Inventory Site Record

Barbican Estate * (including Beech Gardens, Defoe Gardens, Barbican Wildlife Garden, Lakeside Gardens and Lakeside Terrace) (City of London)

Brief Description

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

The Barbican Estate was built by Corporation of London following WWII bomb damage and the subsequent proposal for part of the area to be developed as a residential neighbourhood, with shops, schools, open spaces and amenities. The design competition was won by Geoffrey Powell who with Chamberlin and Bon had already commenced work on nearby Golden Lane Estate. The first detailed plans were drawn up in 1956, influenced by Le Corbusier. The point blocks, terraces and raised walkways were arranged around gardens, with pools of water, and 3.2 hectares of the 14 hectare site is open space of various types: private gardens, communal spaces for residents, public spaces. The design and structural planting of private gardens, roof gardens, and balconies follow the lines and rhythms of the architecture.

Practical Information
Site location:
Barbican, off Silk Street
What 3 Words:
Type of site:
Housing/Estate Landscaping, Public Gardens
City of London
Open to public?
Opening times:
parts unrestricted public areas; parts private for residents only, including Barbican Wildlife Garden
Has taken part in Open Garden Squares Weekend 13 times, most recently in 2023.
Special conditions:
Barbican Arts and Conference Centre; Barbican Library; Museum of London
Barbican Wildlife Garden has opened for OGSW
Public transport:
Tube: Barbican (Hammersmith & City, Circle, Metropolitan). Rail: Barbican. Bus: 4, 56, 153
Research updated:
Last minor changes:

Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/citygardens

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

Public, communal and domestic gardens, courtyards and squares that form an integral part of the Barbican estate; the main public open space is the canal in front of the Arts Centre. In the C12th this was the area of the outer fortification of the City. Richard Horwood's map of 1799 shows the initial stages of Georgian development here, with a crescent at Jewin Street completed by 1842; by late C19th area was largely occupied by industrial warehouses. During World War II some 35 acres were laid waste and in 1951 the then Minister of Housing and Local Government proposed that part of the area should be developed as a residential neighbourhood, with shops, schools, open spaces and amenities. A competition was held, won by architect Geoffrey Powell who had formed a partnership with Chamberlin and Bon; their work strongly influenced by Le Corbusier. First detailed plans were produced in 1956, revised in early 1959 and approved in December. In 1960 Ove Arup was appointed as structural engineers. Work began in 1963 and the estate was completed in 1973.

It had been decided to build flats to accommodate some 6,500 people and the tower blocks, over 400 feet high, were the tallest in Europe at that time. The point blocks, terraces and raised walkways were arranged around gardens with pools of water, in a miniature version of le Corbusier's Radiant City. 3.2 hectares of the 14 hectare site is open space of various types: private gardens such as those at Andrewes House, communal spaces for residents, and public spaces, as well as window boxes on the balconies of the buildings themselves and the roof garden of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. The design and structural planting of the private gardens, roof gardens, balconies follow the lines and rhythms of the architecture. Publicly accessible landscaped areas include Beech Gardens, Defoe Gardens, Lakeside Gardens and Lakeside Terrace, and the Conservatory within the Barbican Arts Centre. The Barbican Centre was officially opened by the Queen on 3 March 1982.

