50-up for the group who keep our area beautiful

Milestone for residents who set out to ‘preserve the special character’ of streets

Friday, 10th June — By Charlotte Chambers

Amwell Street

THEY started in order to take on the might of developers looking to demolish beautiful buildings – and 50 years later the Amwell Society is still going strong and gearing up for a special weekend of celebrations next week.

The society – formed around Amwell Street in Clerkenwell – was set up in 1972 to “preserve the special character” of the area bounded by Pentonville Road, Penton Rise, King’s Cross Road, Farringdon Road, Rosebery Avenue and St John Street.

Chair Peadar Sionoid said the society, which still retains founding members, was born out of a fight to keep the Georgian and Victorian homes that had once been grand but had fallen into slum dwellings and were at risk of being demolished to make way for new homes.

“In the 70s, all across London there was less interest or respect for Georgian and Victorian architecture and a lot of the houses we now value had fallen into disrepair and were viewed as slums,” he said.

“There were efforts, and some successful to demolish them. The buildings were under threat from local authorities in the early 70s, so in 1972 a small group of residents in the Amwell area teamed together to try and save some of these buildings from demolition.”

The society has been behind the Grade I and II listing of many buildings in the area.

More recently, it played a supportive role in helping the new Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration – headed by former Children’s Laureate Sir Quentin Blake – to move into former waterworks buildings in the historic New River Head site in Rosebery Avenue.

Peadar Sionoid and David Sulkin

The history of the area lies in its roots as the city’s main water supplier after wealthy Londoner Hugh Myddelton built a canal in the 1600s which became known as the New River. The water travelled from springs in Great Amwell in Hertfordshire to a reservoir at New River Head in Clerkenwell.

By 1670 two thirds of London’s homes were served by these waterworks.

In just two decades, from the 1820s to 30s, most of the area was built. There were two major developments: one was the Myddelton Square area, built by the New River Company and the other by the Lloyd Baker family.

“They are distinct and different but they are one of the first suburban developments in the UK,” said former chair David Sulkin, describing the housing in the area as one of the first purpose-built villages.

He added: “It was a model that was replicated. That’s why these houses are so important – because they’re the earliest of their type.”

Praising the area as “so beautiful and so unique,” he said his favourite building was housing estate Bevin Court, designed by modernist Russian architect Berthold Lubetkin in 1954, in Cruikshank Street.

Mr Sulkin, who joined the society in 1993, added: “I’m a great believer you get the neighbourhood you deserve: you have to do something to make a difference.

“I get immense pleasure from the locality being as it is. I don’t want it set in aspic but I do want to make sure its integrity is preserved.”

The society will be throwing a party next Friday to celebrate their milestone birthday, followed by a series of talks.

More information can be found on their website.

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