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Barbican complex

The name of the Barbican comes from the Low Latin word ‘Barbecana’ which referred to a fortified outpost or gateway, such as an outer defence of a city or castle or any tower situated over a gate or bridge which was used for defence purposes.

The Barbican site is on the northern edge of what was once Roman Londinium and there are surviving examples of the old London Wall in the Barbican Estate making a fascinating link with the past.  The Wall as we see it today is, to a great extent, composed of Tudor bricks as it was a common practice of the time to use whatever foundations were available, rather than dig new ones each time another building was erected. Thus the city wall was put to good use long after its role in defending the City had ended.

The area of the Roman town was approximately 325 acres while in Saxon times the City incorporated a girdle of land outside the Wall which brought it up to 677 acres. This was the size of the City at the time of the Norman Conquest and it is more or less  the area coved by the City of London today.

The “Barbecanna”, mentioned before originated from this this period and was probably situated somewhere between the northern side of the Church of St. Giles Cripplegate and the YMCA hostel on Fann Street.

By the 1850s the City was composed of high, dark buildings and narrow streets with inadequate breadth to accommodate the increased volume of horse drawn traffic that endeavoured to pass along them.  Above all, it was overcrowded; the population of the City was 1,287,000 and the number of people living in the parish of Cripplegate, the area now occupied by the Barbican, was 14,000. The Cripplegate area was, to a large extent, occupied by the ‘rag trade’ – which included anything from  the buying and selling of cloth to tailoring and dressmaking.


War damage and redevelopment

During the Second World War the City suffered appalling damage and loss of life. The Cripplegate area was virtually demolished and by 1951 the resident population stood at only 48, with 5,324 in the whole City.

Discussions started in 1952 on what sort of redevelopment should take place on the devastated site. Many people involved with the City of London voiced their concern at the dwindling number of residents living within the Square Mile and plans were considered for returning a stable population. A report was presented and the Court of Common Council, of 19 September 1957, accepted as a matter of policy that there should be a genuine residential area created on the site.

Listing of the Barbican complex

The Barbican complex became Grade II listed on 5 September 2001. It has since been designated a site of special architectural interest for its scale, its cohesion and the ambition of the project.

Listing does not necessarily preserve a building for all time.

Rather, it is a means of ensuring that care will be taken over decisions affecting its future, that any alterations respect the particular character and interest of the building and that the case for its preservation is taken fully into account in considering the merits of any redevelopment proposals.

The listed buildings are detailed below.


A 40 acre site developed with residential blocks set on a raised podium and constructed between 1969 and 1976.

The Barbican Estate is statutorily listed for its architectural and historic interest. Proposed alterations may need listed building consent.

To assist residents in understanding the listing and to explain what works will need listed building consent and the types of alterations that are likely or unlikely to be approved, the City Corporation has prepared listed building management guidelines.


Designed to unite the Barbican with Golden Lane Estate to the north and built between 1965 and 1971.

City of London School for Girls

Built between 1963 and 1969.

Guildhall School of Music and Drama

Built between 1971and 1977 as a new building for the world’s first municipal school of music.

Arts Centre

Built 1971-1982, comprising two theatres, a concert hall, a library, an art gallery, three cinemas, a conservatory, offices, restaurant, shops and foyers.

The Barbican is considered to be of special interest because of the design concepts employed by the architects. The planned nature of the estate, the form of the towers and their distinctive silhouettes, the form and relationship between the lower scale housing blocks and the relationship between the buildings, spaces and uses all contribute to the estate’s special interest. The detailing of the buildings is also important and the Brutalist qualities, such as the scale and rhythm of the columns, edge beams and the use of bush-hammered concrete, are particularly distinctive.”

Block names

Andrewes House: Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626) - theologian, famous preacher, Vicar of St. Giles for 17 years. Eventually Bishop of Winchester.

Brandon Mews: Robert Brandon (14th Century) - Earl of Suffolk. Granted the Manor of Basecourt (known as Barbican), by Edward III in 1336.

Breton House: Nicholas Breton (1553 - 1625) - poet, satirist. Lived in Barbican area.

Ben Jonson House: Ben Jonson (1572-1637), actor, playwright, (Bartholomew Fair etc). Lived for some years in the parish of Cripplegate.

Bryer Court: W. Bryer and Sons (19th-20th centuries), gold and silver refiners, watchmakers etc. Premises in Barbican Street.

Bunyan Court: John Bunyan (1628-1688), preacher, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress. Preached in Monkwell Street, buried in Bunhill Fields.

Cromwell Tower: Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), soldier, statesman, Lord Protector of the Commonwealth. Married Elizabeth Bourchier at St. Giles’ Church.

Defoe House: Daniel Defoe (1660-1731), journalist, author of Robinson Crusoe etc. Probably born in Fore Street. Died in Ropemaker Street and buried in Bunhill Fields.

Frobisher Crescent: Sir Martin Frobisher (1535-1594), sailor. Knighted during the ‘Battle of the Armada’. Buried St. Giles’ Cripplegate.

Gilbert House: Sir Humphrey Gilbert (1539-1583) explorer, soldier, sailor. Drowned off the Azores following successful expedition to Newfoundland: lived at one time in Redcross Street.

John Trundle Court: John Trundle (c. 1600), stationer. Premises in the Barbican. Published with Nicholas Ling, the first quarto of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Lambert Jones Mews: Richard Lambert Jones (b. 1783). Member of the Court of Common Council for the ward of Cripplegate-without. Chairman of Library Committee for 19 years.

Lauderdale Tower: John Maitland created first Earl of Lauderdale by Charles I in 1624. One of his homes was Lauderdale House on Aldersgate Street.

Mountjoy House: Christopher Mountjoy, who came to London in 1572 and lived with William Shakespeare on Silver Street whilst making tires. Shakespeare was a court witness to an action brought against Christopher Mountjoy by his son-in-law.

Seddon House: George Seddon (d. 1801), master cabinet maker. Established huge furniture emporium in Aldersgate Street.

Shakespeare Tower: William Shakespeare (1564-1616). Actor, poet, playwright. Born in Stratford-Upon-Avon but spent most of his working life in London. Known to have lodged at the Mountjoys’ in Silver Street in 1604.

Speed House: John Speed (1552-1629), Merchant Tailor, historian and cartographer. Produced a series of maps of the counties of England and Wales. Buried St. Giles Cripplegate.

Thomas More House: Sir Thomas More (1478-1535), statesman, author, lawyer: imprisoned in the Tower of London and eventually beheaded. Born in Cripplegate parish.

Willoughby House: Catharine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk (1520-1580). Upholder of the new ‘Protestant’ beliefs. Taunted Bishop Gardiner and later forced to flee abroad temporarily from her home in the Barbican.