“High living in a council owned tower block is stigmatised, living in a privately rented or owned tower block is the ultimate in urban chic” – The Gentrification Reader

I lived at 93 Aragon Tower on the Pepys Estate Deptford between October 1978 and September 1980, in a scissor maisonette. It was the highlight of my life so far at that point because I had spent the previous few years living in a succession of seedy bedsits, shared houses and other people’s flats. One bright and sunny weekday morning I parked my employer’s pink and purple Austin J4 on the bridge that runs over the (former) Surrey Canal in Oxestalls Road and went into the housing office at the foot of Eddystone Tower for the keys to a hard to let flat in Aragon Tower.

10/1978-9/1980

It was a gloriously clear and sunny October day and up on the 16th floor sunlight streamed into this empty and recently redecorated flat overlooking the river.  There was never any doubt about my taking it.  In those days one was allowed three choices and this was the first visit but to have turned it down would have been stupidity of the highest order.

Photos of the time may be seen at my page on Flickr Aragon Tower views 1978-80

Initially it was fine and later there were problems of what is known today as anti-social behaviour and then was just criminal behaviour and vandalism but I have never for one moment regretted returning to the housing office and signing the paper to take on the tenancy.

AragonTwr_th

http://collage.cityoflondon.gov.uk/view-item?i=269660

If you want to view the image without flat numbers click the link instead of the photo.

There was action taken in the 1990s to address the problems the estate had by then developed.

http://www.mcad.demon.co.uk/chrono.htm

In 2002 Berkeley Homes bought the block of 144 flats from Lewisham council for £11.5 million pounds out of which the council spent £7m on a leisure centre.


Berkeley made several changes to the block over the next few years the most fundamental of which involved an attempt to distance the block from the Pepys Estate by demolishing the Eastern entrance and building a new one to the West on George Beard Road in order that future (private) owners of the flats would not have to put Pepys Estate Deptford as their address.

Link to developer brochure


Here’s a brochure published by one of the sub-contractors aragon_tower_1226673203.pdf

Such is gentrification.  One can hardly blame Berkeley Homes for taking advantage of a commercial opportunity but it says a lot about the attitude of the time that Lewisham Council were prepared to diminish their council housing stock by 144 flats in order to make relatively little money.  Even the very crude calculation of 144 x £250k = £36m plus the penthouse flats call it £40 million – shows that Berkeley Homes did very nicely thank you out of the deal.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/property/3336718/Tears-of-the-clown-as-his-tower-gets-a-fancy-facelift.html

In September 2004 while the work was still going on I took a river trip and got these shots of  Aragon Tower

Two months later in November I went back to the site as a potential purchaser of a new flat and was shown round the block in a hard hat.

Photos here http://www.flickr.com/photos/singleaspect/sets/72157627412456535/

I later complimented the sales person on allowing people on site under those conditions.

In 2009 I went back looking for a cheap ex local authority flat on the estate and took the opportunity to take some more photographs both from ground level and from the top of Daubeney Tower where one of the flats happened to be for sale.

Photos taken in 2009 may be seen on my Flickr page Pepys Estate Deptford

I disapprove of almost everything Berkeley Homes did to the block.  Some will say it’s sour grapes, it’s not, it’s an objective appraisal of the changes.

In no particular order these are the changes they made:-

a) Changed the cladding on the fire escape staircase from half glass to fully glazed.

b) Removed all the existing windows and replaced them with green tinted windows that open only outwards and hinged from the top unlike the originals which were designed to rotate almost 360° in order to allow cleaning both sides from inside and which were single glazed clear glass allowing an untinted view out.

I think that was stupid on two levels.  If the windows still opened to horizontal on a central hinge then you would still be able to get a clear view out without having the tint inflicted on the view but the windows are top hinged.  So they have damaged the view by both tinting the windows and compounding the error by not enabling them to fully open.

The type of windows that existed prior to the redevelopment are show below:-

The units shown are thicker in section than the ones I remember at Aragon Tower but the principle remains. They were centre hinged and rotated nearly 360° for cleaning.

The advantage is that on a fine day they may be left horizontal as in the centre photograph and as well as good air circulation you have a clear view out. The new windows are of course wonderful as evidenced by the post below from the Aragon Tower Residents Association website. In over two years there myself with the original windows I don’t remember any such problem, in all weathers. If the wind got up we just closed them. I would never have gone out leaving them open in any case.

Read this -> ATRASGM08-12-11Minutes


Apartment Windows (Important)
posted Mar 11, 2011, 3:09 AM by Chair ATRA (Aragon Tower Residents Association)
Yesterday afternoon a faulty window from an apartment on the 10th floor was blown out and landed in the car park below. I am pleased to report that no one was injured. As you are aware Aragon Tower is located in a particularly windy/gusty area,therefore I ask that you refrain from opening your apartment windows during the windier/gusty periods. Also please do not leave items on the window sills near an open window as some items no matter their size can be sucked out of the window and onto the Car Park below.
If you have a faulty window in your apartment it is extremely important that you contact a qualified repairer so that the window can be repaired or if necessary replaced, this includes faulty handles, restraining bars & frames. If you own your apartment you should contact a repairer directly, you will find the telephone numbers of repairers at Reception. If you rent your apartment your first call should be your lettings agent or if necessary your landlord.
In both cases please make me or the Concierge aware of any faulty windows so we can act accordingly. I cannot stress enough the importance of immediate action if you discover a faulty window. Please contact me if you require any assistance in this matter and thank you for your continued cooperation. Graham
https://sites.google.com/site/aragontoweratra/announcements/apartmentwindowsimportant
https://sites.google.com/site/aragontoweratra/announcements/apartmentwindowslatestnews

c) Demolished the internal walls between the bathroom and toilet.

