Walk 1: Post-War Paddington

Event Details: Post-War Paddington

Following the recent listing of the Hallfield Estate, Suzanne Waters will lead a repeat of this walk from July 2011. We shall be exploring the south Paddington area, looking mainly at the Hallfield Estate by Drake and Lasdun and other housing developments nearby. We hope to visit Hallfield School, also by Lasdun (exteriors only). We will be concentrating on the post war architecture of this area, with the exception of course of Lasduns own pre-war house, 32 Newton Grove.

Cost: Members only £12

Meet: Outside Paddington Station on the corner of Praed Street and Eastbourne Terrace at 2.00-4.30pm.

See Flickr for images from the walk.

Account of the Walk

On Saturday 1st October 2011 at 2pm, we “officially” started our fieldwork with The Twentieth Century Society. We met on the corner of Praed Street and Eastbourne Terrace, just outside Paddington Station in London. It was glorious sunshine for October, almost too hot for a walking tour. We gathered with our guide, Suzanne Waters, to learn about Post-War Paddington.  Suzanne ticked our names off the register and handed each of us a set of notes for the walk.

We waited for three stragglers that didn’t turn up. They didn’t have the phone number of our guide, so after 15 minutes, we decided to make a start. We turned right along Praed Street and carried on until we got to Queen’s Gardens. Here, Suzanne began to show us c19 buildings that fascinated her, she explained how we couldn’t simply pick out c20 buildings alone, but needed to understand the fabric of the urban space. As we turned the corner, we met with our first c20 building: Craven Hill Gardens. At first, we approached it from the side, looking up and straining to see the whole building from this angle. I could see a giant Anglepoise lamp filling one of the rooms. This side of the building was almost all windows and glass. We crossed the road to appreciate the front aspect of the building and Suzanne explained something about the architecture. She told us what she liked about it, we moved round to the right-hand side of the building and to the back and she talked about the balconies, how the building was set back from the road and how the recess at the front of the building echoed the c19 buildings we just seen. She told us how she really liked the staircase on the outside of the building. Influenced by Corbusier. Somebody asked how they would have got planning permission for the building, it was probably a space created by bombing during the war, so would have been keen to fill it. We cut down a c19 alley way. It was cool in the shade. We walked past Victorian lampposts. It reminded me of the lamp we have in the shed at home. On the other side of the alley, we looked back towards the c19 buildings, we were on a bridge. The District Line ran beneath us. A fellow walker told us they used a ‘cut and cover’ system for the District Line, so some bits were exposed. Ahead of us were steel girders, they looked like they were holding up the giant town houses. There was a giant brick wall. Suzanne explained that it was a facade – to keep the street looking the same on the other side. We could’ve peered over the bridge. But none of us bothered to jump and see. Across the road an old lady was walking with her carer. She used her walking stick to point at us. She said in a well-to-do voice, “Are you looking for Paddington?” We all laughed. We said, ‘No, it’s okay, we’re on a tour’. It was funny. We carried on, this time looking at c20 housing, Suzanne, didn’t know much about these particular terraced houses, but she remarked on how they followed a similar line to the c19 buildings. We crossed the road and had arrived at the main attraction for the day: the Hallfield Estate by Drake and Lasdun.

Our first stop was an infant/primary school designed by Lasdun: Hallfield School. The first issue here was access. School security being what it is these days, means that we had to peer at the school buildings through heavy metal gates. You certainly got a sense of the low-rise nature of the buildings, but for the scope of the school, we had to rely on maps in our notes. Suzanne had reproduced an image of the school plans, plus the original flower design used by the architect. We all looked at the maps, turning them to work out where we were. Sometimes you can get in to see the school, often on Open House weekends. We stood in a semi-circle facing the school that was behind Suzanne. Some people took photographs, others read the notes, some listened intently to Suzanne. We were soon off again, this time walking through the Estate to the other side of the school. Again, we were confronted by heavy black gates. But you could see where the school hall was, the brightly painted blue chimneys. The square windows. Everything felt somehow downsized. A small scale building for small scale people (schoolchildren). Earlier Suzanne had remarked how the building had been designed at a time when educational practices were changing. There were small chairs for small children: matching buildings and furniture with their users.

