Shiplake House, Arnold Circus

This is the “Boundary Estate”, Britain’s first council estate, opened in 1900. It was built to the design of Owen Fleming and his team.  Fleming was a member of the Housing of the Working Classes branch of the LCC’s* Architecture department. He was 26 years old.

The aim of Boundary Estate project was to replace slums, in an area of disease, want, squalor and crime known as “Old Nicol”. The slums were pulled down, and replaced  by dwellings that were more healthy, and more pleasant to live in. The area was also provided with schools, a laundry, shops and clubrooms. The problem was, of course, that these dwellings were more expensive than the previous slums. The former inhabitants of the area couldn’t afford the rent, and had to go elsewhere. Better-off workers in stable employment moved in.

Here’s what one part of it looks like now.


This is Shiplake House, on Arnold Circus. It didn’t look in very good repair. The paint was flaking. As you see, the outside was festooned with wires, some going no-where. The windows were dirty, though none were actually broken. This disrepair was surprising, as these are sturdy buildings, close to trendy Shoreditch High St, Brick Lane, and the City.

Arnold Circus, showing my direction of view for the picture of Shiplake House.

Shoreditch High St is visible from the little hill which is Arnold Circus, where I sat to draw the picture. There are seven roads which meet at Arnold Circus. Is this a record?

I read about the Boundary Estate in “Municipal Dreams, the rise and fall of council housing” by John Boughton. This is a fascinating book, answering my questions about why governments over the decades have, and have not, built council houses. Why did they do it, and why did they stop doing it? His website Metropolitan Dreams is also a great read and recommended.

Here is the drawing before the colour went on, showing Shiplake House in the background.


*LCC= London County Council, disbanded in 1965, and replaced by the GLC = Greater London Council which covered a larger area. The GLC was itself abolished in 1986, and its powers went to the London Boroughs. It was abolished largely because its leader, Ken Livingstone, was a high-spending Labour politician whose policies were opposed to those of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Then when the GLA= Greater London Authority was established in 2000 the first Mayor elected was Ken Livingstone.  He began his victory speech with the words: “As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted 14 years ago …”

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