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Barbican Estate
Barbican Towers
Barbican Towers
General information
Type Mixed-use development
Architectural style Brutalist/Fortress
Town or city London
Country England
Design and construction
Architecture firm Chamberlin, Powell and Bon
Structural engineer Ove Arup & Partners
Civil engineer Ove Arup & Partners
Designations Grade II listed

The Barbican Estate, or Barbican, is a residential complex of around 2,000 flats, maisonettes, and houses in central London, England, within the City of London. It is in an area once devastated by World War II bombings and densely populated by financial institutions, 1.4 miles (2.2km) north east of Charing Cross. Originally built as rental housing for middle and upper-middle-class professionals, it remains to this day an upmarket residential estate. It contains, or is adjacent to, the Barbican Arts Centre, the Museum of London, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the Barbican public library, the City of London School for Girls and a YMCA (now closed), forming the Barbican Complex.

The Barbican Complex is a prominent example of British brutalist architecture and is Grade II listed as a whole, with the exception of the former Milton Court, which once contained a fire station, medical facilities, and some flats, but was demolished to allow the construction of a new apartment tower — named The Heron — which also provides additional facilities for the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.


The main fort of Roman London was built between 90 and 120 AD southeast of where the Museum of London now stands at the corner of London Wall and Aldersgate Street. Around 200 AD walls were built around the city that incorporated the old fort, which became a grand entrance known as Cripplegate. The word Barbican comes from the Low Latin word 'Barbecana' which referred to a fortified outpost or gateway, such as an outer defence of a city or castle or any tower situated over a gate or bridge which was used for defence purposes. In this case there seems to have been a Roman specula or watchtower in front of the fort at numbers 33–35 on the north side of the street then called Barbican (now the west end of Beech St), which was later incorporated into the fortifications north of the wall. The Normans called it the Basse-cour or Base Court, synonymous with the modern word "bailey" and still applied to the outer courtyard of Hampton Court Palace.

The Base Court continued to serve a military function during the reign of Edward I, but Edward III gave it to Robert d'Ufford, 1st Earl of Suffolk who made it his London home. By the 16th century it had passed to Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk. Brandon married his ward Catherine Willoughby, daughter of Maria de Salinas who had been a confidante and lady-in-waiting of Catherine of Aragon and after his death was retained by the Willoughby family. The original Base court seems to have been destroyed and the large building that replaced it was called Willoughby House, a name revived for part of the modern development.

Post-war development

Barbican monument Bryers and Sons
Frieze recovered from Bryers and Sons building at 53 and 54 Barbican which survived wartime bombing but was demolished to make way for the redevelopment

During World War II, the City suffered serious damage and loss of life. The Cripplegate ward was virtually demolished and by 1951 the resident population of the City stood at 5,324 of whom 48 lived in Cripplegate. Discussions began in 1952 about the future of the site, and the decision to build new residential properties was taken by the Court of Common Council on 19 September 1957.

The estate was built between 1965 and 1976, on a 35-acre (14 ha) site that had been bombed in World War II. The complex was designed by architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, whose first work was the ground-breaking Golden Lane Estate immediately north of the Barbican. The estate of 40 acres (16 ha) was officially opened in 1969 and is now home to around 4,000 people living in 2,014 flats. The flats reflect the widespread use in Britain in the 1960s and 1970s of concrete as the visible face of the building.
The central public court of the Barbican, Lakeside Terrace, features a café area.

The Minister for the Arts, Tessa Blackstone, announced in September 2001 that the Barbican complex was to be Grade II listed. It has been designated a site of special architectural interest for its scale, its cohesion and the ambition of the project. The complex is architecturally important as it is one of London's principal examples of concrete brutalist architecture and considered a landmark.

Blocks and towers

The residential estate consists of three tower blocks, 13 terrace blocks, two mews and The Postern, Wallside and Milton Court.

The terrace blocks

Part of the estate viewed from above

These are grouped around a lake and green squares. The main buildings rise up to seven floors above a podium level, which links all the facilities in the Barbican, providing a pedestrian route above street level. Some maisonettes are built into the podium structure. There is no vehicular access within the estate, but there are some car parks at the periphery of the estate. Public car parks are located within the Barbican Centre.

