The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Jack Straw’s Castle, London NW3

Jack Straw’s Castle is a landmark building in many ways. You would be forgiven for thinking it was much older than it really is, but then again, it was built by Raymond Erith, the skilful master of the classical language of architecture… so although it is built in the ‘Gothic Georgian’ idiom, it dates from the 1960s. It is also Erith’s only public building entirely built from scratch.

The plan of the public house is very much utilitarian, and the building form is shaped by the various functions needed for a pub, with, for example, one towers housing a lift, the other the water tanks. What Erith wanted to demonstrate with Jack Straw’s Castle was the other side of modernism, where form follows function, but using traditional materials in a traditional way. It has a timber frame, because the architect thought it was the best-suited material for pubs. But the entire frame was prefabricated and assembled on site in 3 months, hence using a very modern system.

Jack Straw’s Castle is therefore a very significant building of the post-war era and we felt that its listing grade did not reflect it appropriately. We did try to get it upgraded to II* but unfortunately our arguments failed to convince the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.

The Public House has recently been the subject of three consecutive planning applications, all withdrawn within a few months of one another. The Society opposed in the strongest terms the proposal to convert the listed pub into a mixed-use development, as it would have had the most adverse affect on the character of this fine listed building.

The fittings inside the building are original and nearly everything has survived virtually unchanged, therefore the proposal to turn the upper floors into serviced apartments would have meant loosing much original fabric. The proposed changes would have altered the listed building beyond reason, and tampered with the original fenestration’s pattern and form, with the number of windows both increased and unsympathetically altered. It was also proposed to uniform and standardize the building’s elevations, a principle wholly against Erith’s concept. The applicants clearly sought to over-develop the fabric of the original building and remove many original features to fit their plans.

The few minor concessions made in the latest batch of proposals did not overcome the fact that the developers’ plans for Jack Straw’s Castle were diametrically opposed to the essence of its listed status and therefore highly unsuitable for such an important building.

Acknowledgement: Lucy Archer

Emmanuelle Morgan