inside and outside great arthur house & the golden lane estate

Golden Lane & Barbican

I like to think of The Golden Lane Estate as the Barbican’s smaller, more colourful and friendlier neighbour.

It lies on the northern edge of the City of London, an area that was badly bombed during WWII.

The Golden Lane site after WWII

The Golden Lane site after WWII

In 1950 there were only about 500 residents left in the City of London, so building new homes was a priority. The City ran an open design competition which was eventually won by Geoffrey Powell, who teamed up with Peter Chamberlin and Christopher Bon – all lecturers at the Kingston School of Architecture , to work on the project. (The partnership Chamberlin, Powell & Bon then went on to design the Barbican).

Chamberlin, Powell & Bon's winning entry

Chamberlin, Powell & Bon’s winning entry

Of the 554 homes 359 are studios or one-bed flats, including all of the properties in Golden Lane’s centrepiece, Great Arthur House.

Great Arthur House under construction

Great Arthur House under construction (courtesy London Metropolitan Archive)

Here’s a picture when it was nearing completion.

And here is a fantastic promotional video ‘Look at Life’ (note the lack of health & safety).

Although I’ve passed the estate countless times, I visited properly for the first time last weekend as part of a Twentieth Century Society event, held together with John Robertson Architects, the practice responsible for the re-cladding of Great Arthur House. More of that later on.

Approaching from Goswell Road, the edge of the estate curves around towards the City of London (first image above). The bottom is occupied by a series of shops with some very sweet frontages.

View along Goswell Road

View along Goswell Road

Hairdresser at Golden Lane, Goswell Road

Hairdresser at Golden Lane, Goswell Road

Food shop at Golden Lane, Goswell Road

Food shop at Golden Lane, Goswell Road

Around the corner to the left is the view into the estate.

View into Golden Lane from Goswell Road

To the right is the estate’s own little pub, The Shakespeare

The Shakespeare, Golden Lane Estate

The Shakespeare, Golden Lane Estate

The estate itself is 60% open space, and it is one of the large open areas you walk into with Great Arthur House right in front of you.

Base of Great Arthur House

Now at this point I was lucky enough to visit my blogging colleague Stefi Orazi (check out her awesome blog Modernist Estates!, who lives in a studio flat in Cullum Welch House.

Landing at Cullum Welch House

Studio flat, Cullum Welch House

The view from her flat is glorious – out over the open space to the Barbican towers. And for those of you wondering, those concrete cylinders sticking out of the ground are light wells for the car park underneath.

View from Cullum Welch House

What’s really lovely about the estate is that it isn’t just housing. There are tennis courts, a swimming pool (renovated two years ago) and a community hall where you can have a wedding, all alongside a series of well though-out spaces to relax or hang out.

Tennis courts, Golden Lane

Swimming pool, Golden Lane

Community hall, Golden Lane

Community hall & Great Arthur House, Golden Lane

Open space, Golden Lane

Walking around you see the maisonette blocks, panelled in different primary colours – blue, red and yellow for the tower. At the time of construction these would have been much brighter than they look today.

Great Arthur House & maisonette blocks at Golden Lane

Golden Lane maisonette block

Golden Lane maisonette block

Golden Lane maisonette block

Golden Lane, maisonette block entrance

Golden Lane, maisonette block entrance

Great Arthur House, Golden Lane

Then it was time to visit Great Arthur House. The roof garden, a beautiful, tranquil space in the middle of London, is now closed for health & safety reasons, but we were lucky enough to be allowed up there.

Originally residents could have rode in the lift to the roof, now it’s accessed via a staircase from the 15th floor.

Roof garden lift, Great Arthur House

The design of the flourishing ‘quiff’ of the roof and its flamboyant arches echoe that of Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation. And what a fabulous view – the Barbican, City, St Paul’s, Clerknewell, Islington…

Roof garden, Great Arthur House

Roof garden, Great Arthur House

Roof garden, Great Arthur House

Roof garden, Great Arthur House


There’s even a little pond with stepping stones.

Pond, Great Arthur House

After soaking up the atmosphere, it was back down to earth via two flats.

Every floor has eight flats. The outer two on each floor come with an extra storage cupboard, the inner four have a separate storage cupboard next to the lifts.

Typical floorplan of Great Arthur House

Typical floorplan of Great Arthur House. Credit: John Robertson Architects

Here is Joan’s flat – thank you Joan for being so welcoming and letting me take photos!

Joan's flat, Great Arthur House

Joan's flat, Great Arthur House

Joan's flat, Great Arthur House

And here is a rather more modern flat.

Flat, Great Arthur House

Flat, Great Arthur House


Finally, it’s worth saying that Great Arthur House is about to be re-clad. The original windows are draughty and in general the facade needs an overhaul. Over the years the original back-painted yellow glass panels have been replaced with a plethora of different varieties of material and shades of colour.

Great Arthur House facade

Great Arthur House facade

John Robertson Architects has been tasked with this sensitive work and has come up with a panel-based system to replace the existing facade. Work is due to start later in 2014.

Great Arthur House JRA model

Great Arthur House new facade model. Credit: John Robertson Architects

Great Arthur House new facade JRA

Old & new facade details. Credit: John Robertson Architects

Want to visit the Golden Lane Estate?

The Golden Lane Estate sits between Golden Lane, Goswell Road and Clerkenwell Road.

Nearest tube: Barbican

4 thoughts on “inside and outside great arthur house & the golden lane estate

  1. What luck that I read this today. I just got a job in Clerkenwell and have been exploring the area on foot. I, too, noticed the wonderful independent shops in the arcade. I think such a collection must be unique in Central London. I wondered if there was some form of policy to retain the tenants…
    I also noticed that the facades of Great Arthur House were in a bad way, and I’m super-pleased that they are to be restored. Indeed, the estate does look rather down-at-heel in a way we would never let architectural gems of an earlier period reach.
    Let’s hope that the recladding is part of a wider improvement for Golden Lane and its lucky inhabitants.

  2. I stumbled across your site when looking for images of Golden Lane Estate, pre war. I’ve always wondered what the area may have looked like before the estate was built. We live in Hatfield House. When we moved in in 1994, the original kitchen cupboards were still there. I wish now that we’d kept them, or at least incorporated them into ‘our dream kitchen’. I enjoyed watching the top people film, which I have never seen before, though I have to admit, it was one of the scariest films I think I’ve ever watched. There are plans afoot to build on the Richard Cloudesley site next to us. I might have to invest in a set of ear plugs or go into hibernation. Many thanks, what a find.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>