Whitecross Street from Chiswell Street to Fortune Street and Dufferin Street
At the corner of Whitecross Street and Chiswell Street is a huge 1980s office building called The Pentagon, which is so bland that you actually forget it exists. It houses the Lloyds Banking Group. Its polished, grey, fake marble, bath showroom, frontage with its horribly featureless, red-rimmed, windows runs all the way along Whitecross Street to the Waitrose shopping precinct.
After the huge chunk of the Lloyds Banking Group building there is then the even huger chunk of the London City Shopping precinct which extends to Errol Street. This is almost a temple by comparison. The shopping complex at street level was constructed with a line of equidistant, white-painted, brick pillars along the street frontage. The southern half has shops between the pillars; but in the northern part pedestrians walk between the pillars into a covered courtyard and then into Waitrose at the back. The covered courtyard is called an ‘undercroft’ in architectural languange. It was intended to be a market and it has 13 fixed stalls.
The residential part, which is called Cooper House, is brick-built and sits on top of the shopping complex. It is visually interesting, with different level projections and balconies right the way up to the top (fifth) storey. It even has an interesting roofline, but you can’t see it from Whitecross Street. This style, which was originated by a firm of architects called Renton Howard Wood Levine and employed by them in Islington and other London boroughs, was intended to replicate an Italian hillside village. It was a reaction against Modernism, and the aim was to avoid largescale blocks and to concentrate on providing housing on a more human and liveable scale. The particular architects for this scheme may have been Fitzroy Robinson of Fitzroy Robinson & Partners, who are known to have designed similar schemes adopting this style.
There are ancient brick vaults running from below the shopping centre as far as Chiswell Street. It is rumoured that there were once some public toilets which have also been built over.
On the west side of Whitecross Street, at the corner with Beech Street, Whitecross Street starts with the attractive, coiling, concrete stairway up to the podium level of the Barbican Estate.
Beyond it is the long back wall of the Golden Lane campus, as it’s called, containing three schools. There is an entrance in Whitecross Street, but it also opens onto Golden Lane, which appears to be the main entrance (as the campus name implies). There is a third entrance from Fortune Street Park, which lies slightly to the north, also between Whitecross Street and Golden Lane. The Whitecross Street frontage of the Golden Lane campus is done in pleasantly cream-coloured, brick-effect, slabs, with colourful panels.
Next to the school complex in Whitecross Street and opposite Waitrose is a series of old buildings forming a rather higgledy-piggledy terrace.
No. 107 Whitecross Street sticks up much higher than the rest of the parade. The Crittal windows suggest it might be a 1950s building. It was designed to look impressive. The upper parts of the façade are covered in cream-coloured tiles and the windows are separated by a wide central section of wall. It has been the home of many ill-fated restaurants which never quite seem to grasp the zeitgeist (while Baracca opposite carries on imperviously and with no concessions to zeitgeist at all).
Next to No. 107 Whitecross Street is a terrace of three Victorian properties, Nos. 109 to 113 Whitecross Street. They don’t look very similar now, but a unified cornice running along the top beneath the parapet and mansard roofs suggests they were all built as part of a single project. The upper floors of No. 113 Whitecross Street at the north end extend over Shrewsbury Court which forms a covered passage into what is now Fortune Street Park, but which must have been a courtyard behind the street when this terrace was first erected.
No. 115 Whitecross Street is a building which looks modern it is so faultless, but it is clearly another late Victorian building judging by the obvious age of the mansard roof. But major reconstruction work has clearly been done in recent years. The frontage now has large, functional, modern windows without any decorative edging. The façade has also been plastered with ashlar-effect grooves and painted dark grey. Despite looking so modern, and so clean and tidy, and so un-Whitecross Street like, it is the home of the longest standing residents of Whitecross Street – A Holt & Sons. They started business as market traders 160 years ago, and moved to No. 115 Whitecross Street some equally far-distant time ago. They carried out the development creating the beautiful penthouse property overlooking Fortune Street Park at the back.
