Somers Town, which is now the name for the area roughly between Euston Road, Euston Station, Pancras Road and Crowndale Road used to be larger, all the way to Hampstead. It derived its name from Baron Somers of Evesham who owned the land in the late 18th / early 19th century. The building of Euston and St. Pancras Stations increased the demand for more and cheaper houses and plots of land in the area were sold off to be developed. By the late 19th century, the houses were often home to more than one family, sometimes with whole families living in just one room. St. Pancras Council undertook the redevelopment of these slum areas, first in 1906 at Goldington Buildings, but the building of new houses gained momentum with the St Pancras House Improvement Society (later the St Pancras & Humanist Housing Association), established in 1924 by the priest Basil Jellicoe(1). The Society wanted to provide high quality homes for the poorest tenants. One of their projects was the Sidney Street Estate, later simply called the Sidney Estate.
The Sidney Estate was built on a two and a half acre rectangular plot of land [indicated in red on the map above] between Stibbington Street (now called Chalton Street), Bridgewater Street, Clarendon Street (now called Werrington Street) and Alderham Street, with Sidney Street running in the middle connecting Stibbington and Clarendon Street. All the old houses were razed to the ground and Sidney Street disappeared entirely. The new houses were built around a central courtyard and completed in 1938. They were designed by the Society’s architect, Ian B. M. Hamilton F.R.I.B.A., and the individual blocks of houses were named after saints: St. George, St. Francis, St. Anthony, St. Michael, St. Nicholas and St. Christopher. But the defining feature of the estate are its Doultonware lunettes by Gilbert William Bayes(2)) above the French windows.
In keeping with the Society’s aim to provide not only good quality houses with all the mod cons, but also good-looking houses, even the posts for the washing lines were topped by sculptured finials. The ships you see in the picture are a reference to St. Nicholas who is, among other things, also the patron saint of sailors. The ones you can now see on the estate are modern replicas, but that does not matter. They certainly add to the quirky design of the whole estate.
The official opening of what was then also referred to as the “Garden City in Somers Town” took place on a rainy 17 May, 1938, by the Duchess of Gloucester. The Duchess was received at the entrance of St. Anthony’s flats, the last block to be completed, and then taken to St. Michael’s were she was shown some of the flats. The opening ceremony itself took place in the courtyard and “Edith Nevill, chairperson of the committee of management, welcomed her and said that only those who knew the old houses that had been displaced could fully realize what had been accomplished. ‘Our little garden city is complete’ she said”. The new Sidney Estate consisted of 230 flats in which 1,000 people had been rehoused. The rents was said to be the same or less than the average rate of the old houses and rebate was granted to those unemployed or in other difficulties.(3) Unfortunately, Father Jellicoe never saw the completion of the estate, as he died in 1935, but we can still enjoy the lovely result of his vision to reform London’s housing.
You can see much better pictures of the lunettes at Ornamental Passions.
(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basil_Jellicoe. See also: London Remembers for their page on Father Basil Jellicoe.
(3) The Times, 18 May 1938.