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Inventory Site Record

Alexandra Road Park, Alexandra Road Estate * (Camden)

Brief Description

* on The National Heritage List for England, Parks & Gardens 

Alexandra Road Park was laid out as part of the Alexandra Road Estate, which was was built on a 16 acre site, formerly part of the Eyre Estate developed in the late C19th. It is a large Council-owned and built housing estate, designed in the late 1960s and executed in the 1970s, with landscaping an important component of the scheme. Three long low-rise stepped terraces are integrated with landscaped gardens, walkways and terraces, the flats provided with balconies and window boxes. It was the first post-war housing estate to be listed, described in 1993 as 'one of the most distinguished groups of buildings produced in England since the second World War and of exceptional architectural interest.' The park was substantially restored in 2015-2016.

Practical Information
Previous / Other name:
Ainsworth Park
Site location:
Alexandra Road/Rowley Way
Postcode:
NW8 0SF
What 3 Words:
lock.loaf.invite
Type of site:
Housing/Estate Landscaping, Public Park
Borough:
Camden
Open to public?
Yes
Opening times:
unrestricted
Has taken part in Open Garden Squares Weekend 3 times, most recently in 2018.
Special conditions:
Facilities:
playgrounds and sports facilities/courts for residents of estate
Events:
Flat has opened for London Open House
Public transport:
Tube: Swiss Cottage (Jubilee). London Overground: South Hampstead. Bus: 31, 139, 189
Research updated:
21/08/2020
Last minor changes:
19/07/2023

Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.camden.gov.uk

Full Site Description

Site on The National Heritage List for England, Parks & Gardens, for Register Entry see https://www.historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list. The Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England was established in 1984 and was commonly called English Heritage. In April 2015 it split into 2 separate entities, Historic England (HE), which continues to champion and protect the historic environment, and the English Heritage Trust, whose role is to look after the 400+ historic sites and monuments owned by the state. HE manages the National Heritage List for England (NHLE) that includes over 400,000 items ranging from prehistoric monuments to office blocks, battlefields and parks, which benefit from legal protection.

Alexandra Road Estate is a large Council-owned and built housing estate, designed in the late 1960s and executed in the 1970s on a 16 acre site, formerly part of the Eyre Estate developed in the late C19th. The estate is bounded by the railway line to the north, Abbey Road to the west, Loudon Road to the east and Boundary Road and the Ainsworth Estate, built by the L.C.C. in the 1950s, to the south. Integrated landscaping of gardens, walkways and terraces were provided to serve the Estate, which consists of three long low-rise 'terraces' of residential flats on the site between the railway line and Boundary Road and adjoining the Ainsworth Estate, each flat with a balcony and trough window box. The first and second terraces face one another across a tree-lined 'street,' the second and third terraces overlooking centrally sited gardens. The gardens consist of a series of linked spaces and walkways on two levels giving access to flats and car parks, and including open 'viewing platform' terraces with seating and semi-exotic mixed planting in centrally placed square cement tubs, walkways lined and canopied with round trees, several children's playgrounds with built-in apparatus, a small secluded 'grove' on a slight rise enclosed by hedges and trees, and a circular grass amphitheatre. Although neglected in some areas much of the planting is flourishing, and the original intentions of the architects may be clearly appreciated. The estate was designed and executed by Neave Brown of Camden's Architect's Department under Sydney Cook, Borough Architect, between c.1970-1978. Housing consist of three long curved stepped terraces running from west to east, the two northern-most facing each other across a tree-lined 'street' Rowley Way, and the shorter southern terrace facing onto Ainsworth Way. The main area of landscape garden incorporating playground areas is laid out in a ribbon between the second and third terraces, but minor landscape design features are integral to the entire design of the estate, with each flat in the terrace blocks having a built-in balcony trough or window box, with the intention that plants would cascade down the stepped face of the building at every level. A Play Centre at the western end of the estate and a school and youth club at the eastern end are linked by design to adjacent green areas or provided with planter troughs and beds. There are many changes of level, with some trees planted at ground-level in the under-storey of the complex having their tops on a level with the viewing platforms and walkways, and others grouped at different levels along the raised and landscaped ribbon at the centre of the estate.

Neave Brown's avowed intention was to base his designs on English terraced housing of the C18th and C19th, which he described as a flexible and repetitive system providing meaningful relationships between public and private space. The general concept of the landscaped areas and planting troughs and their design was his, with some amendments and advice on species and disposition of planting contributed by Janet Jack. Conversely, the platform roofs and viewing terraces which characterise many buildings on the estate, and the separate 'room-like' enclosures of the landscape garden are linked by Neave Brown to the concepts of the interlinked garden and palace designs of the Italian Baroque period.

