Sunday, 29 January 2017

River Fleet Square

Unlock regeneration potential with a new public space inspired by the River Fleet

River Fleet Square would reinvent the current public realm, which does nothing to recognise the potential of the site as a world-class public square surrounded by impressive architecture.


River Fleet Square proposes a high-quality public square to capitalise on the wasted space created by the railway cutting at the junction of Farringdon Road and Clerkenwell Road. The Square would unlock regeneration potential and highlight the quality of the surrounding buildings and views to St Paul’s Cathedral.

The shape of the space would be formed by its history, which is a valley where the River Fleet once flowed towards the Thames. The river, which became an open sewer, was culverted in the 1860s and the Underground was then built through the deep cutting.

The design would draw reference from the lost River Fleet in the form of shallow water features, slowly flowing southwards. The layout would be reasonably formal, with lines of pleached trees and low-level geometric planting providing shade and texture in the urban setting.

A key hub within the Square would be Clerkenwell Circus – a junction that would form a new gateway for pedestrians and cyclists heading east along quiet back-streets.

The Square would also accommodate paved areas for pavement cafes, particularly on the eastern side which benefits from day-time and evening sun. There is potential to involve the local Italian population in the creation of the Square – perhaps it could even become a ‘Little Italy’ for London.


Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Museum of London move to Smithfield Market passes funding hurdle

Plans to redevelop famous Victorian location see £180m raised toward £250m target


The scheme will see the Museum of London move to a new location among the current disused Smithfield Market buildings

Plans to turn one of London’s finest Victorian market buildings into a museum for the capital have moved closer after the Museum of London said it had raised £180m toward its £250m target for the redevelopment.

In the first big funding milestone for the project, the City of London Corporation — the Square Mile’s local authority — will contribute £110m and the Mayor of London £70m — City Hall’s largest investment to date in a cultural initiative.

The scheme will see the museum move to a new location among the current disused market buildings at West Smithfield, leaving its old site next to the Barbican complex free to be redeveloped under a separate plan for a world-class concert hall.

The Victorian structures, including the General Market and Fish Market, will be revamped under a scheme by architects Stanton Williams and Asif Khan, with a glass-topped dome bringing light into the building, an innovative spiral escalator and a series of underground chambers to display some of the institution’s 6m objects over nearly 9,500 sq m of gallery space.

An artist's impression of how the new museum will look

The museum will submit its planning application to the City of London Corporation in 2018, with a view to opening its doors in 2022.

City Hall’s £70m contribution will not come from its existing budget: the City of London Corporation will lend it the money, which it will pay back to the local authority over 25 years. The Museum of London aims to raise the rest of the funding through a public campaign and by tapping corporate sponsors and private philanthropists.

Victorian structures at Smithfield General Market

Sadiq Khan, mayor of London, said the contribution was part of his pledge to make culture a “core priority” of his mayoralty. “This major landmark project will be a jewel in our crown . . . It will rejuvenate West Smithfield, protecting its heritage while also creating a dynamic new public space — strengthening London’s credentials as an international powerhouse for culture.”

Much of the money will be spent on securing the 1880s buildings, which are in a state of disrepair, having been allowed to deteriorate since their closure. A previous plan to develop the buildings as offices and retail was blocked by the government in 2015 after meeting opposition from heritage campaigners angered by the proposed destruction of the roof and other parts of the buildings.

Children help collect money for the war effort at Smithfield's market in 1916. 
The site languished throughout the 1990s and 2000s but is at the heart of an area that has seen rapid redevelopment. The disused General Market sits close to the Central Market, which continues as a wholesale meat business, as well as the renewed transport hub of Farringdon, part of the Thameslink rail network, London Underground and the east-west Crossrail line, which is expected to open fully in 2019.

