussion.

3 November 1955. This brought the conflicts within the City out into the open. Eric Wilkins, the chief advocate of a residential future for the Barbican area, made a blistering speech to the Court of Common Council. He criticised the Improvements and Town Planning Committee, the main proponents of the Martin Mealand proposal, who he described as “this hard-working and over-worked committee which has brought down upon the Corporation and itself such a welter of public criticism. I need only cite Bucklersbury House and the precinct of St Paul’s Cathedral”. He demanded that the Chamberlin Powell and Bon proposal should be looked at equally with the Martin Mealand proposal and he proposed a motion that the City Corporation could adopt a plan “providing for the harmonious integration of all the needs of the Corporation”. (Subtext: not an establishment stitch-up pushing the interests of private developers.)

1955 Holford Mealand scheme. There were also existence an outline proposal, known as the Holford Mealand scheme. This is referred to in passing in Special Committee reports.

17 November 1955. Eric Wilkins amended his motion to clarify the precise extent of the area of land being considered for residential development in the Chamberlin Powell and Bon report. I would guess that the Improvements and Town Planning Committee, who had seen off (for a time) the Kadleigh proposal by the technical objection about the Industrial Development Certificate, were now trying the same trick by objecting that Mr Wilkins’ motion was too vague.

November 1955. The crucial meeting of the City’s Court of Common Council took place to decide whether to take the matter further or to drop the idea of a residential development. Eric Wilkins, the tireless advocate of a residential scheme, proposed the motion to develop the Barbican area in accordance with the Chamberlin, Powell & Bon scheme. After two hours of arguing, the Lord Mayor, Sir Cuthbert Ackroyd, put the matter to a vote on a show of hands. Sir Cuthbert counted the hands and declared the motion lost. One of the members demanded a formal count. This came out at 69-67 in favour of the motion. The Barbican scheme was officially launched. It was not until some hours later that it was discovered that, by mistake, three of the tellers had been counted as councillors. In fact, the motion had not passed at all; it had been lost by one vote. But it was too late. The embarrassing fact was hushed up and the scheme was allowed to proceed.

1 December 1955. The Court of Common Council decided to seek more detailed information and authorised the Special Committee to seek professional advice about the development of the Barbican area.

December 1955. The Special Committee instructed Chamberlin, Powell and Bon to prepare a scheme for development of the non-commercial part of the Barbican area (that is to say, stopping at London Wall). They were also also to consider whether the need for residential development could be met by using 15 acres of land which was not included in the commercial and industrial development in the Martin Mealand scheme. Otherwise, they should try to integrate with the proposals in the Martin Mealand scheme for the projected business area outside the Barbican (basically, from London Wall to Guildhall).

31 May 1956. Chamberlin Powell & Bon’s 1956 report. Chamberlin Powell and Bon produced their report, which was accompanied by a large scale model. The Court of Common Council referred the report for consideration to the Special Committee in conjunction with the Improvements and Town Planning, Public Health, City of London Schools, and Music Committees. That would be unwieldy so the committees appointed small deputations from each to form the “Working Party”, as it was called. The Working Party instructed Chamberlin, Powell and Bon to report further on some aspects of their scheme and to prepare a complete financial forecast.

28 August 1956. The Government put its weight behind the residential bandwagon. Duncan Sandys, the Minister of Housing and Local Government, wrote to the Lord Mayor strongly supporting residential development in the City. “I am convinced that there would be advantages in creating in the City a genuine residential neighbourhood, incorporating schools, shops, open spaces and other amenities, even if this means forgoing a more remunerative return on the land.”

26 October 1956. The Improvements and Town Planning Committee informed the Working Party that they favoured the adoption of the Martin Mealand proposals.

October 1956. Supplementary report by Chamberlin Powell and Bon concerned largely with the financial implications of their proposals.