Behind us were some low-rise buildings – two stories maximum, they had been designed for older people. Then to our left were 10 storey towerblocks with rooms for 4 to 6 people. Then there were some shorter 6 storey blocks. People walked passed us, as we looked at our notes, they were probably wondering what we were looking at. Wondering why we were there on a lovely sunny Saturday afternoon. I stood in the shade, others stood as close as they could to Suzanne, to take in everything she was saying. As we stood outside the first towerblock, people were looking over the balconies, enjoying a cigarette or the shade provided by this side of the building. Some people were washing their cars. I suppose we were being looked at, while we were looking at them. It was a strange feeling. But I’d been on guided walks and fieldtrips before and it soon felt less uncomfortable. If people wanted to know what we were doing there, well, Suzanne would have been able to explain and they probably would have been interested.  There were some lovely original signs, but the green spaces on which they stood had been fenced off, so to see them you had to peer over the fences. This was a real shame, as I wondered how people would know how to get around the Estate without them, I didn’t notice any new signs. But perhaps people don’t walk through the Estate to cut across the area. It is full of homes, there are no shops. There were giant green spaces, but signs warned children: no ball games, no dog walking etc. And despite not seeing anyone official looking, somehow it felt like this was enforced. We continued to walk in an anti-clockwise direction and came to the buildings with the ‘sail’ like balconies. We commented on how on earth they were just hanging there. The buildings had supporting columns – they are called pilotis. It was funny, because Suzanne felt very passionate about these pilotis – they’d put ugly pipes down the centre of them. ‘Why do that’. It turned out that the Estate had just been Grade II listed (this was why the walk had been repeated – usually walks are one-off, but this one was a repeat from last summer). Suzanne said, ‘We were really pleased about this’. The ‘we’ – I am not sure, I assume she meant the Society. But she may well have been involved in the Estate. We continued underneath one of the buildings to stand in the shade and look at the greenspace. We couldn’t lean on the railings enclosing it, they were sharp-ish spikes and the railing on the inside was uncomfortable. Someone asked if this was private or local authority housing. Suzanne thought it was a mixture. We talked about the greenspaces and someone said, ‘Is it like in the squares in London, where residents have key access to the gardens?’ Nobody seemed to think it was like that. There were some gates, but nobody was laying outside enjoying the sunshine. We followed the path around the outside of the Estate towards the former communal laundry. As we waiting for the group to reconvene, as some people were busy taking photographs, Suzanne mentioned about the post boxes. How some were listed.

When the Estate was first built, people wouldn’t have had washing machines. Suzanne explained how her family didn’t have a washing machine until she was 16. The laundry (Drake, Lasdun and Tecton?) was circular and a welcome relief from the sharp lines of the Estate so far. I believe the laundry was designed by Tecton who designed the Penguin House at London Zoo. We walked around the side of the laundry to look at the building from the top, with its inverted glass panels providing light to the building. We had to climb quite a way to get this perspective, it appeared the Estate had been built on lower ground. There were now some sports courts, young guys playing basketball. We saw people coming back from the shops. We were now on Bishop’s Bridge Road. A busy main road with Paddington at one end. I caught a glimpse of Whiteleys. I hadn’t really ever seen the store before, but I knew my granny had worked there as a seamstress when she was about 16. I realised that I had never really spoken to her about that time of her life, which WAS the time of her life! She loved it there, I saw the white turrets. We didn’t talk about this building on the walk (although I later asked Suzanne and she said, she hadn’t mentioned it because you can’t talk about everything on a tour). We moved on to a c20 shopping centre, The Colonnades, with an interesting ceiling, curved windows for the shops, curved balconies. It was ‘fun’. It was nice to be in the shade again, but it would have been even nicer to have one the cold drinks or ice creams on sale. But there was no time for that. We were on to the next building. As we turned around we came to Porchester Square. It was a green space between two rows of what looked like c19 town-housing. Interestingly here one of the buildings was back to front, with the waste pipes on the outside of the building, apparently this was unusual. We crossed the park to look at this building from the front. We carried on. This time to Porchester Hall. It was an imposing building, it contains a spa, a library and, at the time we were there, a wedding party. Lots of cars were hooting, not because of the wedding, but because they were impatient to get passed. As we turned the corner, towards the final building on our walk, a young guy overheard what Suzanne was saying about the uniqueness of the buildings in front of us. He said, ‘You get loads of them like this up North’. He was from Manchester. You couldn’t hear everything he was saying, but he was adding some colour and regional interest to the walk. He soon realised his friends had stopped walking with him, realised the whole group was listening to him and said, ‘I’ll let you get back to your walk’.

We carried on passed Whiteleys at the end of the road and turned right and then right again. Straight ahead of us was the most beautiful yellow and lime-green leaved tree. It was glorious against the white of the houses and the blue of the sky. We stood there are admired it. Suzanne said, ‘So does anyone know what sort of tree it is?’ Someone said, ‘Acacia’. One of the other women and I looked at each other, ‘I don’t think it’s Acacia’. We carried on to the left and came to 32 Newton Road. This was the first house commission that had been designed by Lasdun. It was like a ship. I’ve been on a few cruise ships, and all of the places we had seen today, had that feel. I don’t think they were supposed to look like that, but the glass, windows, balconies, ornate staircases, utilitarian functionality – suggested a tight ship. The house was hidden by high, hedges, walls, and an electric gate. A girl stood in the window of the house looking at us. The gate opened and a young boy on a peddle car/bike thing came out. He went up and down the street. He’d had enough and entered the code to get back in. I wondered if they knew they were living in a house deemed historically important. Did they know who’d designed it. I wondered if they ever wondered why people were looking at their house. Behind the gate was Porsche. As the boy attempted to get passed the car, his sister shouted, ‘mind the car with your bike’. It is an affluent area and we were getting some strange looks from passers-by just back from shopping. It was a great end to the walk. We said our good-byes and then headed to a café to discuss the walk and our exciting new fieldwork.

– Hilary


2 responses to “Walk 1: Post-War Paddington

  1. Pingback: Post-War Paddington – walk 1 with the c20society | Conserving the Twentieth Century

  2. Pingback: “Instances of a changed society” | C20 Society

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