The museum is central to the Corporation’s plans for a so-called “cultural hub” in the area, in partnership with the Barbican Centre, the Guildhall School of Music, London Symphony Orchestra and the Museum of London. Its current building, at a busy transport junction on London Wall, can only be accessed via a series of pedestrian walkways above the road and does not allow room for expansion of the collection.


Friday, 20 January 2017

Postcard from . . . London

After 669 years as a monastery, mansion and almshouse, the Charterhouse will finally open to the public this week


Just north of Smithfield Market, the Charterhouse is a strong contender for the most historically interesting site in central London that no one’s really heard of. You may well have seen its picturesque courtyards and cloisters on film, though: their credits include playing Pip’s childhood home in Great Expectations, a field hospital in Downton Abbey and the backdrop to Tom Hardy’s dark machinations in Regency drama Taboo. But this Friday, the opening of a new museum and the launch of regular tours will mark the first time in its 669-year history that this curious complex has been open to the public on anything more than an ad hoc basis.

For its coming out, the Charterhouse has adopted the slogan “living the nation’s history since 1348” and the hubris is not misplaced. The site began life as a Carthusian monastery where monks spent their days praying for the souls of the Black Plague victims buried in mass graves nearby. After the dissolution of the monasteries it was rebuilt as a Tudor mansion that played host to Queen Elizabeth I and King James. In 1611, the wealthy merchant Thomas Sutton bought the estate and, in what was perhaps the most lavish act of philanthropy of its time, turned it into a school (since moved out to Surrey) and an almshouse for gentlemen pensioners “ruined by shipwreck or other calamity”.

Today the Charterhouse is still an almshouse home to more than 40 residents known as “brothers” (a label stripped of its religious connotations), men who have been admitted on the grounds that they are over 60, single and in need of financial or social support. Because most current residents learned of the unusual set-up via word of mouth it has generally attracted a particular clientele. “Most of the guys here are middle-class,” development director Dominic Tickell tells me. “They’re people who suddenly get to the age of 60, 65, 70 and realise they can’t get on [alone].”


We are standing in the Charterhouse’s largest, most verdant courtyard, a place where the only reminder of the clamorous city beyond these high walls is a single Barbican Estate tower, jutting skyward to the south. It is the first truly sunny day in January and brothers in smart day suits amble past us shouting plummy-accented hellos.

In the new museum, visitors will be able to watch videos of the current brothers’ daily routine. They will also be able to gawp at artefacts from the Charterhouse’s less tranquil interludes: there is a skeleton from the neighbouring plague pit and a 16th-century engraving showing the gory murder of the Carthusian monks by Henry VIII’s men. This was once the Duke of Norfolk’s home, and in a cupboard marked “Secrets” visitors can read copies of the ciphered letters that proved him guilty him of conspiring to put Mary Stuart on the throne.

This small but interesting collection of artefacts should be seen in conjunction with a guided tour. The Charterhouse tells its history best through its buildings, which range in style from medieval to modern, taking in most things in between. Structures have gone up around or on top of their predecessors, such as the medieval cloister - one cell door is still visible - which Norfolk turned into a passageway leading to his tennis courts. Some important features have been moved wholesale from one part of the complex to another, others are old imitations of even earlier styles. Adding to this picturesque architectural commotion is the fact that many buildings were destroyed by incendiary bombs in 1941 and no one is precisely sure where the postwar reconstruction begins and ends.

There is a fear among some commentators, and indeed some brothers, that this new, public chapter at the Charterhouse will throw the historically self-contained community off balance. It is a fair concern: right now this feels like an outpost of institutional eccentricity, and the transition to national treasure status, which seems inevitable, may transform its peculiarities into something that feels more studied - twee, even.

But brothers who find the visitors to be an unwelcome presence might spare a thought for the Charterhouse’s 16th-century owner Sir Edward North, who was so financially crippled by Queen Elizabeth I’s last stay here in 1561 that, the story goes, he promptly retired from court and spent the rest of his life as a social recluse. Unlike the Queen, at least this coming wave of visitors will be gone by 6pm.