19 March 1957. The Coal and Corn and Finance Committee passed resolutions in favour of moving the City of London School for Girls and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama to suitable sites in the Barbican area, and in favour of the City of London School (for boys) remaining where it was. The City of London Schools committee agreed, as did the Music Committee. [The Coal and Corn and Finance Committee?! … The City Corporation displays the best British tradition for endlessly adapting whatever works, rather than needlessly starting afresh with anything.]

March 1957. Supplementary report by Chamberlin Powell and Bon concerned with further financial estimates for relocating the schools.

2 April 1957. The City planning officer submitted a report to the Special Committee setting out details of the Martin Mealand scheme.

April 1957. Supplementary report by Chamberlin Powell and Bon concerned with the schools and the possibility of an alternative site for an office development in the area immediately south of Barbican and east of Aldersgate Street.

5 June 1957. Meeting between the Minister of Housing and Local Government (the Right Honourable Henry Brooke MP) and a deputation from the City Corporation. As a result, the Ministry wrote to the Lord Mayor on 11 June 1957: “The Minister expressed his interest in the schemes and it is his belief that the creation of a genuine residential neighbourhood in this part of London would be of the greatest value to the proper planning of the area. … He was inclined in principle to prefer the Chamberlin Powell and Bon scheme for the Barbican area, which provided more residential accommodation and seemed to him to give a greater sense of the real residential neighbourhood.”

19 July 1957. The City Corporation received two letters from the Ministry, confirming that planning grants would be made available to the City for the proposed residential scheme.

26 July 1957. The Special Committee reported to the Court of Common Council with their recommendations for the redevelopment of the Barbican area. They recommends that the 25.05 acres south of Beech Street as far as London Wall should be developed as a genuine residential neighbourhood and should include new homes for the City of London School for Girls and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. They recommended that the 10.13 acres north of Beech Street as far as the Golden Lane Estate should also be considered for inclusion in the development at a later stage. They recommended refusal of the Martin Mealand scheme so far as it related to those two Barbican areas. (It was still under consideration for other areas such as the area from London Wall to Guildhall). Finally, the Special Committee recommended setting up a new City committee dedicated to overseeing the residential development, to be called the ‘Barbican Committee’.

19 September 1957. The Court of Common Council approved the recommendation of the Special Committee that the Barbican area should be developed as a residential estate. They also made a policy decision that the flats should be aimed at middle and higher income groups.

3 October 1957. The Court of Common Council appointed the Barbican Committee.

27 November 1957. The Barbican Committee reported to the Court of Common Council and asked for authority to spend money. To explain this, let me first outline the background to this. The Special Committee had recommended residential development of the Barbican in principle, but with the important proviso that the City should only commit once it had been demonstrated that there would be demand from prospective tenants for the new flats. It would be too early to do this until the scheme had been worked out in every detail including include details of what would be in the North Barbican, so that prospective tenants would know exactly what the ultimate layout of the entire area would be like.  Being cautious, they also recommended that when detailed plans for the development had been prepared, a detailed prospectus about the scheme and the type of accommodation to be available and the rents proposed to be charged should all be put in a prospectus which will be given to the big employing authorities and agencies in the city and the public at large to attempt to assess what demand there would be at that level. Only if the demand was proved to be there, should the City go forward with the scheme. The town clerk therefore felt that it was necessary to obtain further reports from professional advisers to create a revised scheme so that town planning approval could be obtained together with financial estimates, with a view to then issuing a prospectus. The town clerk also pointed out that the Court of Common Council had not given the Barbican Committee any specific authority for expenditure. So, the Barbican committee recommended that the advice of outside consultants should be sought. Since Chamberlin Powell and Bon already had considerable experience of the problems inherent in the creation of a residential neighbourhood in the Barbican area, and had already done considerable work on a possible scheme, the Barbican Committee recommended that Chamberlin Powell and Bon should be engaged to undertake the job. (However, it was by no means plain sailing for Chamberlin Powell and Bon; there was a proposal to bring in William Holford to advise in place of Chamberlin Powell and Bon but it was defeated.)

