Barbican Estate

Coordinates: 51°31′09″N 0°05′38″W / 51.51917°N 0.09389°W / 51.51917; -0.09389
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Barbican Estate
Barbican Towers
Barbican Towers
General information
TypeMixed-use development
Architectural styleBrutalist/Fortress
Town or cityLondon
Design and construction
Architecture firmChamberlin, Powell and Bon
Structural engineerOve Arup & Partners
Civil engineerOve Arup & Partners
DesignationsGrade II listed
Official website

The Barbican Estate, or Barbican, is a residential complex of around 2,000 flats, maisonettes, and houses in central London, England, within the City of London. It is in an area once devastated by World War II bombings and densely populated by financial institutions, 1.4 miles (2.2 km) north east of Charing Cross.[1] Originally built as rental housing for middle and upper-middle-class professionals, it remains an upmarket residential estate. It contains, or is adjacent to, the Barbican Arts Centre, the Museum of London, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the Barbican public library, the City of London School for Girls and a YMCA (now closed),[2] forming the Barbican Complex.

The Barbican Complex is a prominent example of British brutalist architecture and is Grade II listed as a whole,[3] with the exception of the former Milton Court, which once contained a fire station, medical facilities, and some flats, but was demolished to allow the construction of a new apartment tower—named The Heron—which also provides additional facilities for the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.


The Cripplegate fort can be seen at the northern edge of Roman London

The main fort of Roman London was built between 90 and 120 AD south-east of where the Museum of London now stands at the corner of London Wall and Aldersgate Street.[4] Around 200 AD, walls were built around the city that incorporated the old fort, which became a grand entrance known as Cripplegate.[5] The word barbican comes from the Low Latin word Barbecana which referred to a fortified outpost or gateway, such as an outer defence of a city or castle or any tower situated over a gate or bridge which was used for defence purposes.[6] In this case there seems to have been a Roman specula or watchtower[7] in front of the fort from numbers 33–35 onwards[7] on the north side of the street formerly called Barbican[8] (now the west end of Beech St), which was later incorporated into the fortifications north of the wall. The Normans called it the Basse-cour or Base Court,[9] synonymous with the modern word "bailey" and still applied to the outer courtyard of Hampton Court Palace.

Medieval London Jewish cemetery
Jewish Cemetery overlaid on modern mapping of the Barbican Estate

The Base Court continued to serve a military function during the reign of Edward I, but Edward III gave it to Robert d'Ufford, 1st Earl of Suffolk[8] who made it his London home. By the 16th century, it had passed to Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk. Brandon married his ward Catherine Willoughby, daughter of María de Salinas who had been a confidante and lady-in-waiting of Catherine of Aragon and after his death the building was retained by the Willoughby family. The original Base Court seems to have been destroyed and the large building that replaced it was called Willoughby House, a name revived for part of the modern development. The house was later owned by Thomas Egerton, Lord Ellesmere and later named Bridgewater House after the title bestowed on John Egerton in 1617.[10]

The Barbican terrace blocks and residences, including the green garden in the centre, are laid on an area just outside the city fortifications, to the north west of the surviving London Wall and bastions. Most of the residences and the green square, as well as some of the area to the south, currently occupied by the Museum of London, are on an area that was previously the Jewish cemetery serving the London Jewish community pre their expulsion. Records of transactions of the time show that the cemetery had been expanded several times through the acquisition of property by the Jews between 1268 and 1290. The Jews were expelled from England in 1290, and the next year, on 12 July 1291, Edward I granted the site of the cemetery to Master William de Montford, he was Dean of St. Paul's but he seems to have held this land privately. Archaeological excavations were undertaken on part of the cemetery site prior to construction of the Barbican and the results of these investigations were published in Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society of England (JHSE) in 1961.[11]

Post-war development[edit]

Central ponds, Barbican Estate
Frieze recovered from Bryers and Sons building at 53 and 54 Barbican. The building survived wartime bombing but was demolished to make way for the redevelopment. The Frieze was preserved as a monument.

During World War II, the City suffered serious damage and loss of life. The Cripplegate ward was virtually demolished[12] and by 1951 the resident population of the City stood at 5,324 of whom 48 lived in Cripplegate.[13] Discussions began in 1952 about the future of the site, and the decision to build new residential properties was taken by the Court of Common Council on 19 September 1957.[14]

To accommodate the estate, 500 metres (550 yards) of the Metropolitan line was realigned between Barbican and Moorgate stations between 1963 and 1965.[15][16][17]

The estate was built between 1965 and 1976, on a 35-acre (14 ha) site that had been bombed in World War II. The complex was designed by architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, whose first work was the ground-breaking Golden Lane Estate immediately north of the Barbican. Unlike its northern neighbour, however, the Barbican Estate was not social housing. Rather, it was designed and built for affluent City professionals and their families, with all flats let out at commercial rents by the Corporation of London.[18] To help let out the flats, brochures were produced, advertising the Barbican Estate as containing the perfect residences for well-heeled professionals and international businesspeople.[19]

This Barbican Estate brochure from the late 1970s, produced by the Corporation of London, shows the envisaged target market for the flats.

