The appalling living conditions in the slums of Southwark attracted the attention of concerned philanthropists, and the City Livery Companies.
The Cromwell Buildings of 1864 in Redcross Way are flats built by Sir Sydney Waterlow of the Improved Industrial Dwellings Company. They are based on houses designed by Prince Albert for the Great Exhibition and the company was one of Model Dwellings Companies which aimed to relieve the extreme poverty in the dreadful inner-city slums by providing low-cost housing with a return on investment, a movement known as ‘5 per cent philanthropy’. (Today’s Venture Philanthropy?)
Octavia Hill (1838-1912) was a redoubtable woman, deeply concerned about the plight of poor people, concerned that they should have less crowded housing, access to open spaces, and that they should be self-reliant. Red Cross Cottages, Community Hall, and Garden were laid out in the 1880s on the site of a disused paper factory. The cottages and Hall were by Elijah Hoole and the gardens were laid out by Emmeline Sieveking. (Photograph from 1887.) Octavia Hill went on to become one of the Co-Founders of The National Trust. (Oddly, I could not find an image of the architect anywhere.)
Whitecross Cottages (1890) in Ayres Street (immediate behind Red Cross Gardens and Cottages) were also designed by Elijah Hoole.
Whitehill Houses are flats in Sawyer Street were built in 1889 for the Countess of Selborne, an associate of Octavia Hill.
Gable Cottages (1889) in Sudrey Street (Little Suffolk Street) were designed by Elijah Hoole for the Rev T Bastow.
Winchester Cottages (1893-95) in Copperfield Street were built by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, under the influence of Octavia Hill.
You may be interested in
Essays and Letters by Octavia Hill
The Bermondsey Settlement
Photographs of the Bermondsey Settlement and map
Five Per Cent Philanthropy
I’ve been inside Cromwell Buildings, it has fantastic views from the roof, north towards the river – which featured in the 1993 film ‘Young Americans’ but I don’t think I could ever get used to the noise of the railway from inside the flats. It is now owned by a different housing association. The block is easy to spot from the railway between London Bridge and Waterloo East (although harder now given the timetable changes) There are one or two other very similar blocks dotted around central London – Mike Leigh’s film ‘High Hopes’ was filmed at Stanley Buildings, Kings Cross
Thank you for visiting, and reading! What are the flats like inside?
It’s quite a long time ago to be honest, my only real recollection is that the the flats was quite dark as I think it was semi in the shadow of the railway line. I just remember the view from the roof.