Nos. 117-119 Whitecross Street is another individual Victorian property, built with a ground floor shop and residential floors above. It has a mansard roof like the others. It appears to have been refurbished in the recent past. It looks slightly odd, with only two windows per floor; the building could easily have accommodated three.
Finally in this section is the Two Brewers pub at No. 121 Whitecross Street. This was clearly built as a pub. There has been a pub of this name here since at least 1778. At ground floor level it has the typical old-fashioned pub look, with large windows and the façade lined with brown tiles. On the other hand, it has clearly been antiqued-up a bit, with fake lamps and leaded glass in the windows. There are two storeys above the pub with strangely tall and narrow windows. The building may either be a Victorian re-build or else older than it seems because there is a record at the London Metropolitan Archives of Joseph Bailey, a ‘victualler’, being the landlord of the pub in 1778.
Round the corner of Whitecross Street, into Fortune Street, is a nice-looking Victorian building with attractive brickwork which must once have been separate, but has been converted in the past to form part of the pub. There is no obvious reason why, but all the windows of the upper floors are strangely crammed into the left-hand part of the frontage. Between that building and the entrance to Fortune Street Park is a simple little two-storey building with surprisingly ornate round-headed windows.
Between Errol Street and Dufferin Street on the east side of Whitecross Street, there is far and away the most imposing building in the entire street. However, it barely features in anyone’s mental picture of Whitecross Street because all its imposingness is reserved for Dufferin Street and Errol Street where it has its longest sides and its entrances. This is ‘Craftwork Studios’, Nos. 1-3 Dufferin Street. It is a large former Victorian warehouse on five high floors with large windows in an attractive brick façade. The central section where the loading cranes would have been are still visible but any vestiges of the building’s industrial past have gone and it is now an expensively refurbished office building with three passenger lifts and a commissionaire.
Whitecross Street from Fortune Street and Dufferin Street to Roscoe Street
The east side of Whitecross Street between Dufferin Street and Roscoe Street is entirely occupied by blocks forming part of the Whitecross Street Peabody Estate. The blocks along Whitecross Street back onto courtyards and are generally five or six storeys high and are regarded as being in a severe form of Italianate style. The Whitecross Street blocks were designed by Henry Astley Derbyshire (1825-1899) and his basic design was used in most of the Peabody estates in London. Derbyshire used distinctive light-coloured bricks which are on show in these buildings.
The west side of Whitecross Street, from Fortune Street to Roscoe Street, is a terrace made up of individual buildings constructed against each other’s flank walls, but with a couple of sections of genuine terrace. The corner building, Nos. 123-127 Whitecross Street, is the most imposing building in the ensemble. It is four storeys high. It was designed with a number of classical Greek decorative elements. Rather apologetic, almost two-dimensional, Greek pilasters are pressed into the façade at intervals. There is a Greek key pattern frieze let into the brickwork running below the two top sets of windows.
This is followed by a squashed mishmash of little buildings. First, No. 129 Whitecross Street, a thin modern steel and glass building squeezed into a tiny gap between two older terraced properties. It is five storeys high, and each of the floors has full width, floor-to-ceiling glass windows.
Nos. 131-133 Whitecross Street is the largest of this series of terraced buildings with room for two well-spaced windows on each floor. Barbican Express Pizza occupies the ground floor and there are three residential storeys above. It is a particularly undistinguished bit of Victorian building which looks as if someone finished a course of brickwork above the top storey and just decided to down tools right there.
Nos. 135 and 137 Whitecross Street are small buildings which might have been built together, with shops on the ground floor and two residential storeys above. No. 137 Whitecross Street has only one window per floor, but No. 135 Whitecross Street has managed to cram in two windows at each level.
