Timeline: construction of the Barbican Estate

[I don’t have exact dates or months for many of the events that occurred during this construction period. In those cases, I have put events in the best order I can figure out.]

May 1960. Chamberlin Powell and Bon were finally confirmed as the architects overseeing the construction of the Barbican buildings. They had so far only been engaged to make recommendations. Even in May 1960 the appointment was made with the reservation that other architects could be brought in to design the schools if the relevant committees were not happy with Chamberlin Powell and Bon’s plans.

1960. Ove Arup and Partners were appointed as structural engineers for the construction of the Barbican estate.

1961. Construction of a new electricity substation began; also initial work on re-positioning and covering the railway lines. The start of work was delayed by the need to a find a new home for a temporary parcels depot.

February 1961. It was agreed to name the blocks after historical figures associated with the Ward of Cripplegate Without. (‘Without’ meaning the part of historic Cripplegate which was outside the City’s walls in times long past.)

1962. McAlpine moved a fleet of tractor shovels onto the Barbican site and cleared over 150,000 cubic yards of ruined buildings at a rate of over 4, 000 square yards a day.

1962. The podium was declared a public highway. Some final changes to the scheme were approved. The Guildhall School, concert hall and theatre were combined. This involved the loss of some planned terrace flats. To compensate for that loss of potential income, additional flats were created by adding three storeys to the towers, and a terrace of ‘houses’ (the Postern) was created under the podium on the south side of the bridge over the lake to include the vicarage of the St Giles’ church and other useful service providers.

April 1962. J Jarvis and Sons Limited won the Phase I contract to build the Public Services building (Milton Court) for £467, 250.

May 1962. The details of the development depended on bye-law (building regulation) approval from the London County Council. The LCC objected to internal kitchens. The London County Council had recently passed bye-laws requiring all kitchens to have windows or equivalent ventilation.  This was a major problem since the Barbican kitchens had deliberately been designed without windows, except some of the studio flats. A mock up was built in Chamberlin Powell and Bon’s offices in Little Britain in December 1961. Committee members from the LCC and the City were invited to lunch. The dispute was resolved by a typical ‘fudge’. The glazed hatch partition between the kitchen and living room was reduced to counter height, making the two spaces more closely integrated. What had previously been called ‘kitchens’, now became ‘cooking areas’ and part of the living room for the purpose of the regulations. The designs were then passed by the London County Council.

Late 1962. Turriff got the Phase II contract for £6,000,000, undercutting Trollope and Colls and John Laing. Phase II covered the western section of the South Barbican area. This meant Lauderdale Tower,  the group of terraces round Thomas More Gardens including Thomas More House, Defoe House, Lambert Jones Mews and Seddon House; and it also included the City of London Girls School and extended further south to Mountjoy House, and The Wallside and Postern group of terraces.

September 1963. The first concrete was poured on the Barbican site as Turriff began work on their portion of the estate.

March 1964. John Laing Construction Limited were awarded a five-year contract to carry out Phase III for just under £6,000,000. The City did not want to risk having to rely solely on Turriff. Phase III was broadly the mirror of Phase II but in the east. It included one tower – Cromwell Tower – and a group of terraces around the east end of the lake and garden: Speed House, Willoughby House, Brandon Mews, Andrews House and Gilbert House.

November 1964. Myton Limited, a subsidiary of Taylor Woodrow, won a three-year contract to build Phase IV at a price of  £5,581,022.  There were six tenders. The highest was £6,360,640; Myton were almost £300,000 lower than its nearest competitor, Trollope and Colls. Phase IV comprised the North Barbican area (north of the three towers and Beech Street).

1964. Mowlem won the limited contract for clearing and pile the site for £220,801. They did not bid for the main Phase IV contract.

[1964?]. John Laing Construction Limited won the contract for Phase V which included the Arts complex and related buildings: the Barbican Arts Centre itself, Frobisher Crescent, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. (I don’t have details of this contract.)

[1964?]. Phase Va (in reality, phase 6) was just one building: Shakespeare Tower. The contract was awarded to Sir Robert McAlpine and Sons Limited. (I don’t have details of this contract.)

