The Barbican was originally a fort in the northwest of the Roman city of Londinium. The area revived in the Middle Ages with the building of the first St. Giles Church in 1090. Bartholomew Fair started and Smithfield was a horse market. Charterhouse Square earned grisly fame as a plague pit during the Black Death. In the 17th Century the area became famous for the Fortune Theatre, built between Golden Lane and Whitecross Street. The area avoided the Great Fire. The Whitbread Brewery was founded in the late 18th Century, as was George Seddon’s furniture emporium. At the beginning of the 19th Century the population of the area was 14,000. During the century, the area became dominated by railway yards and warehouses, the Elizabethan houses were lost and the population fell to 2,000.
The history of the modem Barbican began on a clear Sunday evening, December 29th 1940. Incendiary bombs fell on the area destroying it completely. Several plans for redevelopment were put forward, and in 1957 the Court of Common Council finally reserved to redevelop the area as a residential estate and appointed Chamberlain, Powell and Bon as the architects.
The Barbican took nearly 15 years to build, with the Arts Centre as a late addition. It was completed in 1982. Since then the area has changed enormously. The first residents had few facilities (Safeways only arrived in the mid 1980’s), and most restaurants and bars closed at 9 p.m. The last 10 years have seen a revival of the area, with many new bars and restaurants.
The Barbican is now home to 4,000 people in 2,000 flats. Its architecture is unapologetically modem. Those who live here are fiercely defensive of its beauty and unique character, many describing it as our little piece of concrete heaven. In 2001 this uniqueness was recognised when the estate was granted Grade 2 listing. A new generation is beginning to appreciate what was at first reviled and little understood. What exists is nothing more than an urban village complete with entertainment, St Giles Church, play areas for children and a multitude of societies, all within walking distance of the City and easy reach of the West End.
You can find more information on the origins of our estate on the website of the City of London, our landlord. There you will also find the people who our blocks are named after!