Indeed, in its early years, a substantial number of high-profile politicians, lawyers, judges, and bankers made their home here (see famous residents).

Courtyard above the Centre for the Arts and theatre. Inspiration was from ocean liners. Tropical ferns and palms were part of the original plan
The signature concrete texture was jackhammered at considerable labour cost to achieve the distressed effect of older stonework and to reveal the aggregate.

The Barbican was never 'council housing' in the conventional sense, as flats were targeted at professionals and let at 'market' rents, i.e. for similar prices to equivalent private homes in Central London. It was, however, owned and managed by the Corporation of the City of London, considered a local authority under the Housing Act 1980. This meant that Right to Buy applied to it, and, as a result, almost all flats are now privately owned, although a few continue to be let out by the City of London at market (non-subsidised) rents.[20]

The first building on the 40-acre (16 ha) estate, Speed House, was officially opened in 1969, though extensive industrial disputes in the 1970s led to the last building, Shakespeare Tower, only being completed in 1976. It is now home to around 4,000 people living in 2,014 flats.[14] The flats reflect the widespread use in Britain in the 1960s and 1970s of concrete as the visible face of the building. The complex is also characteristic for its total separation of vehicles from pedestrians throughout the area ("slab urbanism"[21]). This is achieved through the use of 'highwalks'—walkways of varying width and shape, usually located 1 to 3 stories above the surrounding ground level. Most pedestrian circulation takes place on these highwalks, while roads and car parking spaces are relegated to the lower level.

The central public court of the Barbican, Lakeside Terrace, features a café area.

The Minister for the Arts, Tessa Blackstone, announced in September 2001 that the Barbican complex was to be Grade II listed. It has been designated a site of special architectural interest for its scale, its cohesion and the ambition of the project.[22] The complex is architecturally important as it is one of London's principal examples of concrete brutalist architecture and considered a landmark.

Various garden features punctuate the brutalist architecture, including a community-run wildlife garden.[23]

Blocks and towers[edit]

The residential estate consists of three tower blocks, 13 terrace blocks, two mews and The Postern, Wallside and Milton Court.[24]

The terrace blocks[edit]

Part of the estate viewed from above

These are grouped around a lake and green squares. The main buildings rise up to seven floors above a podium level, which links all the facilities in the Barbican, providing a pedestrian route above street level. Some maisonettes are built into the podium structure. There is no vehicular access within the estate, but there are some car parks at its periphery. Public car parks are located within the Barbican Centre.

The terrace blocks are named:[24]

  • Andrewes House – named after Lancelot Andrewes the 16th-century English bishop and scholar
  • Breton House – named after Nicholas Breton, the 16th-century English poet and novelist
  • Bryer Court – named after W. Bryer & Sons gold refiners and assayers premises were Numbers 53 and 54 and demolished to make way for the building[25]
  • Bunyan Court – named after John Bunyan, the 17th-century English writer and Baptist preacher
  • Defoe House – named after Daniel Defoe, the English novelist and spy
  • Frobisher Crescent – named after Martin Frobisher, English seaman and privateer
  • Gilbert House – named after Sir Humphrey Gilbert, English adventurer and privateer
  • Ben Jonson House – named after Ben Jonson, the English playwright, poet and actor
  • Thomas More House – named after Sir Thomas More, English lawyer, statesman and social philosopher and saint in the Catholic Church
  • Mountjoy House – named after Christopher Mountjoy, the French wig-maker who let a room to William Shakespeare[26]
  • Seddon House – named after George Seddon, English cabinetmaker
  • Speed House – named after John Speed, English cartographer and explorer
  • John Trundle Court – named after John Trundle, a London publisher and bookseller
  • Willoughby House – named after Catherine Willoughby English noblewoman and courtier

Tower blocks[edit]

Lauderdale Tower

The estate also contains three of London's tallest residential towers, at 42 storeys and 123 metres (404 ft) high. The top two or three floors of each block comprise three penthouse flats. The towers are:

Once the tallest residential towers in London, they were surpassed by the Pan Peninsula development on the Isle of Dogs.

Barbican complex[edit]

The Barbican Estate also contains the Barbican Centre (an arts, drama and business venue), the Barbican public library, the City of London School for Girls, the Museum of London, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. A YMCA building was constructed between 1965 and 1968[22] to link the Barbican and Golden Lane Estate; it is also listed. In 2015–16, the YMCA building was converted by Redrow Homes into a new residential block called Blake Tower with 74 flats run as part of the Barbican Estate.