Now if somebody goes to the toilet and you want to use the bathroom you have to wait for the air to clear whereas before two people could use the facilities simultaneously.  This is not progress.


d) Demolished the internal wall between the kitchen and living room.

Stupid beyond belief.  In the original design there was a dividing wall made up of three parts.  A 7/8 height wooden sliding door (see Michael Collin’s recent documentary The Great Estate for an example during the Thamesmead section), a solid wall and a conventional door into the kitchen from the the stairs.

The presence of both doors, one sliding and one hinged enabled the two to be separate rooms or open plan.  It worked very well.  What BH have done is to destroy that so that cooking smells permeate the space.

e) Added several floors to the top of the block for penthouse flats.

I cannot comment other than to point you to this link.

http://forum.snagging.org/berkeley-homes/626-nightmare-aragon-tower.html

f) Relocated the entrance from the Pepys Estate on the East side, to George Beard Road on the West side.

Snobbery, pure and simple.

g) Added structural members to the supporting stilts in order to strengthen the frame to take the additional weight of the penthouse flats.

h) Reclad the building to change its appearance from the original pebble dash prefabricated panels.

i) Demolished the garages to create an open car park.

Moody and magnificent

Aragon Tower seen from Maydew House 26/9/09

Thought for the day.

What are the chances of a single man getting a two bedroom council flat anywhere now in 2011?


Notes about the estate from the Architectural Review for November 1967:-

Pepys Estate Deptford – Architect Sir Hubert Bennett GLC

Lewisham (Pepys Estate) January 1963 – early 1968 – 28.6 acres, mainly on site of former Royal Victoria VIctualling Yard of Navy. Georgian rum warehouses and officer’s houses retained.

Community: 1,500 dwellings at 155 p.p.a.overall.  Scissors maisonettes in 3 24-storey slabs and spine of 8-storey blocks connected by bridges, 65 flats, sailing centre and riverside cafe in rum warehouses.  First floor deck, bridging Surrey Canal, contains shops, pub, youth club, tenants’ clubroom, surgery, nursery school and play areas.  New old people’s home; existing primary school extended.  50 percent parking, mainly under deck; 25 per cent more in future.

Structure: Brick crosswalls and facings for all blocks up to 8 storeys. 24-storey slabs, r.c. crosswalls and precast cladding.

Cost: £6,000,000


While looking up “TAYLOR, Nicholas. The failure of housing. Architectural Review, London, n. 849, p. 341-359, Nov. 1967″ at the RIBA library I came across an article about the Pepys Estate on page 376 of the same volume which includes this quote about the flats.

The ‘scissors’ maisonette is technically an interesting invention; it was devised for the LCC by David Gregory-Jones and Colin Jones and this is its first large-scale use.  It enables more people to be packed together with less circulation space, and a more flexible layout is possible with all the living-rooms on one side. But against this must be set the repetitiousness of row upon row of identical windows on every floor, enveloped in dark plum-coloured brick, used for all wall surfaces, except for the precast units of the tower blocks. [my emphasis – Ed.]

p.376 Architectural Review 1967.


Here’s another take on the estate:-

http://storycircleuk.com/2012/04/05/a-walk-round-the-pepys-estate/

And another:-

http://thelondoncolumn.com/2011/05/17/pepys-estate-photo-tony-ray-jones-text-edward-mirzoeff-john-betjeman-13/

Owen Hatherley here:-

http://thelondoncolumn.com/2011/05/18/pepys-estate-photo-tony-ray-jones-text-owen-hatherley-2/

A different take on the area here:-

ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE CASE STUDY: PEPYS ESTATE, DEPTFORD

environmental-justice-case-study-pepys-estate-deptford/


Whilst the above is a personal reminiscence interleaved with opinion and fact the blogger Municipal Dreams has written three excellent articles on the history of the Pepys Estate linked below:-

Pepys I | Pepys II | Pepys III

One Response to “Pepys Estate Deptford – 1979, 2004 & 2009”

  1. Eddie Says:

    I picked my newspapers from Fourboys. It was early morning and pitch black thanks to a power strike, anyway I decided to walk to the top of Aragon, (no lifts no lights) and start delivering the papers. I knew what flats had papers so the dark wasn’t a problem. As I came down near the bottom dawn was breaking. People were coming down the stairs with their newspapers and heading for the newsagents. I could see the papers left in my bag were meant for the top floors, I delivered ’em the wrong way round from the bag. When I got back to the shop they were still coming back. Funny though I thought. The 70s.

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