September 1965. There was a strike at the Turriff site to protest against non-union labour being used. The strike spread when Turriff tried to introduce require workers to sign a declaration that they would never strike, work-to-rule, or refuse to do overtime. Other sites struck in protest. The strike was made official. Turriff eventually backed down.

1966. Public Services Buildings (later named Milton Court) was completed by Jarvis.

May 1966. On the Myton site there was a work to rule by scaffolders over changes to the bonus system. Myton responded by sacking three steelfixers. This caused an all-out strike. The workers agreed to return, but Myton shut the whole site down and gave redundancy notices to the entire workforce.  After six weeks Myton offered to reopen the site and re-employ everyone except the six works committee members who were leading the disputes. The workforce refused. The strike was not backed by the official unions. The Government set up a court of enquiry under the Industrial Courts Act.

June 1967. The official enquiry, which included the engineering union leader, put the blame entirely on the works committee and backed Myton’s refusal to re-employ them. The workforce rejected the result. Myton and trade union leaders then placed an advert in national newspapers denouncing the strike and the strike leaders.

November 1967. The workforce finally gave in and Myton’s Barbican site opened for work again. The six shop stewards who led the struggle remained sacked.

1968. Myton threatened to walk off the Barbican site unless the City paid more money. They claimed the work was far more complex than shown in the documents on which they had based their tender. Again, they issued redundancy notices to their workforce to put pressure on the City. The City agreed to a 25% increase in the contract sum and the redundancy notices were withdrawn.

1969. City of London Girls School was completed by Turriff.

July 1969. Speed House was completed by Laing.

August 1969. Gilbert House was completed by Laing.

November 1969. Andrews House and Brandon Mews were completed by Laing.

1970. McAlpine attempted to introduce non-union labour onto their site, but this was successfully defeated by the workforce.

March 1971. Wallside and The Postern were completed by Turriff.

March 1971. Turriff cut bonus payments to its workforce, blaming the City for falling behind on payments. Disputes commissions found in favour of the workers. The workforce went on strike when Turriff still did not pay the bonuses. The workers returned to work quickly, but there were further issues about bonus payments. In the end, Turriff were allowed to get out of the contract without completing their buildings and they were replaced by John Laing Construction Limited.

April 1971. Mountjoy House was completed by Turriff. (This was the last building entirely constructed by Turriff. The rest of their phase was completed by Laing.)

April 1971. Willoughby House was completed by Laing.

October 1972. John Trundle Court was completed by Myton.

November 1972. Breton House was completed by Myton.

December 1972. Bunyan Court was completed by Myton.

January 1973. Cromwell Tower was completed by Laing.

February 1973. Bryer Court was completed by Myton.

March 1973. Ben Jonson House was completed by Myton.

September 1973. Thomas More House was completed by Laing (after taking over from Turriff).

December 1973. Defoe House was completed by Laing (after taking over from Turriff).

1973. YMCA Hostel (now Blake Tower) was completed by Myton.

February 1974. Lambert Jones Mews was completed by Laing (after taking over from Turriff).

May 1974. Seddon House was completed by Laing (after taking over from Turriff).

October 1974. Lauderdale Tower was completed by Laing (after taking over from Turriff).

February 1976. Sir Robert McAlpine and Sons Limited completed Shakespeare Tower.

May 1976. There was a two week all-out strike on the Barbican Centre site because of Laing’s refusal to remove asbestos from the site. They had workers sweeping it up.

1977. Guildhall School of Music and Drama was completed by Laing.

1982. Barbican Centre was completed by Laing. The final cost was £159,000,000 – more than ten times the original tender price of £14,000,000.

1982? Frobisher Crescent was completed by Laing. Frobisher Crescent was always intended as a shopping mall containing 16 or more shops with flats above. The City didn’t attempt this in the end. Instead they let if as office facilities for the City University.

3 March 1982. The Queen officially opened the Barbican Centre. She called it ‘one of the wonders of the modern world’.