Water park and cafes are surrounding the church and Roman Wall

The Barbican complex also is centered around St Giles Cripplegate, which survived the bombings of World War 2. Remnants of the London Wall, built in Roman era can be seen from the balconies of apartments and in the park area

Notable residents[edit]

The Barbican has had a number of well-known residents throughout its history, especially in the years immediately after it was completed, when it was considered one of the most prestigious residential developments in London. Noticeable residents have included:

In popular culture[edit]

The Barbican features in Michael Paraskos's novel In Search of Sixpence as the home of the lead character, Geroud, and also a bar called "The Gin Bar" loosely based on the Gin Joint bar at the Barbican Centre.[40] Clive James's 1987 novel The Remake also used the Barbican as a major setting.

In the 2024 series of Call the Midwife, Nurse Trixie Aylward mentions she and her husband Matthew will be moving to the Barbican Estate once their property is finished.

The final scene of the 1983 vampire film, The Hunger, directed by Tony Scott and starring David Bowie, Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon, was filmed in Cromwell Tower.[41]

The Barbican Estate's Shakespeare Tower is featured in the 2000 film Gangster No. 1 as the home of the two main characters. An anachronism, since the film begins in 1968 and the tower wasn't constructed until 1976.[42]

The Barbican towers can be seen in a sequence from the 1975 Disney film One of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing, an unintentional anachronism for a film set in the 1920s.[13]

The Barbican was also used to represent the MI6 headquarters in the James Bond film Quantum of Solace.[43]

Various shots of the Barbican towers are shown on the inner record cover of the 1979 album Real to Real Cacophony by the Scottish rock band Simple Minds.[citation needed]

The Barbican Estate is mentioned by name in the intro to English band Saint Etienne's song "Language Lab", from their 2002 Finisterre album.[44]

The titular skyscraper in J.G. Ballard's High Rise (and subsequent film) is largely inspired by the Barbican Estate's towers.[45]

The Barbican Estate's Lauderdale Tower is home to fictional character Alice Morgan, a psychopathic murderer, in the BBC series Luther. Morgan lives in a sparsely furnished minimalist apartment on one of the tower's upper floors.

The Barbican Estate is prominently featured in Skepta's "Shutdown" music video.

The Barbican Estate is featured in several scenes of the Apple TV show Slow Horses. The show is focused on a group of MI5 agents working in Slough House based at 126 Aldersgate Street, which is opposite the Barbican Estate.

The Barbican Estate is featured in several scenes of the Star Wars TV show Andor.[46] The brutalist complex was used as the backdrop for the fictional city world of Coruscant.

Nearby rail and Tube[edit]

Public Transport
Service Station/Stop Line/Route
National Rail National Rail Liverpool Street
London Underground London Underground Liverpool Street Central line
Circle line
Hammersmith & City
Metropolitan line
Elizabeth line
Barbican Circle line
Hammersmith & City
Metropolitan line
Moorgate Northern line (city branch)
Circle line
Hammersmith & City
Metropolitan line
St Paul's Central line
Farringdon Circle line
Hammersmith & City
Metropolitan line
Elizabeth line


See also[edit]

