47 Years On

St Giles Church

It can be quite humbling attending a memorial service in St Giles Church, particularly for someone who had such a remarkable life as late Barbican resident Douglas Woodward who died late last year at the ripe old age of 92, but still in possession, even in such advanced years, of an extremely strong intellect.  Readers of Barbican life will have been aware of Douglas who graced these pages on a number of occasions.  The most recent was with a somewhat controversial guest editorial article in last year’s Summer issue entitled ‘Rattle’s Folly’.  Douglas opposed the construction of the proposed new state of the art concert hall to be built on the current Museum of London site if and when that institution itself moves to a new location at a now derelict old section of the Smithfield market complex.

Douglas was one of the original residents of the Barbican Estate having moved here in 1970 when part of the complex was still under construction.  He crammed a remarkable number of achievements into his time living here, detailed in an obituary later on in this issue of Barbican Life. 

There can’t be many other of the pioneers of the Estate still in residence, and those that do remain will have seen some positive changes in the 47 plus years since the first residents moved in – not least in the development of the Arts Centre into perhaps the best of its kind in Europe.

Cosmetically nothing much has changed with regard to the residential blocks – apart perhaps from the somewhat controversial perspex structure which sits atop Brandon Mews.  This, for those who are unaware, was put in place because the block’s roofs leaked horrendously – a problem which was unable to be rectified by conventional means.

But some of the other changes happening around us are perhaps a shade more worrying as we become more and more of an oasis of tranquillity surrounded by high rise developments, but at the same time losing some of our pedestrian accesses and walkways.  We have also lost highwalk-located banks, pubs, other businesses and a restaurant from the original plan none of which presumably proved to be commercial successes.

We have, though, gained a fourth high rise block in Blake Tower but also lost a fire station, a morgue, coroners offices and a few flats with the somewhat cynical exclusion from the listing, and subsequent demolition, of Milton Court.  This has been replaced by The Heron, which, though, not now a part of the Barbican Estate, has provided, as part of the development package, some much needed additional facilities for the Guildhall School of Music and Drama as a quid pro quo for the high rise block of modern apartments on that site.

Overall The Barbican has proved itself as a great place to live.  The construction was well conceived: the flats are pretty soundproof compared with many apartment complexes; the grounds and facilities are first rate; the location for those working anywhere in the City and central or east London is superb.  Transport links are probably the best for any residential area in London and are being enhanced further once Crossrail is up and running in just under two year’s time.  The Barbican pioneers, like Douglas Woodward, chose well and those of us who have come in later have much to be thankful for.

Lawrence Williams