Trellick Tower is a 31-storey block of flats designed in the Brutalist style by architect Ernő Goldfinger, completed in 1972.
Goldfinger’s design is based on his earlier and slightly smaller Balfron Tower (in Poplar, east London), and is in effect a sibling building. It has a long, thin profile, with a separate lift and service tower linked at every third storey to the access corridors in the main building; flats above and below the corridor levels have internal stairs. The building contains 217 flats and was originally entirely owned by the GLC with the flats rented as council flats. Shortly after its completion the building was transferred to the local council (the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea). Most of the flats are still social housing, but a significant minority are now privately owned.
The tower was completed at a time when high-rise tower blocks were going out of fashion as local authorities were beginning to realise the social problems they caused.
By the late 1970s Trellick Tower had a reputation for crime including rape and the assault of a child, and anti-social behaviour, and many tenants resisted a transfer there. However, with the introduction of the ’right to buy’ council homes, many of the flats were bought by the tenants.
On 8 October 1984 a new residents’ association was formed. As a result of pressure from the occupants, several security improvements including a door entry intercom system and the employment of a concierge were undertaken from the mid-1980s. Property prices rose and flats in the tower came to be regarded as highly desirable residences by some people, despite the slightly gritty edge which remains. The tower itself has become something of a local cult landmark and was awarded a Grade II* listing in 1998.
In December 1989, four low power television relay transmitters with aerials were added to the existing communications equipment on the top of the lift tower.
The oil-fired boilers originally used became obsolete due to the 1973 oil crisis, the year after the tower opened. The flats now have electric heaters and the plant room although disused, still houses most of the now defunct plant.
It is 98 metres tall; 120 metres including the communications mast).
Trellick Tower, seen from Golborne Road
Kensal New Town was built between the Grand Central Canal (which opened in 1801) and the Great Western Railway line (opening in 1837) in the 1840s.
Single-storey cottages with gardens suitable for drying clothes were the first buildings and Kensal Road, Middle Row, West Row, East Row and Southern Row all appeared between 1841 and 1851. The rows of cottages quickly degenerated into a slum, mainly due to overcrowding, industrialisation and pollution.
The area was dominated by the Western Gas Company and Kensal Cemetery, which provided work but did little to improve the environment. Women were primarily involved in laundry work giving the area its nickname of ‘Soapsuds Island’.
The area was isolated from the rest of London at a time when Portobello Lane (now Portobello Road) was a muddy track sometimes impassable in bad weather.
Cut off from the municipal authorities it was left to charities to attempt to alleviate the social and health problems.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the cottage laundry industry began to be replaced by larger mechanized concerns.
In 1902 Charles Booth described it as, “Just as full of children and poverty as was the old woman’s dwelling in the nursery rhyme.” By this date the area had been transferred to the newly formed Royal Borough of Kensington. When the Piggeries and Potteries in Notting Dale were finally cleared in the early 20th century most of the displaced residents moved north into Golborne ward and Kensal.
By 1923 in the Southam Street area 140 houses contained some 2500 inhabitants. A series of evocative photographs by Roger Mayne in the 1950s showed that little had changed. It was only from the 1960s that the overcrowded and dilapidated terraces were cleared and replaced by social housing including Goldfinger’s Trellick Tower.