All about the Ladbroke Association

The Ladbroke Association has a committee working away in the Ladbroke Estate area keeping an eye on architectural and town planning and helping all of us to enjoy the history and character of the neighbourhood. Here’s the low-down written by one of it’s members …

The Ladbroke Association was founded in 1969, the same year as the designation of the Ladbroke Conservation area. It all began when the local Council decided to cut down and replace the magnificent London Planes that line the southern end of Ladbroke Grove, the main thoroughfare through the Ladbroke area. A group of local residents, including the well-known architect and town-planner Robert Meadows, Sir Angus Stirling (later Director- General of the NationalTrust) and Thomas Pakenham (author of some wonderful books on trees and now our President), decided to form a conservation society to help protect the area from depredation. The newly formed Association was successful in opposing the proposal to fell the planes, and the trees are still flourishing.

An early example of town planning the Ladbroke area was agricultural land until the 1820s. It belonged to a banking family called Ladbroke who developed the area for housing to meet the growing need for accommodation for people working in London. Between the 1820s and the 1870s, the entire estate was built over. Ladbroke employed Thomas Allason, a well-known landscape artist and architect, to draw up a master plan for the estate. Although the plan was changed over the years, its main features of communal gardens, crescents and vistas survived. The houses are in a variety of different styles, but always within the classical idiom and either stucco or half stucco with copious decoration.There are both large detached and semi-detached villas and more modest terraced houses.

During the 20th century, however, much of the area became unfashionable; many of the villas intended for family use were converted to crowded flats and bedsits (Rachman was one of the landlords), and German bombs left quite a few holes, too often filled in the 1950s and 1960s by undistinguished jerry-built blocks. It was against this background that the Ladbroke Association was formed, just at the time that the area was beginning to come up in the world again. Apart from saving the plane-trees, one of the Association’s first successful campaigns was to prevent a huge and hideous block of flats being built on one of the remaining undeveloped bomb-sites. It was also heavily involved in the drawing up of the Council’s original policy for the conservation area.

From the beginning, however, the Association was determined to set its face against the “pickled in aspic” approach and to promote distinguished modern architecture which would add character to the estate. It supported for instance the building of the elegant modern block of flats in the photograph. And it deliberately called itself a conservation society rather than a preservation society.

Stucco degrades only too quickly, and by the 1960s many of the previously elegant villas and terraces had lost much of their stucco decoration – cornices, string courses, decorative mouldings round windows and in some cases whole pillared porches.

Another of the Association’s preoccupations has been to encourage house-owners to restore these features, and over the past ten years in particular there has been remarkable progress, although there is still much to be done. One of the Association’s current exercises is a survey of the 30-odd streets in the conservation area to develop recommendations for both householders and Council planners on features to be encouraged or discouraged. In the early 2000s, it commissioned a complete photographic survey of the buildings in the area, which was the subject of an exhibition in 2007.

Sixteen communal gardens and many important trees on the Ladbroke estate are central to its character. The communal gardens are run by garden committees but the Association aims to support them and to oppose planning applications that would harm the gardens. During the year of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee it donated a tree to each of the gardens.

Originally the Ladbroke Conservation Area covered only the grander southern part of the Ladbroke estate, which was almost entirely residential. In 2002 it was extended to take in the less affluent northern part, including a large part of the Portobello Road with its market. This has brought a whole new set of preoccupations for the Association, including a greater interest in shop-fronts and the health of local businesses.

Increasing affluence of the area has brought its own problems. People want to extend their houses in all directions, and much of the Association’s efforts are directed to ensuring that extensions enhance or at least are in character with the area. The Committee meets once a month and looks at every single planning application that has been submitted in the Ladbroke area. Most cause no concern, but in perhaps half a dozen to a dozen cases a month the Association puts in a reasoned objection. It is particularly concerned to keep the symmetry of the classical forms and the gaps and vistas affording views of greenery that are an essential character of the area. Many new owners have come in and bought decaying houses in multi- occupation, converting them back to single residences and restoring them to their former glory. Fortunately the area has not suffered from the “buy to leave phenomenon that affects some parts of London. But more residents are now away for part of the year and can be less interrested in participation in the community than before. Also, while bringing houses back into single occupation is normally good for the conservation of the building, the social mix of the Ladbroke area has always been one of its charms and that will be at risk if too many buildings are taken over by wealthy single families (and one has to be wealthy, alas, to purchase a house now in the Ladbroke area). This is an issue that troubles the Association.

The biggest problem from increasing affluence, however, is the fashion for basement development to accommodate media rooms, gyms, clothes storage, wine cellars, swimming pools, etc. The basements themselves once built hardly affect the conservation area as they are invisible. But the ordeal for those living next to the excavation of a new basement is horrific and can easily last a couple of years. The Ladbroke area was one of the first to experience the basement phenomenon. Towards the end of the 2000s, the Association started receiving complaints from its members about the terrifying noise and vibration that the neighbours had to endure, along with sometimes serious damage to their houses. The local Council was at first somewhat dismissive, regarding this as a minority problem and the horror stories as anecdotal evidence.

Detailed questionnaires were circulated by the Association to some 200 households in Kensington next to buildings where planning permission had been given for a basement excavation and over 60 replies were returned, an excellent result for a “cold” survey of this kind. On the basis of the responses, the Association prepared a report setting out what the main problems were and making recommendations on how to mitigate them This was the first – and we believe still the only – systematic study of the problems caused by basements in residential areas. Since then, the Association has been heavily involved, in cooperation with a number of other bodies in the central London area, in pressing for a fairer deal for those unfortunate to live next to a house where a basement development is taking place.

Our present preoccupations are: 1. Discouraging unsuitable extensions that jar with the historic buildings or obscure views and vistas. 2. Encouraging residents to restore stucco decoration. 3. Promoting good new modern architecture where appropriate. 4. Promoting the preservation of local businesses and amenities which could be threatened by changes in planning rules.

If you want to join the 400 members, family membership £15 a year and you get a newsletter. The 12-strong committee maintains close dialogue with the local Council on planning and development issues. It monitors all planning applications, objecting to those that would adversely affect the character of the area and welcomes approaches from members with concerns about particular planning applications. There are events for members, including tours of one of the communal gardens, a Christmas party in one of the interesting houses in the area and lectures on subjects of local interest. ladbrokeassociation

This article was first published by the London Forum londonforum

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