No. 139 Whitecross Street may have been built as part of the longer, recently-refurbished, terrace it’s connected to, (described next) judging by the distinctively-shaped brick lintels above the windows which are very similar in each, and the fact that they share the same roofline. But it must have been in separate ownership later because it doesn’t have the mansard roofs which all the others have. It still has the original sash windows which have been replaced in the modernised houses. Another difference between No. 139 Whitecross Street and the other members of the terrace is that the façade of No. 139 Whitecross Street at ground floor level is covered with black engineering tiles with a glossy finish. This exactly matches the building to the left, No. 137 Whitecross Street, which is clearly not part of the terrace. This is further evidence that No. 139 Whitecross Street may have been constructed as part of the terrace but has not been in the same ownership, but instead has been in the same ownership as No. 137 Whitecross Street.
Nos. 141-147 Whitecross Street and Nos. 149-157 Whitecross Street are two early 19th century terraces, separated by a gated passageway to a courtyard at the back. They first appear on a map dated 1867-70, but from their style they were probably constructed as early as 1820.
The southern terrace is the shorter of the two, with four houses, Nos. 141-147 Whitecross Street. Nos. 141 to 145 Whitecross Street have only one window at each floor level; No. 147 Whitecross Street is slightly wider than the other buildings and has two windows per storey. They all have flat pilasters separating the buildings and around the doors, and they all have similar ornate decoration on the façades, which unites the terrace (although the design is slightly different on No. 141 Whitecross Street.) Since about 1789, there was a pub where No. 147 Whitecross Street stands today. This was originally called ‘The Bear and Ragged Staff’ (and then, hugely less imaginatively, ‘Warwick Arms’). It closed in about 1901 and was demolished.
The second terrace, which comprises Nos. 149-157 Whitecross Street, was extensively redeveloped and partially rebuilt in about 2017-8 to the extent that it is difficult to relate the ground floor to the upper floors: the pilasters between the shop windows don’t match the positioning of the windows above. But the terrace retains the original dividing party walls at roof level, which make it clear that the terrace as built comprised five individual properties. Overall, the design is much like the terrace of Nos. 141-147 Whitecross Street. There are two storeys plus a mansard roof above ground floor level and there are two windows per floor.
The decoration of No. 149 Whitecross Street, No. 151 Whitecross Street and No. 153 Whitecross Street is all the same. Many of the windows have moulded stucco surrounds and plain parapets. The decoration of No. 155 Whitecross Street and No. 157 Whitecross Street is slightly different, and the grey paint is darker.
No. 159 Whitecross Street is a terraced building with ground and three upper floors, and it is taller than its neighbours to the north. There may be a set-back penthouse flat at the top, but it is not visible from Whitecross Street. There are two windows per storey in the upper parts and they appear to be original sash windows. The design of the ground floor façade is similar to that of the main terrace and has been painted the same grey colour so they may well be in the same ownership.
The final building in this group is a former public house . Founded in 1789, this was the ‘Green Man and Still’ public house, until sometime in the 1990s when its name was changed to ‘McLoughlins’. The pub ceased to trade in 2006. Now most of the ground floor is occupied by Fix Coffee (No. 161A Whitecross Street), although one smaller section facing Whitecross Street was separated off and let first to Comptons Hairdressers and now to Bar Hair Ink hairdressing salon (No. 161B Whitecross Street). There are two storeys of flats above. The ground floor of the building is decorated with tiling in the traditional manner for pubs. (Those around the shop have been painted black.)
Whitecross Street from Roscoe Street to Banner Street
No. 163-165 Whitecross Street is a building with an interesting history. It has a double-fronted ground floor shop front onto Whitecross Street and a return on Roscoe Street of similar size. Originally, the entrance was on Roscoe Street where there is still the main door with the name ‘Shaftesbury House’ over it. The building has three reasonably high-ceilinged upper floors. It is capped off with a decorated brick cornice below the parapet. On the Whitecross Street side the windows on the corner have been filled in, possibly to do with the 18th to 19th century window tax. It has very plain rendered lintels above the windows. The sash windows appear to be original.
