Notes from my Open City London tour of Croydon – St Bernard’s Estate and Park Hill
- PARK HILL
Park Hill was the site of the medieval archbishops of Canterbury’s deer park.
Suburbia has always defined part of Croydon, while the centre has been defined vertically, a mini Manhattan that gets rebuilt periodically. Croydon is always a site of experimentation.
One element of Croydon’s development has always been what we now call gentrification.
The Park Hill estate was leased off by the Church of England in the early 19th century in plots for building desirable ‘villas’, designed for the most wealthy.
Croydon expanded rapidly when the railway arrived in the 1840s. The Park Hill estate was built first in the 1880s by Croydon Corporation, and then rebuilt by the Wates Company in the 1960s.
Croydon underwent a deliberate ‘property boom’ in the postwar period. In the 1950s, the leader of the council, Sir James Marshall, used a private act of parliament to buy several acres of land in the centre. Marshall and the borough engineer Allan Holt capitalised on London County Council’s plan to decentralise office accommodation to the outer areas. In 1964, a ban on the erection of high rise offices in central London accelerated the attraction of Croydon as a suburban hub with cheaper rents for large corporations. By 1971, there were 40 new office blocks in the centre.
For Park Hill, in the 1960s as had been the case in the 1880s, the aim was to attract a commuting middle-class, seeking a quiet suburban retreat close to East Croydon railway station.
This is suburbia in its most International Modern form. The Wates master plan, begun in 1960, envisioned the ‘rambling obsolete Victorian houses’ being ‘replaced by modern homes of crisp, clean design in settings to which careful attention is given to landscaping’. The consultant architect and planner to the estate was Antony Minoprio; much of the design work was undertaken by in-house architects under Kenneth Bland. With different areas of the hill done at different stages in various arrangements, including the Dormy bungalows inspired by American design on Selborne Road (1960) and the Bramborne estate of split level terraces (1964), the aim of balancing density with generous landscaping was largely achieved harmoniously.
- ST BERNARDS
Set back from the road, seclusion is a key part of its form. It won the 1971 Croydon Housing Design award for being ‘a radical departure from the English suburban norm’. Wates hired the Swiss firm Atelier 5 to design a substantial development, although due to financial constraints, only 21 were built. Atelier 5’s design echoes their Siedlung Halen hilltop development in Berne, which itself was derived from Le Corbusier’s ‘Roq et Rob’. Each house, built in London stock brick, has a small enclosed front garden with a pergola, an open-plan split level layout. The larger houses originally reflected the marketing’s promise of a ‘New Swiss Concept in living’, including a ‘rumpus room’ on the lower floor for children to play, separated from the rest of the house.