References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ "How far is it? - Straight Line Distance Calculator".
  2. ^ "Finsbury Hostel Closure". Islington Gazette. 2 February 2012. Archived from the original on 4 February 2012. Retrieved 2 February 2012.
  3. ^ Historic England. "Barbican (1352667)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 12 June 2011.
  4. ^ "Quarterly Review (June to August 2002) Greater London Archaeology Advisory Service" (PDF). Quarterly Review. Greater London Archaeology Advisory Service: 30. June–August 2002. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 January 2009.
  5. ^ 'Cripplegate, one of the 26 Wards of the City of London' Baddesley, J.J p126: London; Blades, East & Blades; 1921
  6. ^ "Barbican Estate history - City of London". Archived from the original on 23 September 2015. Retrieved 27 November 2013.
  7. ^ a b Britton, John (1815). The Beauties of England and Wales, or, Delineations, topographical, historical, and descriptive, of each county, Volume 10, Part 3. Vernor and Hood. p. 216.
  8. ^ a b Strype, John (1720). "6". Survey of London. Vol. 3. Archived from the original on 9 October 2012. Retrieved 19 March 2014.
  9. ^ Goff, Cecilie (1930). A woman of the Tudor age. John Murray. p. 277.
  10. ^ Sandes, Caroline (1 January 2019). "The Barbican before Barbican: the house, its history and the 'imaginary' watchtower". London and Middlesex Archaeological Society Transactions.
  11. ^ Honeybourne, Marjorie B. (1959–1961). The Pre-Expulsion Cemetery of the Jews in London, Transactions, Vol 20. Jewish History Society of England. pp. 145–159.
  12. ^ Watts, Peter (2 September 2015). "Blitzed, rebuilt and built again: what became of London's bomb sites?". The Guardian.
  13. ^ a b "5 Secrets Of Barbican". Londonist. 17 February 2017.
  14. ^ a b "History of the Barbican Estate". City of London. Archived from the original on 7 December 2006. Retrieved 11 January 2007.
  15. ^ London Transport Track Realignment on City Site Railway Gazette 30 June 1963 page 229
  16. ^ Barbican Rerouting The Railway Magazine issue 750 October 1963 pages 685, 732
  17. ^ Final track changeover at Barbican The Railway Magazine issue 777 January 1966 pages 49/50
  18. ^ "Never social housing". Archived from the original on 2 February 2020. Retrieved 18 September 2019.
  19. ^ "Never social housing". 9 December 2015. Retrieved 22 April 2020.
  20. ^ "Who are we?". 9 December 2015. Retrieved 18 September 2019.
  21. ^ Monclús, Javier; Díez Medina, Carmen (1 October 2016). "Modernist housing estates in European cities of the Western and Eastern Blocs". Planning Perspectives. 31 (4): 533–562. Bibcode:2016PlPer..31..533M. doi:10.1080/02665433.2015.1102642. ISSN 0266-5433. S2CID 146629684.
  22. ^ a b "Listing of the Barbican complex". City of London. Archived from the original on 8 October 2006. Retrieved 11 January 2007.
  23. ^ Weston, Phoebe (28 April 2020). "'Nature survives in the tiniest corners': the City of London's wild heart". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 28 April 2020.
  24. ^ a b Jennifer Clarke (1990), The Barbican Sitting on History, Corporation of London Records Office, ISBN 9780852030301, OCLC 24713108, OL 8280417M, 0852030304
  25. ^ "Barbican frieze". London Remembers.
  26. ^ "The Mountjoys". 23 October 2015.
  27. ^ "Cromwell Tower". Emporis Buildings. Archived from the original on 29 June 2004. Retrieved 11 January 2007.
  28. ^ "Lauderdale Tower". Emporis Buildings. Archived from the original on 20 August 2004. Retrieved 11 January 2007.
  29. ^ "Shakespeare Tower". Emporis Buildings. Archived from the original on 29 June 2004. Retrieved 11 January 2007.
  30. ^ a b c d e Morris, Tom (14 June 2019). "Meet the Barbican's original residents". Financial Times. Archived from the original on 10 December 2022. Retrieved 24 April 2020.
  31. ^ Robert Humphreys, The Rough Guide to London (London: Rough Guides, 2003) ISBN 9781843530930
  32. ^ "The sound of money", Pearson Phillips, The Times, 29 April 1987, p. 14.
  33. ^ a b c "Barbican comes of age", Jon Stock, The Times, 23 February 1991, p. 17.
  34. ^ "Sir Michael Craig-Martin on creativity under coronavirus lockdown: 'Art doesn't have parameters'". Retrieved 30 June 2020.
  35. ^ "What is Michael Craig-Martin, the godfather of Brit Art, doing at Chatsworth House?". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 30 June 2020.
  36. ^ "Frank Dickens, creator of Bristow comic strip – obituary". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 6 September 2020.
  37. ^ "S.W. Alexander in the Spectator". Retrieved 13 October 2020.
  38. ^ "Robert Aickman's cult horror books are being resurrected for the centenary of his birth". The Independent. 7 April 2014.
  39. ^ "Jean Richardson. "Memories of a Friend", Afterword to Robert Aickman, Cold Hand in Mine, London: Faber, 2014, pp. 346–47.
  40. ^ Michael Paraskos, In Search of Sixpence (London: Friction Fiction, 2015) ISBN 9780992924782
  41. ^ The Hunger (1983) - IMDb, retrieved 16 February 2022
  42. ^ Gangster No.1 Film Locations, retrieved 14 March 2024
  43. ^ Needham, Alex (29 February 2012). "Barbican to stage an exhibition to mark 50 years of James Bond films". The Guardian.
  44. ^ Saint Etienne – Language Lab, retrieved 16 February 2022
  45. ^ Lloyd, Joe (16 March 2016). "High-Rise: the brutal truth". The Economist.
  46. ^ "Andor filming locations". MovieMaps. Retrieved 16 May 2024.

External links[edit]

51°31′09″N 0°05′38″W / 51.51917°N 0.09389°W / 51.51917; -0.09389