The ground floor on Whitecross Street is occupied by Minuit Moins Sept, a shoe repair shop, which is an offshoot of Christian Louboutin. Despite the gold lettering along the top of the shop front proclaiming its shoe repairing business, Minuit Moins Sept in fact only repairs Christian Louboutin shoes. The legend is that Louboutin took shop because this was where Harrods began. I was also told that the name – Seven Minutes to Midnight in English – had something to do with the Cinderella story, but I can’t find any reference to anything significant happening at 11:53 pm in the story. Certainly, neither Cinderella nor her Fairy Godmother can have bought her shoes at Christian Louboutin since her slippers were all glass and must have lacked Christian Louboutin’s signature red soles. Before it was a cobbler’s, the shop was occupied by Joseph Hairdressers.
No. 167 Whitecross Street is a slightly shorter building, occupied by The Drum, YMCA. It has quite an elaborate façade at ground floor level with some depth to it. There are two storeys above with three windows apiece each with decorative keystones. The building has a rather ugly mansard construction above the parapet wall – very square and slabby in appearance. This was originally a pub, called the British Queen, from at least 1836 when the pub was first recorded. Before it closed in 2000, its name was the ‘Drum & Monkey’. When the YMCA took it over, they kept the ‘Drum’ part of the name.
No. 169 Whitecross Street is a two storey building. The ground floor is occupied by Kennedy’s fish and chip shop and the shop front is faced in blue engineering tiles (installed by Kennedy’s). The one upper floor has three large, round-headed, windows with tiled keystones, above which there is a slightly decorated parapet. Before Kennedy’s it was a fish and chips restaurant called ‘The Cosy Supper Bar’.
Finally on this block, is No. 171 Whitecross Street – a building with an early 20th-century look to it. The ground floor shop has a wooden façade which doesn’t look original. There are two upper storeys, with plain windows and wide, rendered, lintel courses over them and extending further into the brickwork on either side. Above the windows is an oddly tall, bricked section with no windows in it, and with no apparent purpose for its existence. The building extends round the corner into Banner Street.
The first building on the east side of Whitecross Street is No. 122-124 Whitecross Street. It’s a post-war, quite basic, building, set way back from the pavement. It houses the New East House Chinese restaurant on the ground floor. There is one storey above, with a very large, and very ugly, set of windows running across it. The building has considerable depth along Roscoe Street, but the wall has only a couple of small windows at the far end, a fire exit and a door possibly to an internal flat. I think it must have been built originally for some industrial purpose. (There used to be a No. 120 Whitecross Street, presumably on the corner, which was a pub called ‘The Rum and Puncheon’, which opened in about 1802 and finally called time in about 1915.)
No. 126 Whitecross Street is a rather special building. The flank wall of No. 126 Whitecross Street contains the well-known mural by Conor Harrington. The façade for the ground floor premises is all modern, but above ground level it is revealed as a rather ornate and attractive building in a style known as ‘Venetian Gothic’. The two upper storeys are highly decorated. The first floor has a segmental flat arched two-bay arcade with very deep alternate red and yellow brickwork bands. It has an ogee-moulded drip string course (with the ends supported on small carved sandstone brackets), sandstone springing stones, and a very large projecting sandstone keystone. The arches contain simple two-light sliding sash windows. There is a deep projecting ogee-moulded sandstone cill supported on four simple sandstone brackets. The second floor follows the same pattern but the arcade is of circular-headed arches and the cill and sandstone springing stones are omitted. At roof level there is an elaborate corniced parapet, partly altered and/or repaired, consisting of a projecting brick course, and ogee, rolled and scotia projecting sandstone mouldings.