At its eastern end the estate is entered from Loudon Road via Alexandra Place between a short arcade of shops, standing on a raised platform with walkway and planter trough balustrade, and a more conventionally designed block of housing and offices. The walkway leads to a raised viewing platform between school and reception centre, with access to the car park area at ground level below, with one centrally placed raised planting feature containing a mixture of semi-exotic trees and shrubs. To the east, on level with the street at the entrance to Rowley Way, are shops and a building feature designed as a public house, fronted by an open-air seating area overhung by large built in planter troughs, some containing small trees. To the north, Rowley Way leads between two stepped and curving terraces of low-rise flats, lined with small trees spaced at regular intervals. Each flat has its own individually maintained planter trough, but at street level larger planters, part of the publicly maintained landscape, fulfil the function of a barrier between public and private space for those flats at ground floor level.

The main area of landscape planting bisects the centre of the estate offering park-like views for the overlooking terraces on either side. A raised walkway runs along the southern side of this strip, canopied and hedged by trees and bushes in some areas, or zigzags between the separate divisions creating a maze-like effect and offering multiple views over the component parts of the estate and access routes to each separate area. The many different sections of this landscape were designed as 'rooms' or spaces, each delineated and separated from the other by its own screen of planting. At its eastern end the walkway overlooks two small playgrounds at ground level designed for younger children, and then leads on to a small open sloping grassy glade screened by trees, with bench seating, and a small copse of ornamental trees at its south eastern corner. The next division to the west is a more gently sloping island of short grass and trees set at a lower level, parallel with adjacent ground floor terraces on its northern side and providing them with a landscape setting and outlook. The walkway then leads to a highly complex area of two small separate but interlocking adventure playgrounds with built in equipment, screened from the adjacent terraces by thick planting, and leading on to a small circular grassy amphitheatre with a tiny 'stage' platform at the entry point on its eastern side. At its western end the landscaped area terminates in a fenced tarmac rectangular playground sited at ground level, with a small adventure play area set on the raised bank on its northern side, and a play centre building beyond partially set into a landscaped bank which gives access onto the building's flat roof on two levels, designed as a further extension of playing area.

Alexandra Estate was the first post-war housing estate to be listed (the three long terraces were listed Grade II* in 1993), and the youngest construction ever to be listed. At that time it was described as ' one of the most distinguished groups of buildings produced in England since the second World War and of exceptional architectural interest.' The estate was designated a Conservation Area in 1994.

In 1991 a tenant's housing association, the South Hampstead Housing Co-Op, was set up to manage the Alexandra and Ainsworth Estates. The estate had been subject to inappropriate fabric repairs and neglect of the local authority-maintained landscape areas, while other landscape features designated as communal by the designers had been partitioned and annexed to the enclosures around individual flats. The landscape features were best preserved in the central garden-strip, and in the planter troughs and boxed around the eastern upper viewing platform; elsewhere some planters had been re-stocked with less appropriate 'bedding' plants, giving a suburban character. A request for additional recreational space for older children led to a suggestion that the circular grass amphitheatre, arguably one of the most attractive components of the central garden strip, be filled and levelled off. Along with the neglect anti-social behaviour was a problem as spaces became meeting places for gangs.

All these concerns were addressed by representatives of the S.H.H. Co-Op, Camden Council and English Heritage. In 2003 the group won £1.5m in funding and work began on transforming Alexandra Road Park. Working with the architects, landscape architects J & L Gibbons led the project, assisted by playground specialists Erect, while Jack and Brown were both involved in the revitalisation efforts. Jack had saved all the drawings for the original landscape and these have now subsequently been donated to the Garden Museum but prior to this were an invaluable help to J & L Gibbons. 

The following is an extract from an article by Laura Mark,  'Alexandra Road Park by J & L Gibbons and Erect', in Architects' Journal, 21 October 2015:
"The park’s walls form part of the elements protected by the estate’s grade II*-listed status and had to be carefully restored. These walls – which are so key to the park - were also part its downfall. Management was neglected allowing the trees and shrubs to grow up around the walls making visibility into the park difficult. Now with planting stripped back, sightlines have been restored and the feeling of the playspaces’ contained rooms created by the walls can be felt once again.

'For most of the playground’s Erect took a key feature from the original designs and worked around it. In the smaller children’s playground – the first you reach if approaching from the estate’s community centre – Jack’s original blockwork shell walls have been taken as inspiration and used alongside timber playstructures to create places for children to climb and hide. While in the playground reserved for older children, Jack’s long-gone geodesic dome climbing frame has been replaced with a yellow structure inspired by the triangles of the original dome.

'When Jack originally designed the playgrounds she was asked to pick from a catalogue, the result was simple playgrounds using swings, and slides. But Erect’s Susanne Tutsch tells me: ‘Playgrounds now have to be more complex and challenging to be of interest to children. It has to be more than just a slide and a swing.’It strikes me that arranging playgrounds by age in this linear way would rarely be done nowadays. I think of the single-mums battling as young children and old rush off to the different playgrounds at opposing ends of the park and worry about security issues. But this is a modern day worry, and one which the architects seem unconcerned about.

