Wornington Road W10, North Kensington
Social housing block for Kensington Housing Trust
Clifford Wearden & Associate (Peter Deakins) 1965
WHY LIST PEPLER HOUSE?
Wornington Green is a 1960s/70s housing estate in Golborne Ward, North Kensington, a very deprived area. The landlord Kensington Housing Trust, now Catalyst Housing Group, have decided to demolish and rebuild all 538 homes, and have nearly completed the first stage of Phase 1. Phase 2 is now under threat of being ‘accelerated’. This would involve partial demolition of Pepler House, a building so highly regarded by its residents that when they first heard about possible demolition in 2007, they declared a Republic of Pepler House; this was on ITV and local and national newspapers.
Declaration of The Republic of Pepler House, 2007
Residents have asked me as their Ward Councillor (and architecture critic and member of Docomomo, who have visited the building and support this application) to get their building spot-listed before the new planning application can go through.
WHAT IS IT?
Pepler House is a single block of 96 flats that comfortably holds its own within the Victorian terraces of Notting Hill and North Kensington. Its proportions are elegant and its facade is beautifully articulated, and sits well along its full 100 ft length without seeming overbearing or repetitive. The lower ground patio gardens on the street side are of a useful size, light and well cared for. It is a well loved building that has created its own sense of place and community.
‘This is very very decent housing, architecturally interesting and subtle. The stairways were innovative; it is earlier than it looks. It is clearly well liked by the people who live there. It makes no sense to demolish this building.’ (Catherine Croft, Director, 20th Century Society, during a visit, 2009)
Designed by Clifford Wearden and Associate (Peter Deakins), 1964, the building replaced a terrace of Victorian ‘slum dwellings’ that were in very poor repair, overcrowded, and said to be shoddily built. Many of the original ‘slum dwellers’ of Wornington Road moved into and still live in Pepler House today.
When Pepler House was opened in 1965 by Prince Philip, it was the longest socially rented building in the country and considered to be a very fine example of the new generation of building. The landlord Kensington Housing Trust were at the time pioneers, buying up old houses to refurbish, and rebuilding poor quality ‘slum’ dwellings where possible. Pepler House was designed with care and circumspection, and it was very well received by the press.
Prince Philip at the opening of the building in 1965
‘A perfect example of a modest and thoughtfully designed scheme that has stood the test of time.’ (EDC, architecture critic)
The building is of load-bearing brick construction for exterior and spine walls, reinforced concrete floors and, originally, a flat timber roof. When first built its four storeys and modest scale complemented the Victorian terrace opposite (now demolished). The projecting windows, which were designed for the ground, first and second floors to be ‘winter gardens’, give a rhythm and articulation that work well on a block of this length; they also bring a flood of extra light into the flats. The mottled brown Crowborough stock bricks are distinctive, and have weathered extremely well. The fair-faced brickwork is continued inside into the stairwells; this was for continuity as well as economy.
Resident Leslie Dillon with architect Peter Deakins
‘There’s no reason why it couldn’t last a few hundred years like any Georgian building.’ (Peter Deakins, associate of Clifford Wearden who designed the building, interview on Youtube, 2010)
The flats, designed to Parker Morris standards, feel very spacious with generous built-in storage cupboards in hallway and bedrooms meaning there is less need for wardrobes. One of the most innovative and distinctive aspects of these homes is barely mentioned in any of the coverage found to date. While all bedrooms are to the rear, northern face, the living and kitchens are to the front, south-facing. As you enter the kitchen is to the immediate right. This is a galley kitchen that opens up into a spacious dining area next to the windows. Beside this is the living room, but between the two a full-height sliding wall was designed, that could be fully opened or closed, making two discrete rooms. This innovation was extremely popular, designed so that parents could watch their children as they prepared food, but that the dining space could be used for homework while the living room was in use.
Floorplans of Pepler house
‘Attention to detail was one of its most striking features: ground-floor flats were let to families with small children, there were pull-out clothes lines over the baths, built-in wardrobes in bedrooms, and a pram-shed was allocated to each flat.’ (Bricks and Mortals, Andrea Tanner, pub: Kensington Housing Trust, 2001).
Where they still exist, these sliding walls are very popular with families, particularly with the many Muslim families where women and men eat separately. This means there can be a complete separation where needed, with a decent alternative space, but the rooms can be joined when there are mixed family gatherings.
In the near 50-year existence of Pepler House there have been few changes.
The most obvious one is the addition of a pitched roof. According to Peter Deakins, having a roof was discussed at the time, but discarded as flat roofs were the story of the moment. However he states that he does ‘not have a problem with the roof’. It has been well designed with decent tiles and a wide overhang and soffit; some even see it as an improvement to the overall look of the building.
The second most obvious alteration is the division of the courtyard into private gardens front and back. This is seen as an improvement, certainly the residents use them and many cherish them. Peter Deakins has stated that the plain paving was laid for reasons of economy, and he prefers the private spaces.
Thirdly, but less obviously, the windows have been changed for two-way opening windows that are easier to clean, as they can be tilted for air or fully opened for cleaning. In warm weather these are often left fully open, and residents sit next to them to speak to their neighbours, which gives added life to the building.
As stated, some of the sliding walls have been fixed or replaced with arches etc. Some have stated that the sliding mechanism was not sufficiently robust, and the Trust would not replace them with a stronger version, which is a shame.
Security gates were an unfortunate but necessary addition in the 1980s.
It must be said that the Trust have been very poor building managers indeed, having never undertaken any cyclical maintenance whatever. The entire estate, not just Pepler House, has suffered this fate. Given this, Pepler House has fared extremely well over 50 years and is in remarkably good shape, needing very little to keep it in repair apart from clearing gutters and drainpipes.
While many residents love their building, some residents did not realise just how spacious and innovative their homes were until they visited newly built flats in the first phase of development just down the road. They have now come to appreciate the special quality of their homes as regards: dual aspect with large windows; arrangement of space that is well suited to family life; kitchens with views; orientation that lets in sunlight all day; ample storage; generosity of space; flexibility of kitchen/dining/living space. All are absent from the new flats.
WHERE WE ARE
The estate is subject to a masterplan that was agreed three years ago (and it’s not very good). The first stage of Phase 1 is getting towards completion; incidentally it is of very poor build quality, which has angered residents even more! (see comments on this at http://emmadentcoad.blogspot.com ).
Catalyst are planning the second stage of Phase 1, and looking ahead to the next stage. They are now considering accelerating Phase 2 which would mean the partial demolition of Pepler House. Designs are currently being worked on but not yet submitted. In the meantime, Pepler House is fully occupied.
We ask English Heritage please to consider listing or spot-listing this beautifully conceived and designed block. Further information from contemporary press is included in this folder.
Iman Driss Boumzough, resident of Pepler House
PEPLER HOUSE ARCHIVE
|Pepler House in 1964 (all archive photos by Colin Westwood)|
ARTICLE FROM THE ARCHITECT AND BUILDING NEWS September 1966