The Rebuilding on the Holford Square Site

The devastating raid on Percy Circus had destroyed some blocks and left others almost untouched. The road pattern was undamaged, so it was decided to restore some blocks of houses and to rebuild on others on their original footprints so that the Circus could be kept. This involved the use of different coloured bricks in some cases, but the essential pattern was retained.

The damage in Holford Square was even worse than in Percy Circus. The Bombing map reproduced below, shows that only three houses escaped completely and more than half are coloured Purple (Unrepairable). It must have been a terrifying raid. The whole area had become a bombsite, so it was decided to raze the houses and build on a completely empty site.

 

An early scheme for the rebuilding of
Holford Square of about 1950

 

The Holford Square Site, covers an area of about 3 acres and there will be 143 flats built round the area of the old square which is being retained as an open space. The flats will be equipped in a similar manner to the I3usaco Street Scheme. They will enjoy fine views to the west over the open space and the steeply sloping land beyond. There will also be a nursery school and other communal buildings. 'Fenders have been obtained and the building work should start shortly

Later this was rejected in favour of the
revolutionary triangular shape of Bevin Court


The New Plan for the Hoford Square Estate
after the Second World War Damage

Holford Square Estate, 1954

Holford Square, London , WC1 (King's Cross ¼ mile away.)

Architects: Skinner, Bailey & Lubetkin

The London Squares Preservation Act stipulates that these open spaces must either be preserved or an equivalent area must be provided in a suitable alternative position. In this case the decision, dictated by economy, to build one main block concentrated in three wings round a central stair and lift hall made, it impossible to retain the old rectangular green space in the middle of Holford Square, but an equivalent area has been provided on the west side of the site adjoining the grounds of an L.C.C. school. This new public open space has its main approach from Percy Circus and is designed to form a continuous ensemble with the housing estate which has been developed by Finsbury Borough Council. The area of the site, including the public open space, is 3.9 acres; without the open space it is 3.2 acres, and the density is 129 persons per acre.

The main seven-and eight-storey block ( Bevin Court) contains 118 dwellings and the small four-storey block

Holford House; twelve dwellings. In the east and west wings of Bevin Court there are one-, two- and three-room flats with all the living rooms and bedrooms facing towards the south and only kitchens and bathrooms facing on to the galleries on the north side. In the south wing, which has the advantage of both east and west aspects, there are maisonettes served by galleries on alternate floors, with bedrooms facing in both directions on the floors between. Again, only kitchens and w.c.'s face on to the access galleries. The four-storey block consists entirely of maisonettes.

The basic shape of the Y-block is clear and provides its own interest. The main elevational problem was how to avoid monotony and bleakness in elevations which, for economic reasons are devoid of any relief in the form of balconies or other projections and recesses. The grouping of the windows to form a lively rhythm over the whole facade substitutes linear interest for the more desirable treatment in depth enhanced by the contrast in materials and colour.

The deep recesses of the staircase hall, linked to the two elevations on the west side by reccssed balconies, give punctuation to this long facade. On the east elevation of the south wing there was a special problem - how to avoid an abrupt discord between the access galleries on alternate floors and the all-over character of the rest of the: elevations. On the north elevation, consisting entirely of access galleries, the strings and mullions repeat exactly the same rhythm as on the other elevations. On the west elevations importance was attached to the differentiation of the ground and top floors. The former was achieved by means of recesses above and below the ground floor window band and by open bays at the end of each wing; the latter by the use of additional horizontal members below the windows.

The structure of both blocks is of reinforced concrete con­sisting of 6 inch [150 mm] load bearing walls at 21 fteet 10 inch [about 6 metre] centres supporting 8-inch [200 mm] solid slabs. In the eight-storey block external walls are of pre-cast concrete slabs externally and clinker block internally, separated by a cavity. Panels under windows are of red clay brick. External walls along galleries are also of cavity construction, the exterior skin being of brown concrete brick.

Bevin Court

 

 

The three arms meet at the central Entrance Hall. The building is laid out on a steeply sloping site so that the ground below the arms are at different heights. The architect could have leveled the site but this would have been immensely expensive and quite pointless. Instead, the arms start at different levels. And the floors in each block are slightly different all the way up. This does not matter because the arms are joined only at the central entrance. Nobody in the separate arms is aware of the difference.

The Central Entrance Hall

 

The Entrance Hall and the Diagram of the central staircase.

Short flights of stairs lead to the three different arms. These different entrance heights saved thousands of pounds in excavation costs. Years before the Victorians had invented the Back Addition house for health reasons. Builders wanted to build houses on short frontages because the houses could be cheaper but they began to build houses three rooms deep. This meant that the central rooms had no direct light or windows open to the air.. This was very unhealthy. People were already dying from Tuberculosis and these airless rooms would make the position worse, so local councils banned them. Then someone invented the Back addition House with an extra block attached to the back of the house. This allowed direct light and air to all rooms.

It also allowed the builders to sit their houses comfortably on the ground with the least expense. The house s could be built and the front and back parts at different levels. lie comfortably on any slope. The staircases were built on half-landings and one could pass from front to back easily, without the need for much excavation. It was a win win situation for the builders so the design swept the country.

The Back Addition House

Some Back Addition Drawings from The Growth of Muswell Hill, by Jack Whitehead,
p. 116 This book is available free on this website.

Some Back Addition drawings from The Growth of Muswell Hill, by Jack Whitehead p 122

 

Bevin Court works in the same way. The same principle for building on uneven ground has been carried out at three levels instead of two. The three arms were built up from the existing ground level so that the floors met at the central entrance at slightly different heights. At the entrance there are short stairways to the different levels and the arms rise above them. Thus one simple entrance serves all the wings and there are short internal staircases.


The Flat Layout in Bevin Court

a. Aerial view with Percy, Circus in foreground. Eight-storey block. b. Plan of floors 1, g, j, 6. Gallery access flats to left and to top. maisonettes to right. c. Plans of typical two-and three-room flats. d. Plan of typical maisonette, upper and lower floors. e. Diagram of the central staircase. f. View of the central staircase, Bevin Court. g. Eight-storey block and four-storey block seen from the south-west. h. Access gallery side of flat Nvings of eight-storey block. k. Eight-storey block, part of the elevation, living room side


The Entrance to Bevin Court from the North

This landscaped entrance was planted with small saplings and must have looked very bare, Perhaps the is a photograph of it at that time.If anyone can find it I should be glad to see it. Today the trees hav grown so that they mask the bulk of the building and give an impression of seclusion.

 

Bevin Court is so enormous, both wide-spreading and tall, that it is extremely difficult to photographfrom the ground Only small parts can be covered at a time. This picture shows the Entrance Hall, with the South wing to the left and a very small part of the North-east wing on the right. The South wing has the advantage of sun on both sides and this wing has been built as maisonettes, with living rooms below and bedrooms above.


The North-East block

This North–West block has the sun to the south, so the living aface in that directionnd little suA small part this arm has been incorporated in the pan picture above. Here there are one-, two- and three-room flats with all the living rooms and bedrooms facing towards the south and only kitchens and bathrooms facing on to the galleries on the north side.

The North–East wing is a mirror image.

This picture shows the steep slope of the hillside and why the different wings had to be built up to fit it.

The North-west arm taken at mid-day, with the sun full on the southern frontage
and the bedrooms and living rooms

 

The Central Entrance.

Paul says that this is a stunning piece of work and he will try to get a postman friend who delivers there to take some photos.

Also search at Archive for early landscaping and official pictures.


The Restoration and Rebuilding of Percy Circus

 

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