There are a number of sculptures sited throughout the estate. The main areas of open space consist of 2 large lawns with trees, one in the east surrounded by Speed House, Willoughby House, Andrewes House and Gilbert House, the other to the west surrounded by Defoe House, Seddon House, Thomas More House and Mountjoy House. A formal canal running west to east through the centre of the site links the 2 lawns and at its east end it flows over a large cascade before running underneath Gilbert House and is set with a series of fountains in a grid pattern. On the north side of the canal, south of and overlooked by the Arts Centre, is Lakeside Terrace, which incorporates 8 further fountains, 5 of which are circular and recessed into the terrace with linked steps down to the canal and a further 3 set on the edge of the terrace, 2 being semi-circular. Along the south side of the canal just east of Gilbert House is a series of small circular islands of red brick with seating and flowerbeds. Along the north side of the canal further westwards are 3 semi-circular fountains with terrace beyond. An L-shaped canal runs south from City of London School for Girls to Mountjoy House, with an eastern arm connecting the latter and the terraced housing of Wallside and The Postern. Two canals surround St Giles Terrace which covers the former churchyard of St Giles Church (q.v.) and north of the church are a series of rectangular and semicircular raised beds in which C18th and C19th gravestones are set. The Victorian style lamp posts and bollards here were installed in late 1980s. On the south of the square steps lead down through the retaining wall to the level of the canal where a small bridge leads into a secluded communal garden incorporating excavated footings of the old Roman Wall, the remains of which lead south bounding the east side of a lawn to the east of the Museum of London, and beyond which is the Barber-Surgeons' Hall Gardens (q.v.).

The Conservatory within the Barbican houses tropical trees and plants, an aviary and small lake; from here to the south and south/east doorways lead to the roof of the Arts Centre and an alpine garden with pond, sculptures and pergola walk. North west of the Arts Centre is Frobisher Crescent, whose design was based on that of the earlier Jewin Crescent and for which Chamberlin, Powell and Bon had planned an area for display of public sculpture eventually not used as such. The various residential and tower blocks are set in terrace gardens dating from the 1970s such as that Beech Gardens in the north, paved in red brick with ponds, fountains, sculptures, flower beds and borders; the terrace gardens were refurbished in 1983 by architects Building Design Partnership. An adjacent area of land to the north that extends to Fann Street has been laid out as Barbican Wildlife Garden, where the Barbican Wildlife Group has been undertaking regular maintenance project since 2003 with volunteers working in the garden every Wednesday morning. Access to this garden is restricted to residents of the Barbican and their guests, although it has opened for OGSW.

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.

Sources consulted:

Ben Weinreb & Christopher Hibbert, 'The London Encyclopaedia' (Macmillan, revised ed. 1993); B Plummer and D Shewan, 'City Gardens', London, 1992. EH Register: 'The Buiilder' 1 June 1956 p623 and 29 May 1959, pp949-51; Architects Journal, 7 June 1956 pp632-6, 28 May 1959 pp795-6, 4 June 1959 pp34-41; Architectural Design, Oct 1959 pp416-19, Sept 1960 p365, July 1970 p354; E Carter, The Future of London, 1962; F E Cleary, 'The Flowering City', 1969; 'Building' 16 June 1978

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
TQ323818 (532354,181834)
Size in hectares:
Site ownership:
City of London Corporation Barbican Estate
Site management:
City of London Corporation Open Spaces Dept - public areas
1963 - 1982
Chamberlin, Powell and Bon with Ove Arup & Partners
Listed structures:
LBII: Barbican. SAM:section of Roman Wall
On National Heritage List for England (NHLE), Parks & Gardens:

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

Protected under London Squares Preservation Act 1931:


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:
In Conservation Area:
Conservation Area name:
Barbican and Golden Lane
Tree Preservation Order:
Nature Conservation Area:
Yes (part) - Barbican Wildlife Garden
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy Area:
Other LA designation:
City Walkway Network

Barbican Estate * (including Beech Gardens, Defoe Gardens, Barbican Wildlife Garden, Lakeside Gardens and Lakeside Terrace)

Barbican, Beech Gardens, May 2010. Photo: S Williams

Barbican Estate, Thomas More Residents Garden, June 2023. Photo: N.Petridis
Barbican, Beech Gardens, May 2010. Photo: S Williams
Barbican, view over private gardens, May 2010. Photo: S Williams
Barbican, view over private gardens, May 2010. Photo: S Williams
Barbican Wildlife Garden, May 2010. Photo: S Williams

Click a photo to enlarge.

More photos

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