Thursday, 10 July 2014

Sidney Estate, Somers Town N1

The Princess and the Swineherd. The Swineherd is a prince in disguise (natch). Whoever put their finger in the smoke from his magic stewpot could smell what was being cooked in every house in the town, so of course the princess wanted it enough to pay the swineherd's outrageous price of ten kisses. It all ended badly.
The Sidney Estate is a fine example of the idealistic Christian socialism of the early 20th century. It was built by the St Pancras House Improvement Society in the decade from 1929. It was going to be a 'miniature garden city', with a large central court, assembly room and nursery school with rooftop garden.
The assembly room was never built and today the estate looks rather like hundreds of others except for the ceramic lunettes of fairy tales, designed by Gilbert Bayes and made by Doulton.
The Sleeping Beauty with Prince, flanked by what appear to be a leopard and a mastiff.
The Goosegirl (although she looks more like a Swangirl). A princess is sent to a foreign land to marry the prince, but on the way her maid forces her to swap places. On arrival, the princess is given a job tending  the geese while her false maid gets ready for the wedding, but luckily the imposture is discovered and the maid is thrown into a cask studded with sharp nails and dragged round the streets by four horses until she is dead, so all's well that ends well. 
The Little Mermaid, who saves a prince from drowning and falls in love. Unfortunately he loves someone else so she throws herself back in the sea and turns into foam. Makes Splash look like sentimental tosh.
In the central courtyard, the fairy tale theme continues but with the addition of this figure of St George, rather gleefully slaying the dragon. On the other hand, the dragon seems to be taking the lance under his arm so perhaps it is all a stage show.
The magnificent clock in the central courtyard shows the seasons, spring at the bottom left with bulbs, then summer with cherries and garlands of flowers; autumn with a sheaf of wheat and a sickle and winter, fully dressed and warming himself in front of a brazier.
 The south-facing entrance court in front of St Nicholas' Flats was filled with posts for washing lines, the central one with a ceramic Christmas tree and the others with ships. St Nicholas is, of course, Father Christmas and also the patron saint of sailors. All the original finials disappeared and have been replaced with replicas.
The estate was originally called the Sidney Street Estate after the road that disappeared when it was built. Just as well really as if it had survived it would only be confused with Sidney Street, Shoreditch, location of the famous siege.

The arch between St Anthony's
Flats and St Francis' House
 has a statue that I originally
assumed was St Francis but is
 actually St Anthony of Padua.
My personal favourite


Anonymous said...

We lived in one of these flats in the 1980s and there were black bird finials on the clothes lines, do you have any photos of those?

Anonymous said...

There is a photo of the black bird finial here

Chris Partridge said...

Many thanks for the link - it looks a splendid bird.