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 was commissioned to build 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 gross deformation of Ellington Court by careless property developers, the sad results of which can be seen below.
The Southgate area began to be heavily developed once the extension of the Piccadilly Line became certain, and was already built-up by the time Charles Holden’s famous Southgate Circus was completed in 1934. The eastern side of the High Street was developed in the 1920’s, 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 just prior to Ellington Court. One could argue that the casual way in which Ellington Court has been defaced by developers reflects the fact that in popular British taste such pastiche styles remain more desirable than the international style espoused by Gibberd and his fellow Modernists.
Nearby 1920’s housing on the Meadway Estate
Like Pullman Court before it, Ellington Court was built to house affluent professionals and 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 also featured several service hatchways into the communal hallways to allow caretaker and a maid service to collect laundry and waste without disturbing the 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. It is very likely that Gibberd had hoped to use white render as at Pullman Court but this was clearly a step too far for the Town Council. Remaining features of interest include swooping cantelevered hoods over the communal entranceways, each of which is flanked by two sculptural concrete planters. The flats also retain their original private balconies, although much additional metal work appears to have been added later, presumably for safety reasons.
That we are disgusted and disheartened by the poor quality of the vulgar fourth floor addition must be obvious. Although a listed status may not have prevented an addition being added, it would certainly have ensured it was more in keeping with the original building. Regardless of this, the sad fact remains that local planning officers granted permission for such an inappropriate design despite the fact that the flats reside within a conservation area. It looks to all intents and purposes like someone craned in a job lot of second-hand portakabins, plonked them on top and filled in the gaps with brick. That they managed to align the brick gaps with those in Gibberd’s work below is not as clever as they think it is and deserves no praise. There are no redeeming features to this additional work at all, it is simply vandalism done 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, it is 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