Due to their prominent location and well-deserved reputation many people are familiar with Frederick Gibberd’s larger commission at Pullman Court in Streatham, South London (1933-36). Less well-known are the smaller blocks of flats he built following completion of Pullman Court; these include Park Court in Sydenham (1936) and Ellington Court in Southgate (1937). Unfortunately, the relative obscurity of these subsequent works (neither of which are listed with Historic England) has allowed the deformation of Ellington Court by property developers, the sad results of which can be seen below.
The Southgate area first began to be developed once an extension of the Piccadilly Line became certain, and it was already built-up by the time Charles Holden’s famous Southgate station and circus parade was completed in 1934. The eastern side of the High Street was developed in the 1920s, primarily in the Tudorbethan or Mock Tudor style (much maligned by British Modernists, most notably by Anthony Bertam); on the western side a large block of flats in a conservative neo-Georgian style was completed shortly before Ellington Court. One could therefore argue that the casual way in which Ellington Court has been defaced by developers reflects the unfortunate fact that that such pastiche styles remain more desirable than the modernism of Gibberd.
Nearby 1920s housing on the Meadway Estate
Like Pullman Court before it, Ellington Court was built to house affluent professionals and had therefore had an interior specification to match. Gibberd was a notable early proponent of built-in furniture, which he again made much use of here. Each flat featured several service hatchways into the communal hallways to allow the caretaker and a maid service to collect laundry and waste without disturbing occupants. Each unit was centrally heated (supplemented by a marble fireplace in the living room) and had a fully-fitted kitchen; living rooms also featured folding internal doors.
Original interior photo, note the Marcel Breuer Long Chair manufactured by Isokon (credit: Southgate Green Association)
On the exterior elevations brick was used throughout as specified in the planning agreement. If Gibberd had hoped to use concrete as at Pullman Court this was clearly a step too far for the Town Council. Remaining features of interest include swooping cantilevered hoods over the communal entrance-ways, each of which is flanked by a pair of sculptural concrete planters. The flats also retain their original private balconies, although additional metal work appears to have been added at a later point, presumably for safety reasons.
That we are disheartened by the poor quality of the flimsy-looking ‘penthouse’ addition must be obvious. Although a protected status may not have prevented an addition being added, it would certainly have ensured it was more in keeping with the original building. Regardless, the sad fact remains that local planning officers granted permission to land what looks to all intents and purposes like a job lot of second-hand Portakabins on the roof. The brick piers which align with those in Gibberd’s work below are the sole concession to the original design, but we consider all such roof-top additions as simply vandalism in the name of profit. That the original fenestration has been replaced unsympathetically with clumsy plastic units further detracts from the overall aspect of the building, a sad state of affairs indeed.
Further information on the history of the Southgate area including Ellington Court can be found at the excellent Southgate Green Association website. http://southgategreen.org.uk/local-history/ellington-court/
© Modernist Tourists 2016