Notable & Lost Buildings Of Columbia Rd
In her fourth story, Linda Wilkinson traces Columbia Rd’s architectural heritage, notable & lost
Nineteenth century glass side of Columbia Market, courtesy of Bishopsgate Institute
By the latter half of the nineteenth century, it was fashionable to send affluent young men to live in the East End as part of their societal duty. One suspects this was partly voyeurism of a class of people who were often regarded as sub-human, but no doubt it also had the effect of disseminating first-hand information about the prevailing conditions in the slums and rookeries. So it is no surprise that some of the newly self-made men of the Victorian middle classes pursued Philanthropy, nor that the poverty-ridden quarter which Columbia Rd became should have come to their attention.
The provision of social housing for the “deserving poor” was begun here by Angela Burdett-Coutts and Charles Dickens who, through the vision of architect Henry Darbishire, built an architectural masterpiece that few can believe ever existed in the East End. Photographs cannot do justice to the sweeping majesty of this series of buildings which rivalled any of that era. Part market complex and part housing scheme, this vast structure has been replaced today by Sivill House and the flats around it that comprise Market Sq.
As a market, it was a spectacular failure and the housing element hardly fared better. Purposely built with ill-fitting doors and no glass in the corridor windows, they were an icy, inhospitable series of dwellings. The basement and other parts of the structure were damaged by bombing in World War Two. It was certainly salvageable yet, despite protests at the time, the entire complex of buildings was demolished in the nineteen-sixties.
The next tenement block to be erected was Leopold Buildings in 1872, by the Improved Industrial Dwellings Company. Built upon land leased by Angela Burdett-Coutts, the block was run on similar lines to Columbia Sq with a strict selection and discipline regime, thus ensuring a healthy return on investment. It housed one hundred and twelve families and was of such individual design that, in 1994, the block received a Grade II listing. In 1997, the premises were upgraded and refurbished to a high standard, and today they enliven the otherwise architecturally bland west end of Columbia Rd.
The next tenement block to be built was in 1892 by the Guinness Trust. As theTtrust announced at the time, “The Guinness Trust … acquired a triangular site on the east side of Columbia Rd (formerly Birdcage Walk), north of the Barnet Chantry estate, in 1890. It replaced sixty-three houses with six blocks of mostly two-roomed tenements designed by Joseph & Smithem, completed in 1901.”
Finally, Ravenscroft Buildings, which stood where Ravenscroft Park sits today was built in 1897 and comprised one hundred and ninety-four flats. It was built around three sides of a rectangle to a height of five storeys. Designed in an ornate style by Davis & Emmanuel, it has not survived and the only extant photograph of the front is the one below, taken in 1898, probably from the Birdcage Public House.
Angela Burdett-Coutts (Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery)
Columbia Market Hall, 1914
These gateposts and railings are all that remain today of Columbia Market Hall
Leopold Buildngs, 1872
Architectural detail of Leopold Buildings
Guinness Trust Buildings, 1892
The only extant shot of the frontage of Ravenscourt Buildings, taken in 1898 probably from the Birdcage Public House (Courtesy of English Heritage)
Joan resident of Ravenscroft Buildings, 1954 – her niece Carol is portrayed below
Hoardings after demolition of Ravenscourt Buildings in the eighties, on what is now Ravenscourt Park
Carol Court, long-term resident of Ravenscroft Buildings, in the park which replaces them today
Jesus Green, the Jesus Hospital Estate was built in the eighteen sixties
Nineteenth century furniture workshops on Columbia Rd
Nineteenth century shopfronts with dwellings above
Looking west down Columbia Rd towards the City of London