Unknown date 1957. The scheme did not proceed without regular bouts of controversy and argument. At a meeting of the Common Council in 1957, the forces for and against a residential development, were exactly evenly balanced. Then Captain Alfred Instone (see 10 July 1952 above) stood up to announce that, after many reservations, he now supported the residential scheme. No sooner had he spoken than he stopped and said: “I’m not feeling my best today”. He sat down, collapsed, and died before reaching hospital (and before being able to cast his vote).

Unknown date 1957. Also in 1957, Eric Wilkins, the Chairman of the Barbican Committee, who had proposed the original motion for the residential scheme and fought for it ever since had a heart attack, caused by the strain of the battle, and died. He was replaced as Chairman by Alderman Gilbert Inglefield.

Early 1958. Chamberlin Powell and Bon agreed to carry out further work on the design of an estate and to make estimates of cost and income. But the City emphasised that this was a limited assignment and did not commit the City to instructing the firm to be the architects overseeing the construction of the estate. Chamberlin Powell and Bon were to be paid 40,000 guineas up to the issuing of the prospectus. If they were engaged to do detailed recommendations after the prospectus, they would be entitled to a further fee of up to 40,000 guineas. On these terms, Chamberlin Powell and Bon carried out detailed work on the project

20 June 1958. Chamberlin Powell and Bon reported on block layouts. They commented on the principles they were adopting, which were as follows. Concentration of the flats in compact blocks so that as much as possible of the ground between the buildings could be laid out as open space. The siting of garages at basement, ground and first floor levels under terraces or blocks of flats, accessible from service roads. Most of the blocks of flats to be limited to a uniform height above ground level of about eight stories. The height of the three towers to echo the height of the commercial tower planned on the north-east corner of the site at the top end of Moor Lane. It was envisaged at this stage that a lending library, as recommended by the library committee, should occupy space under one of the blocks of flats, and there were also plans for a swimming pool. The three architects must have been exhilarated by the opportunity which had landed in their laps, and they may have become just a little light-headed while writing their report. “The basic form of the layout follows the historical precedent to be found in urban planning of grouping buildings flanking the sides of clearly defined open spaces, dating from the Greek agora and repeated in the Roman forums, the piazzas, plazas and places of Renaissance Europe up to the squares still such a familiar feature of London.

June 1958. The City Corporation had made an application to the London County Council for outline planning permission. The purpose was to discover what general requirements the LCC would impose on any development. Outline planning permission was granted in June 1958. A number of important conditions were imposed. The permitted density of housing was reduced from 300 to 230 persons per acre. 1.5 acres of open space per 1,000 residents had to be included in the development. The railway cutting had to be covered over. Satisfactory provision for car parking had to be provided. The north Barbican area (north of Beech Street) was zoned for commercial development, not residential, so the Corporation had also applied for outline planning permission for conversion of that area to residential use, and that was also granted.

28 May 1959. Chamberlin Powell and Bon’s 1959 report. This was the seminal report by Chamberlin Powell and Bon in relation to the proposed redevelopment of the Barbican area, and the result of all the consultations and refinements of earlier ideas and reports. It is not the final version of the Barbican estate, but it is the version on which the go-ahead button was pressed for the creation of the estate.

21 September 1959.  The Barbican Committee put forward Chamberlin Powell and Bon’s 1959 report to the Court of Common Council for approval. But there were issues. First and foremost, there was to be a north-south road in a box running diagonally through the estate along the route of lower Whitecross Street and Redcross Stgreet. Mercifully, that was later dropped. The Police Commissioner was pressing for pedestrian-traffic segregation to be taken to the extent that the surrounding roads could not be used at all for pedestrians. The compromise was to have pavements on London Wall but to make them unattractively narrow and only really for use in breakdowns. Interestingly, it was not a given that the development would be carried out by the City Corporation itself. Serious consideration was given to allowing outside private development companies to construct the residential terrace and tower blocks. But it was concluded that the overlap with public areas and facilities was too complicated to make that feasible. So the recommendation was for the City to carry out the development, for the Barbican Committee to be directly responsible while reporting back to the Court of Common Council and other relevant committees when necessary.