Venetian Gothic is Venice’s version of Italian Gothic architecture, reflecting the influences of Byzantine and Islamic architecture resulting from Venice’s trading network. Another major factor was that Venetian palaces were built on very constricted sites, and impressive decoration had to be concentrated on the front façade. Such a style fitted in quite well with the limited opportunities for architectural expression when creating buildings in late 19th-century city streets. The vogue for Venetian Gothic in London was at its height when Farringdon Road was being developed and it can be seen in the facades of several of the surviving building there.
In No. 128 Whitecross Street, the Venetian-ness of the Gothic style is shown in the elaborate windows, cornice and other decoration to the façade. The Islamic elements of the style are particularly clear in the almost ‘Moorish’ shape of the second floor windows.
No. 128 Whitecross Street is rather less impressive, but still shows some attempt at decorative effect. Again, the façade at ground floor level is almost non-existent, just showing adverts for the shop. This building also has two upper storeys with two windows at each level. The windows have some decorative brickwork to the lintels, which are slightly curved, although the windows themselves are completely standard. The huge cornice and parapet wall of No. 126 Whitecross Street is absent from No. 128 Whitecross Street. Ugly vent pipes poke through the wall at second floor level, presumably for gas-fired central heating.
No. 130 Whitecross Street is a corner building on Whitecross Street with a return to Banner Street. It is a larger building than the previous ones, and it has three upper storeys. The style of the lintels in red brick with a slight curve is similar to the other parts of the block. There are three windows on each of the three floors above the ground floor shop.
The three Whitecross Street buildings have some similarities and many differences. The land may have been sold in three plots which individual builders each took and developed.
Whitecross Street from Banner Street to Old Street
I really like the building at Nos. 177-189 Whitecross Street. Standing having a chat with someone on the other side of Whitecross Street, I looked up and noticed for the first time that it was all one unified building and a rather beautiful one at that. The ground floor is occupied by the Iskele restaurant and its sister Cozzo, William Hill, and Mola coffee shop. The building is two storeys high, and it is the upper floor which is interesting. The façade is unpainted faience with large metal-framed windows. (These are galvanised steel replacements for the original Crittal-style windows.) There are stylised arrows pointing down on the main pilasters between the windows. In the centre of the roof, there is a clock tower (almost hidden from view because it is set a few paces back from the parapet wall) with a gold-numbered clock permanently approaching midnight (or mid-day depending on your mood). A distance apart on either side are two turrets which look vaguely like Japanese pagodas. I have no idea what they could be – perhaps ventilation vents for the restaurants. But they are quite ornate, each with a little gold diamond on top. In its design this building is a cousin, once or twice removed, of the Art Deco Movement. It will have been built around 1925-28. It is similar is style to the Bibendum Building, containing the Conran Shop, in the Fulham Road. This may have been built as a showroom for a single occupier.
On the east side of Whitecross Street is a purely functional, early 20th-century building which was probably built by the council. It currently contains three shops on the ground floor. There are two, quite low-ceilinged, upper storeys above the shops, which are only accessed from within the shops, so they are not separate flats.
The next building, No. 142-146 Whitecross Street, is the Whitecross Tap pub. The original pub on this site was the Spread Eagle which opened its doors in 1789. The building was damaged in the War, and it was rebuilt by Watney’s brewery company in the 1940s. The first floor is high-ceilinged and has a large central window with a white-painted entablature on top. The lower second floor, which was probably designed as residential accommodation for the pub, takes the form of dormer-style windows in the prominent, clay-tiled, mansard roof.
No. 152 Whitecross Street is a block of flats, called Coltash Court, which was built in 1966. It was probably one of the very first projects by Islington Council which was itself constituted in 1965. The block has 65 flats over 14 storeys, and it is over 30 metres in height. At ground floor level, there is a charity shop and a firm of solicitors on the south side of the entrance and a Vietnamese restaurant on the north side. The plain white columns on either side of the entrance were painted with climbing plants and flowers by the artist, Andrea Tyrimos, in 2018. I am informed by an architect friend that the columns which run under the entire building at the front show the influence of Le Corbusier, and the entire building is a clear reference to the Ministry of Education Building in Rio de Janeiro, designed by Lucio Costa who later designed Brasilia. (I think the architect in Islington’s architects’ department might have been very surprised to learn this.)
