The Twentieth Century Society

Review: Lambeth Architecture 1914-1939

Edmund Bird and Fiona Price (London Borough of Lambeth, 96pp, £9)

Reviewed by Robert Drake

Lambeth is documenting its 20th century heritage in a series of books co-authored by its former Conservation Officer (and C20 Society Trustee) Edmund Bird and Lambeth archivist Fiona Price; the first was Lambeth’s Edwardian Splendours (£7). The range of buildings in this latest title is astonishing: they are often of remarkably high quality and without any kind of heritage protection other than local listing. There is a final sad section on lost buildings of the period, such as the W H Smith and Doulton HQs on the Albert Embankment.

The present-day borough was already largely built over by 1914. Inter-war developments include a large number of schools, colleges and hospitals designed to improve living conditions in a socially mixed but mostly working class area.  The entry on the South London Hospital for Women in Clapham recalls earlier battles involving the Society to save this fine building of 1916-40 by Edwin Cooper. The facade survives but not the interior, which is now a Tesco and flats.

The other well-known elements of inter-war Lambeth are the huge apartment blocks striding up Brixton Hill and along Streatham High Road. Gibberd’s reinforced concrete-framed Pullman Court of 1936 (Grade II* listed) is well known and an Open House favourite, but there is a range of unlisted flats in more traditional styles, such as ‘The High’ and the Dutch gabled Manor Court on Leigham Avenue, both by R Toms. These huge complexes (sometimes with swimming pools) were complemented by entertainment buildings on Streatham High Road, and a few of these survive, mostly listed ones like the Grade II Streatham Hill Theatre of 1929 by Sprague, but others are empty or about to be demolished to make way for the Streatham ‘Hub’ development.

Lambeth also has a good deal of interesting public sector housing, ranging from the Larkhall Estate in Stockwell and the neo-Georgian Duchy of Cornwall Estate in Kennington to 1920s cottage estates out at Norwood.  The Loughborough Park Estate of 1938 (by the New Zealander Edward Armstrong for the Guinness Trust, with moderne community hall in the middle) was visited by the Society in 2005, but is now apparently threatened with demolition.

This is a well researched and engagingly written guide, accompanied by both archive and contemporary photographs, and the only omission is an index to the map to show the buildings’ locations. I look forward to Edmund’s next volume on Lambeth’s post-war buildings.

Available from Lambeth Libraries and RIBA bookshops, or by post from Lambeth Archives, Minet Library, 52 Knatchbull Road, London SW5 9QY (£11 including p&p).

Published February 2013