St Bart's new homes give fresh life to ancient bones in EC1A

St Bartholomew's, one of Europe’s oldest hospitals, has made way for loft-style homes in a new neighbourhood that safeguards the area's rich medieval heritage.
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St Bartholomew's, one of Europe’s oldest hospitals, is one of the very few places in London where the medieval footprint of the city endures. Buildings have come and gone for 1,000 years around this network of narrow lanes and passageways, hidden courtyards and cloisters.

However, Barts now finds itself on the cusp of a new era. The entire east London precinct, a complex of 19 buildings, is being turned into a new residential and commercial quarter that keeps the original street plan intact and protects the area’s rich heritage.

Relocation to a new hospital next door has freed up this prized plot and paved the way for 235 homes in refurbished and new low-rise blocks. Launching in September, prices will start at £750,000. To register, call Savills on 020 7409 8756.

An easy stroll from St Paul’s Cathedral, the location has been urban since the Middle Ages and is defined by two stark contrasts — the healing mission of Barts and the butchery of Smithfield meat market, situated alongside.


Street names reveal the district’s engaging past. Little Britain is named after the dukes of Brittany who once lived there, while Cloth Fair denotes the area’s roots in textiles and lacemaking. Grizzly executions of heretics and dissidents took place here, too, including that of Scottish rebel William Wallace, who in 1305 was brought to Smithfield to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

The hospital and priory survived Henry VIII’s Reformation as well as the Great Fire of London. Artist William Hogarth, that supreme chronicler of London life, was born in 1697 in Bartholomew Close, the winding lane that runs through the estate, and his murals adorn the grand staircase leading to the hospital’s Great Hall.

The light’s fantastic
Called Barts Square, this new neighbourhood is the debut residential development of Helical Bar, a company that builds City offices. Its aim is to use high-quality architecture, sensitive to the surroundings, and “place-making” skills to stitch the estate back together after demolition of several undistinguished postwar NHS blocks.

The site has been grouped into four distinct pockets, with the design of the new buildings picking up on Smithfield’s traditional warehouses and classic stone-and-brick façades. A revived Church Garth — a church garden — will provide a tranquil green setting, while other areas will be enlivened with offices, cafés and restaurants.

“We are designing apartments for people with imagination,” says architect Fiona Naylor. “Volume, light and space are the key.” This boils down to loft-like, open-plan interiors with a palette of textures and decorative finishes, or “pieces of architectural jewellery”, including lace-pattern porcelain tiles, stained glass detailing, and etched stainless steel shutters inspired by the local church pew carvings and tracery. A timber gatehouse dating back to Tudor times has become a temporary marketing suite. The mix of homes ranges from studios to  penthouses with large roof terraces. The first phase of 92 flats will be complete by mid-2017 and the rest of the scheme in 2019. Underground parking, 24-hour concierge and residents’ club are part of the package. 

While this new address is likely to remain a City fringe sanctuary, the immediate vicinity is poised to become a bustling metropolitan hub, reviving the spirit of centuries-old Bartholomew Fair, which began as an annual pilgrimage for wool and cloth merchants and evolved into a three-day carnival, before City elders shut it down in 1855.

Smithfield Market’s fate has yet to be decided after a public inquiry into redevelopment plans, but it will likely follow Spitalfields and Borough Markets with a modern makeover, retaining at least part of its old architectural fabric while bringing a new artisan food quarter, shops and offices.

Crossrail adds another dimension to Smithfield. The enlarged Farringdon train station will have several new entrances around the market area, while at least eight big mixed-use schemes are in the pipeline.

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Crossrail is key
By 2018 Farringdon will be Britain’s busiest interchange, with a sevenfold increase in commuters and 140 trains per hour passing through. It will be the only London terminus with integrated north-south (of the river) and east-west routes, and the only one allowing passengers to board Crossrail, Thameslink and Tube trains. It will provide direct links to Gatwick, Heathrow, Luton and London City airports as well as Eurostar services at St Pancras and Brighton on the south coast.

All this will boost a central district hitherto off the radar of most home buyers and tourists, according to property adviser CBRE, which predicts a closing of the value gap between this part of the City fringe and prime postcodes further west. Prices have jumped 53 per cent during the last three years and a typical apartment costs £783,000, or about £1,200 a square foot.

Another attraction for home buyers is that Smithfield’s boundary is part of the City’s “ring of steel” security cordon, which ensures a low crime rate. Smithfield estate agent Thomson Currie says there is “huge unsatisfied demand for residential accommodation in the area”.

A listed former Lyons Tea House next to the church of St Bartholomew the Great is a small-scale project under way, providing 17 homes, including a duplex penthouse, above Michelin-starred restaurant Club Gascon. Call estate agent Hamilton Brooks on 020 7606 8000. The handsome building faces on to circus-shaped West Smithfield, lined with fashionable bars and eateries, some serving carnivorous breakfasts from 4am when the market is alive with activity.

Beautiful brutalist Barbican, a concrete icon, is on the doorstep, too, but always in this part of town you are thrown far back in time. With its medieval bones still showing, Barts Square promises to be one of the City’s best addresses.

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