Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

This is one of the scenes photographed by my father in 1947 that is to me, a fascinating photo being 70 years old, however I am not sure if there was a specific reason, point of interest etc. to take this particular photo. The scene is Clerkenwell Close with the steps leading up to Robert’s Place at the end of the close, adjacent to the Pear Tree Court and Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate.

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

The same scene in 2017:

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

A view that has hardly changed apart from the two trees, cars and the buildings at the far end around and behind the steps.

To find this location, head north from Clerkenwell Road to Clerkenwell Green, then follow Clerkenwell Close around the edge of the church of St. James where you will find the site of the above photos. I have marked this with an orange circle in the 1940 map below (the streets here have hardly changed):

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

Going up from the orange circle, there is a road to the left, this is Pear Tree Court. Just above this junction are the steps at the far end of the photos which lead up to Robert’s Place and then into Bowling Green Lane.

This is one of the photos were I can work out exactly where the original was taken, leaning up against the wall underneath the Clerkenwell Close sign.

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

The buildings seen in the photo are part of the Clerkenwell Estate built by the Peabody Trust. The estate runs along Clerkenwell Close and Pear Tree Court, and consists of a number of Victorian five storey blocks clustered around a central courtyard. Each block given a letter rather than a number which, along with their appearance, does give the impression of blocks of barracks. The entrance to block C from Clerkenwell Close:

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

The view along Pear Tree Court:

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

The Clerkenwell Estate was one of six estates built by the Peabody Trust in the late 19th century. The Peabody Trust emerged from the The Peabody Donation Fund which was set up by the American, George Peabody in 1862. He was born in Massachusetts in 1795 but moved to London in 1837 where he remained for the rest of his life.

Peabody wanted to do something to help alleviate the poverty that he saw across London. It was suggested to him that people needed better living conditions with an affordable rent so he set up the Peabody Donation Fund with the first housing being built in 1864 at Commercial Street, Spitalfields.

The Clerkenwell Estate came about through the clearance of a number of slum sites under the Artisans and Labourers Dwellings Improvement Act of 1875 which allowed the Metropolitan Board of Works to buy up and clear six sites across London. The area around Pear Tree Court had already been condemned as unfit for human habitation.

The architect of the new estate was Henry Darbishire. The model used for each of the blocks consisted of units of five flats around a central staircase. In the late 19th century it was still standard practice for many facilities to be shared so each unit of five flats had shared lavatories and sculleries.

Entrance to Block C:

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

Block E – I do like the brick construction, however they do present a rather institutionalised appearance.

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

Block D:

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

On the side of the estate towards Farringdon Lane, there is an obvious change in construction where to the left a short terrace of two storey buildings run to the left. This terrace is the site of Block G which was badly damaged (along with Block H) by bombing in December 1940 with 12 people being killed in the attack.

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

Entrance to Block A – flowers and sunlight and I am startng to really appreciate these buildings.

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

The site is built on a considerable slope as can be seen in the photo below. The site slopes down towards Farringdon Road and the old route of the River Fleet.

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

Looking across the courtyard towards Blocks E and F. An air-raid shelter could still be found in the courtyard until 1985. The area is now occupied by a children’s playground.

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

The steps at the end of Clerkenwell Close were not that old in 1947 having been built as part of the Peabody development. Clerkenwell Close was extended towards the current position of the steps and a wall that blocked the route onward towards Bowling Green Lane was demolished to allow a route through via Robert’s Place.

There is much to discover in both Clerkenwell Close and the surrounding area which I hope to write about in more detail in the future. For example, the street was originally known as St. Mary’s Close after the old Benedictine Nunnery of St. Mary, part of which was latter incorporated into the church of St. James on the corner of the close. Clerkenwell Close has also had a number of well known inhabitants including Oliver Cromwell and there is a story that the death warrant of Charles I was signed in his house on Clerkenwell Close.

Oliver Cromwell’s house:

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

I am still no wiser as to why my father took the original photo, what interested him in the scene, although I am pleased he did as it is ordinary street scenes that I find so fascinating and they always lead me into looking at an area in a bit more detail.

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11 thoughts on “Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

  1. Joe studman

    Before betting offices were legalised the local bookie used to operate from the top of the stairs in Bowling Green Lane presumably because it gave him options for a quick escape if the police arrived. My father claimed he was a lookout and if he got arrested the fine was paid by the bookie.
    Look forward to further Clerkenwell posts.

    Reply
  2. Margaret Lawrenson

    The Peabody Estates were so much a part of the landscape in my London childhood. My school was surrounded by several, such as Old Pye Street and Horseferry Road among others. As a child, I found them rather institutional in appearance, and forbidding too. Now, recognising the housing they replaced, and their robust and thoughtful design, I’m rather more forgiving. They’ll be around a while longer yet, those blocks of flats!

    Reply
  3. Ray Backler

    This is fascinating with magnificent research and photos, as usual. One of my aunts lives in a similar estate in Upper Street, Islington, called The Sutton Estate, which is part of a number of developments by The Sutton Dwellings Trust, so there were other philanthropists operating in London. It would be interesting to know fi there are others too.

    Also, I have noted from your posting that Mr. Peabody was an American and I wonder whether he was anything to do with the Peabody Hotel chain family?

    Reply
  4. Mike@Bitaboutbritain

    I agree they look faintly institutional, but there’s an elegance about the buildings which was missing from some of the horrors put up more recently. Good research. Intriguing that so little has changed in a place where change is the only constant; I wonder how long they’ve got?

    Reply
  5. Barry Hepburn

    “A view that has hardly changed ……” You omitted the cars which indicate a degree of affluence that the original inhabitants could only dream of. Plus the double yellow lines that go with it!!

    Reply
  6. Jerry

    Firstly, thanks for what has been a past, present and hopefully long future series of fascinating photographic and descriptive insights to a city ( and country) I know and love and I’m sure many of the above contributors would join me in applauding your efforts to pay tribute to your fathers lifetime’s work, what a wonderful record it is and what a fantastic legacy you’re creating in updating that record. Indeed I know those long steps in Clerkenwell Close up to Bowling Green lane very well, having walked, run or crawled up them (non inebriated) countless times to the offices of the now sadly deceased Futurist Architect, Zaha Hadid at the Old School and also to the nearby City of London, London Metropolitan Archives, an extensive photographic Library, who if not already facilitated, would be a useful source for you and they I’m sure would be fascinated in your most illustrious project.

    Reply
    1. Brenda Gower

      My mother lived in Block B of Peabody Buildings Clerkenwell Close in the 1930’s. She told me about the shared facilities with other families and the wash and drying rooms at the top of the building. She attended Hugh Middleton School and married at St James Church Clerkenwell in 1934. Her name was Elizabeth Price

      Reply
  7. Andrea Neve

    I have found my Grandmother’s baptism record from 1905 and she was living in 13, E Block, Peabody Buildings, Clerkenwell, so these photo’s and the write up have made my day! Many thanks.

    Reply
  8. karen torrance

    Wow, what memories, I was born in this estate, 24D back in 1959. along with my sister and one brother. the eldest Kevin was born in hospital. we used to have just 2 rooms the bedroom had a double bed and bunk beds and a cot. the main room was a sitting room come kitchen. the washing facilities was shared with the other tenants on the landing. once C block was modernised we moved down to C block and my sister Lynn was born in 1966. what a great place to live and I ended up marrying a boy who lived in block D !!!!

    Reply
    1. Andrea Neve

      Wow, I’m surprised to hear that you still had shared washing facilities as late as 1959.
      It looks a lovely estate and has a nice children’s play area in the middle today.

      Reply

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