London 1978

Peter MARSHALL


Peabody Wild St estate, Wild St, Covent Garden, 1978
15m41: Westminster, social housing, flat, children, Victorian

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Taken on Wild St, just a few yards west of its end on Kingsway, this Peabody block with two people sitting in the doorway is still clearly recognisable, though there are a few minor differences. The door surround is now panted white, the graffiti has gone and there is now a fence across in front of that wall, with a post in the centre of the block in front of it. And hanging baskets on each side of the door.
 
Most of the wall then was covered with the names and initials of football clubs, but there are some more sinister markings, with a large NF, a spindly swastika and small somewhere at the top right, 'HITLER RULES'. The Jam get a mention too, with 'THIS IS THE MODERN WORLD GET IT NOW', and smaller 'THE MODERN WORLD GREAT NEW FANZINE'. Their second LP 'This is the Modern World' was recorded in late 1977 and released in November.
 
George Peabody (1795-1869) was an American banker who worked in London and came to love the city and one of a number of great Victorian reformers. He set up the Peabody Donation Fund in 1862 to "ameliorate the condition of the poor and needy of this great metropolis, and to promote their comfort and happiness" by providing model dwellings for the city's poor, initially those living within 8 miles of the centre of the City at Royal Exchange, where there is a statue of him, unusually erected shortly before his death, by which time he had donated 500,000 to the fund.
 
The first Peabody estate opened in 1864 in Spitalfields and was soon followed by another in Islington. Legislation in 1875 enabled the Metropolitan Board of Works to carry out clearances of some of London's worst slums and then to sell these sites to developers who had to build new estates in their place, and Wild St, built in 1882 was one of these, with 13 six-storey blocks.
 
Probably few of those displaced in the slum clearance found new homes in the Peabody blocks, but would instead have been displaced and moved into other slums, increasing their overcrowding. Peabody had strict rules for their tenants which included paying the rent every week on time and a nightly curfew. They were let to those who had regular jobs in the area, in the Covent Garden market, theatres, Fleet St newspapers, restaurants and offices.
 
When built there were toilets on the landings shared between flats and laundries on the upper floor. The Wild Street flats - now down to 11 blocks thanks to war damage - were modernised in the 1960s to make them self-contained.
 
The flats are now rather beyond the reach of the working poor, at least for new lets. Those eligible under the Westminster Council intermediate rent scheme, which gives at least a 20% reduction on private market rents to those eligible were recently offered a studio flat for 1100 per month - and would require a minimum household income of 33,000 to 'achieve affordability'.