Beyond Coltash Court is a short terrace of buildings on Whitecross Street ending at Old Street. The first is No. 164 Whitecross Street which looks as if it was cheaply thrown up after the War without reference to any of the nearby buildings. It has a completely undecorated, boxlike structure, which no architect had a hand in, with rendering to the upper storeys and large metal-framed windows. (There was a pub called ‘the Black Boy and Still’ at No. 162 Whitecross Street, but No. 162 Whitecross Street did not survive the War.)
On the corner of Whitecross Street and Old Street is a red-brick Victorian building with gable ends and ornate windows. It is in the style of Hans Town in South Kensington. The round-headed windows have attractive lintels of shaped red bricks. This building contains No. 166 Whitecross Street and No. 168 Whitecross Street. The corner shop is numbered No. 92 Old Street. The building has a much larger frontage along Old Street.
On the west side of Whitecross Street, the terrace running from Garrett Street to Old Street is a succession of individual buildings. In fact, strictly speaking there are two terraces, because there was a gap between No. 193 Whitecross Street and No. 195 Whitecross Street which has been walled in (and painted with an attractive mural).
The corner building at No. 191 Whitecross Street has a ground and three upper storeys, one of which is in the mansard roof. There are two windows in each of the first and second storeys. It’s an attractive early Victorian or even late Georgian building with radiating brick lintels. The flank wall has no windows in it. In fact, the side wall seems to contain the outline of chimney breasts as if there had been a building beside it which was demolished. That would mean that Garrett Street is a new road, or else it was a much narrower alley and the council took advantage of the loss of the building to create a wider road.
No. 191 Whitecross Street stands next to a larger, red-brick building which is No. 193 Whitecross Street. This building has a much wider frontage. It has two upper storeys which are three windows wide and then it is topped with some prominences of brickwork and a decorative roof designed to resemble features of a Greek temple. There is a brick cornice beneath the second floor windows, and the windows have rounded brick lintels.
The next terrace begins with No. 195 Whitecross Street and runs to the end of Whitecross Street. But judging by the slight changes in brickwork and window style, they may have been joined together but they were not built together. (Old records say that there was a pub called ‘The Crown’ on the site of No. 195 Whitecross Street from the late 18th century to about 1915 when it was demolished.)
The whole range shares the same undecorated parapet line. Only one building, No. 209 Whitecross Street, has an additional mansard roof with an additional suite of rooms in it. Otherwise, the whole terrace has two upper storeys. No. 195 Whitecross Street has slightly different brickwork from that of Nos 197 to 201 Whitecross Street which employ a more yellow brick. Nos. 197 to 201 Whitecross Street have windows in a similar style, with gauged red bricks creating straight headed lintels above the windows at each level. Unfortunately, some later builder ‘improved’ all the windows by adding crude, rendered reveals round the frames. The sash windows could be original except in No. 197 Whitecross Street. Most of the terrace is late Victorian, except Nos. 203 to 209 Whitecross Street, which appear to be much older, possibly from around 1830. Along the whole terrace, the ground floor shop premises have clearly been divided and merged over the years so that they no longer correspond exactly with the party walls and windows of the premises above.
The corner building which houses the Korean restaurant is joined physically, and follows the same parapet wall line, but has no stylistic connection with the rest of the terrace in Whitecross Street. It has a larger frontage than the others to Whitecross Street and an even longer frontage along Old Street. There were originally three sets of windows on each of the two upper storeys facing Whitecross Street, making six windows; but three have been blocked up.
In a survey of memorable buildings in Whitecross Street, I must not forget the most attractive houses of all in Whitecross Street.