'Jack’s original design also anticipated the movement of children through the linear park allowing for them running through bushes and jumping over walls. These desire lines, highlighted through 30 years of use, have been picked up in J & L Gibbons’ landscaping design. Alongside the original walls, the park’s concrete benches have also been restored and replaced. Moulds for the bases were made using existing intact benches and the result is fitting.

‘It is impossible to replicate every detail’, landscape architect Neil Davidson says. But it is hard to see where they have strayed away from the park’s original vision. The scale has changed since the estate was completed in 1978. At that time the park’s landscaping was dwarfed by the surrounding housing but in the past 30 years the trees have grown and now reach the height of the buildings which once towered over them, changing the feel of the park. Erect and J+L Gibbons’ work has brought the park back to life – making it a place where residents want to spend time. The changes have even won over Brown. ‘I was apprehensive about visiting it at first’, he tells me. ‘But everything they have done, they have done well. I’m incredibly impressed by the care and attention they have taken. Where they have changed things they have done it with great sensitivity.’"

In 2018, as part of a ‘Compiling the Record’ campaign, HE in partnership with the Gardens Trust (TGT) invited nominations from members of TGT and the general public for post-war landscapes that might be added to the NHLE in order to widen the knowledge base and seek protection for a category of landscape hitherto deemed to be under-represented on the Register. A shortlist of 25 cases was selected by an expert panel comprised of external and internal partners to go forward to full assessment for registration. This shortlist included Alexandra Road Park, which has now been registered at Grade II*.

The reasons for this NHLE designation include the site's historic interest as 'a very rare scheme for a defined public park within a 1970s housing estate, designed by the:architect of the estate in collaboration with a professional landscape architect, responding to the developing mid-C20 movement promoting adventurous, imaginative play, as well as providing space for privacy and
repose, and wildlife habitats'. Its design interest resides in 'the important collaboration between Neave Brown, the leading public housing architect, and Janet Jack, a highly-respected landscape architect.' Features highlighted are the 'ingenious use of restricted space using changing levels together with diagonal walls and paths to define areas for play punctuating informal areas for relaxation, each with a distinctive character, enhanced by careful structural planting'. Its innovation is also signicant: 'such a very formal, sculpted landscape is rarely associated with modern housing estates and gives the park itself an international significance'. 'The essential form and character of the park, together with its structural elements, survives largely intact.' Finally the park has Group value as an integral part of the Grade II*-listed Alexandra Road Estate, the built structures within the park sharing in that designation; individual elements of the estate listed separately at Grade II are Brown’s school and youth centre, and Tom Kay’s complex of housing, shops and workshops, and the Grade II-listed mid-C19 Church of All Souls to the east of the estate.

Sources consulted:

NHLE Register. Catherine Croft, The Alexandra Road Estate and the Impact of Listing: Lessons for the Preservation of Post-War Mass Housing, B. Cons Thesis, A.A. Library, 1994. Documents including listing documents and conservation proposal documents in Alexandra Road Estate file, London Division, English Heritage. Information from Neave Brown, architect, 1994, and Catherine Croft, former Inspector for the LB Camden, English Heritage. Andrew Freear 'Alexandra Road: The Last Great Social Housing Project, AA Files, Autumn 1995 pp35-46; Alexandra Road Estate Management Guidelines (Levitt Bernstein for LB Camden, 2nd edition, January 2006); Laura Mark, 'Alexandra Road Park by J & L Gibbons and Erect', in Architects' Journal, 21 October 2015

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
TQ259838 (526083,183855)
Size in hectares:
c.6.47 (estate)/1.2434 gardens
Site ownership:
LB Camden/South Hampstead Housing Co-op
Site management:
South Hampstead Housing Co-Op; Friends of Alexandra Road Park
Date(s):
1970-78
Designer(s):
Neave Brown, Janet Jack (landscape architect), 2015/16 restoration: J & L Gibbons & Erect Architects
Listed structures:
LBII*: Alexandra Road Estate
On National Heritage List for England (NHLE), Parks & Gardens:

Yes
NHLE grade:
Grade II*
Registered common or village green on Commons Registration Act 1965:

No
Protected under London Squares Preservation Act 1931:

No

Local Authority Data

The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.

On Local List:
No
In Conservation Area:
Yes
Conservation Area name:
Alexandra Road
Tree Preservation Order:
Not known
Nature Conservation Area:
No
Green Belt:
No
Metropolitan Open Land:
No
Special Policy Area:
No
Other LA designation:
Public Open Space (Small Local)
Photos

Alexandra Road Park, Alexandra Road Estate *

Alexandra Road Estate, August 2002. Photo: S Williams

Alexandra Road Estate, August 2002. Photo: S Williams
2002

Click a photo to enlarge.

More photos

Please note the Inventory and its content are provided for your general information only and are subject to change. It is your responsibility to check the accuracy.