The terrace blocks are named:

  • Andrewes House – named after Lancelot Andrewes a 16th century English bishop and scholar;
  • Breton House – named after Nicholas Breton a 16th century English poet and novelist;
  • Bryer Court – named after W. Bryer & Sons gold refiners and assayers premises were Numbers 53 and 54 and demolished to make way for the building;
  • Bunyan Court – named after John Bunyan a 17th century English writer and Baptist preacher;
  • Defoe House – named after Daniel Defoe;
  • Frobisher Crescent – named after Martin Frobisher;
  • Gilbert House – named after Humphrey Gilbert;
  • Ben Jonson House – named after Ben Jonson;
  • Thomas More House – named after Thomas More;
  • Mountjoy House – named after Christopher Mountjoy a French wig-maker who let a room to William Shakespeare;
  • Seddon House – named after George Seddon;
  • Speed House – named after John Speed;
  • John Trundle Court – named after John Trundle;
  • Willoughby House – named after Catherine Willoughby

Tower blocks

The estate also contains three of London's tallest residential towers, at 42 storeys and 123 metres (404 ft) high. The top two or three floors of each block comprise three penthouse flats. The towers are (east to west):

  • Cromwell Tower, completed in 1973 – named after Oliver Cromwell;
  • Shakespeare Tower, completed in 1976 – named after William Shakespeare; and
  • Lauderdale Tower, completed in 1974 – named after the Earl of Lauderdale.

Once the tallest residential towers in London, they were surpassed by the Pan Peninsula development on the Isle of Dogs.

Barbican towers
Barbican towers

Barbican complex

Barbican Panorama
A panorama of the Barbican complex

The Barbican Estate also contains the Barbican Centre (an arts, drama and business venue), the Barbican public library, the City of London School for Girls, the Museum of London, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. A YMCA building was constructed between 1965 and 1971 to link the Barbican and Golden Lane Estate; it is also listed.

In popular culture

The Barbican features in Michael Paraskos's novel In Search of Sixpence as the home of the lead character, Geroud, and also a bar called 'The Gin Bar' loosely based on the Gin Joint bar at the Barbican Centre.

The video for Skepta's 2015 track Shutdown was filmed at the Barbican.

Nearby rail and Tube

Public Transport
Service Station/Stop Line/Route
National Rail National Rail Liverpool Street
London Underground London Underground Liverpool Street Central line
Circle line
Hammersmith & City
Metropolitan line
Barbican Circle line
Hammersmith & City
Metropolitan line
Moorgate Northern line (city branch)
Circle line
Hammersmith & City
Metropolitan line
St. Paul's Central line
Farringdon Circle line
Hammersmith & City
Metropolitan line

Famous residents

The Barbican has had a number of well-known residents throughout its history, especially in the years immediately after it was completed, when it was considered one of the most prestigious residential developments in London. Famous residents have included:

  • Conservative Cabinet Minister Norman Tebbit, who lived in a house on Wallside with his wife until the 1984 Brighton Hotel Bombing
  • Leader of the Labour Party John Smith, who lived in Cromwell Tower with his family until his death in 1994
  • Former leader of the National Union of Mineworkers, Arthur Scargill
  • Former Prime Minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto
  • Andrew Bruce, 11th Earl of Elgin
  • Writer and broadcaster Clive James, whose 1987 novel The Remake used the Barbican as a major setting
  • Film and theatre director Sir Peter Hall
  • Footballer George Best
  • Investment adviser, commentator and author Bob Beckman
  • Author, journalist, and broadcaster Brian Redhead
  • Senior British judge and Master of the Rolls Baron John Donaldson and his wife, the first female Lord Mayor of London Baroness Mary Donaldson
  • Artist Sir Michael Craig-Martin
  • Newspaper cartoonist Frank Dickens
  • Journalist and political activist S. W. Alexander
  • Writer and conservationist Robert Aickman lived in Willoughby House until 1977

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